Presque Isle State Park, which occupies the peninsula jutting from Pennsylvania out into Lake Erie, shallowest of the Great Lakes, is the site of many solid and joyful memories for me.
The memories begin at about the age of four, and the most recent were formed a couple of weeks ago.
Central to that most recent memory was taking our 5-year-old granddaughter, Mikayla, for her first swimming experience in a body of water large enough that she could not see the opposite shore.
Secure in the knowledge that mermaids like herself were safe in this water, she splashed around noisily in the protected bay of Beach Area 1, inviting other, more timid children to share in her delight at the aquatic world.
That delight in itself was part of the impact of this memory. It’s important to understand that, as the summer began, Mikayla did not realize she was a mermaid.
That little girl, whom she was at the summer’s beginning, was afraid to put her face in the water. That little girl would have been paralyzed with fear, if I had told her that the channel which opened about two hundred yards away represented the last contact with solid land, until one reaches Canada.
The mermaid she has become, however, found this bit of information thoroughly exciting, though she has no idea what “Canada” is. The idea of sailing through the channel and toward Canada fired her imagination. It fires mine, as well.
The day we chose to go to Presque Isle — indeed, the day chosen for us, as options and choices were narrow — precluded some of the experiences which I wished to share with my landlocked family members. There was a huge festival going on, the DPI (Discover Presque Isle) fest, and for that reason, the crowd made it more desirable, accompanied as we were by a small mermaid, for us to find one of the sheltered bays which I knew certain beaches face.
At a different time, a time with more money and more hours to spend, the festival would have been great. Conditions simply made it something to be avoided, this time.
The crowd also kept us from enjoying a dinner at Sally’s, a drive-in which has marked the entrance to Presque Isle for something like 50 years, and which presents an appropriate 1950’s style aspect.
Another experience, place of memories, which we did not access this time is Smuggler’s Cove, named for obvious reasons, and a place where questionable history meets questionable legend.
The only certainties are that it was used during Prohibition. Beyond that, all is conjecture.
Since my wife had only seen Lake Erie from the window of a car, if at all, and since my granddaughter has discovered her inner mermaid this summer, and since my stepdaughter had only seen the Great Lakes on a map, it was a joy to share with them the place where so many of my happy memories were.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: