“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”

That setting: Catfish Row in Charleston. Mine: Zukey Lake in Lakeland.

My maternal grandparents, who lived in Ann Arbor, had a log cabin on a knoll overlooking Zukey Lake. It was my good fortune to spend summers there in the 1930s, until I was eleven years old.

On Sundays, we ate dinner at one o’clock. I couldn’t go swimming until an hour after we finished. It was thought that if you went in the water after eating a big meal you would get cramps. Waiting that hour was an agony I still remember.

Then, into the swimsuit, down the wooden steps and across the blacktop road around the lake to the grass and sand at the water’s edge. Most often, I ran into the water, splashing. Sometimes, though, I walked to the end of the dock and into Grandpa Mann’s motor launch. Bigger than a rowboat, it had an outboard motor, which he stored with other things under the wooden bow.

Grandpa Mann was a bit heavyset, with white hair and glasses. I can still picture the wind rippling his hair as he sat at the back of the boat, his right hand on the tiller of the outboard motor, setting our path.

Sometimes he’d take me down to the general store–the big wooden building that had once been the terminal for excursion trains–where he’d tie up at the dock, and I’d jump out, running down the wooden planks like a child does, arms out, flapping like a bird’s, to the store to get a rainbow ice cream cone–all the best flavors, strawberry and chocolate and vanilla and peach, miraculously swirled into one. And I seem to remember orange sherbet, a tasty, pastel, Technicolor treat. And after the man had pressed the scoop of ice cream into the cone, he’d reach into a jar and put a maraschino cherry on top.

Our log cabin had no plumbing or electricity. Kerosene lamps provided the light after darkness fell, and Grandma Mann cooked on a kerosene stove. She was a small woman, with rimless spectacles and a dark brown wig (she’d lost her hair to “childbirth fever”). Only a little taller than I was in the last summers I spent there, she wore a size two shoe, so small she had to buy samples from a wholesaler in Detroit.

When Grandma Mann did the ironing, she would set out several flat irons on the stove. Then, as she ironed, when the one she was using cooled, she’d hold it over the stove top, twist the handle to release it and set it down, then pick up one nearby that was hot.

Her back would be to the kitchen sink, today described as a farm sink (all the fashion on HGTV). To the right was the pump, a real hand pump, painted red, as I recall. You had to remember when you finished getting water to fill the tin cup that was kept there, as much a fixture as the pump itself, so you would have water to prime the pump the next time.

Grandpa Mann built a playhouse for me–a small house about the size of those sheds now used by suburbanites to store their garden tools and equipment–with a screened porch, wooden tables, and chairs. I also had wonderful toys because my mother was a pioneer in the field of educational toys and, when she was away, sent me things from New York. There’s a family photo of me in front of the playhouse with one of them, a rubber alligator, Granny Smith apple green, longer than I was tall.

Each afternoon, when the Ann Arbor Railroad passenger train approached the crossing a few cottages down and blew its whistle, I would go out to the edge of the backyard and wave to the engineers. They’d smile and wave back. Since the property was on a knoll, I could see clearly into the dining car as the train moved slowly through the crossing. It was a wondrous world of people talking, laughing, as they sat at dinner tables with white tablecloths, bud vases with beautiful roses visible at the edge of the wide windows.

Occasionally in the afternoon Grandma Mann and I would go next door to Mrs. Girard’s house for tea. Mrs. Girard and her son were year-round residents, and she lived in a big house. She made me lemonade, which I enjoyed as she and Grandma Mann sipped their tea in the pretty china cups. I tried to wait politely for Mrs. Girard to pass a crystal plate with homemade cookies.

She’s gone now. And the teatimes. As is Grandma Mann. And Grandpa Mann. And the rainbow ice cream cones. And the dock where Grandpa Mann tied his motor launch. A bigger one now serves people arriving by boat for hamburgers and beers at the Zukey Lake Tavern, which used to be Mr. Girard’s garage. It had one gas pump outside. Anyone who drove in received full service with a smile, paying something like ten cents a gallon.

Mr. Girard’s icehouse across the road is gone, too. It was a tall, three-story wooden building at the edge of the lake, which he would fill to the rafters with big blocks of ice cut from the lake (it froze every winter then, long before global warming). One hot afternoon, he treated me to a visit inside. I can still feel the moist cool.

Even the log cabin is gone. My grandparents sold it in 1937. I never did know if the Great Depression caught up with them or if it was something else. But suddenly no more summers there.

When my cousin took me out to Zukey Lake on a visit a few years ago, a lovely white clapboard, two-story cottage sat up there on the knoll, a little back from where Grandma and Grandpa Mann’s cabin had been. In Ann Arbor, he and his wife took me to the Gandy Dancer, in the old Michigan Central train station. While we were there, a train went through. I didn’t look quickly enough to see the engineer … and wave.

Summertime … now once upon a time.