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Lakeside, a Family Tradition

A vacation in the Adirondacks with kin and companions proves to be as restorative as it was in grandpa's day

July 04, 1999|JEAN WOESTENDIEK LETAI | Jean Woestendiek Letai is a free-lance writer in Medfield, Mass

DIAMOND POINT, N.Y. — With rosy cheeks, sunny spirits and relaxed tempers, my husband and children and I lounged in front of a crackling fire in the huge stone hearth of Canoe Island Lodge. Tony and I were sunken into the soft sofa, tired and happy after an exhilarating day of doing nothing. Kate and Andy flirted with Tyler and Prince, Labrador retrievers stretched out on the hand-braided rugs. We discussed what to do the next day--take another sailboat ride on Lake George, hike in the surrounding Adirondack Mountains, water-ski, or fish and play on the beach some more. We decided on all of the above.

We could not have felt more at home, yet there were no meals to cook, no dishes to wash, no phone calls to make, no buses to catch. Though several attractions are a short drive away, we left the resort only once, to buy a deck of cards at the Potbelly Deli a mile down the road. We spent evenings in the knotty-pine cabin we were sharing with old friends, playing hearts and watching the passage of moonlight across the lake. We spent days in, on or alongside the water, with no demands on our time--in fact, with no awareness of time.

Such leisure is how people used to define vacation: leaving home and work and all their demands and distractions for a week or more empty of cares. That was in the days before the Disneyland concept of vacation as entertainment, before affordable air travel put distant vacation destinations within reach of working families.

From the 1880s until the 1960s or '70s, Upstate New York, with its vast stretches of mountains and lakes, was one big vacationland. Railroads from New York City sped the rich north to Saratoga Springs and lakes George and Champlain. Just about every lesser lake in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains was home to at least one resort, some of them posh, most of them plain. Whole families came for a week at a time, lazing away the days, sleeping in lodges or cabins, coming together at mealtime in dining halls, playing cards or bingo in the evening.

Tony and I, and our friends Roland and Shirley, have taken our share of busy sightseeing vacations and long driving trips. Now, with three children between us, the idea of spending almost a week in one place was very attractive.

All of my own childhood summers were spent at a lakefront cottage in Canada, and my husband was curious about the magic that the cottage still works in my memory. Living in the Boston area, not too far away, we had heard about Lake George and its reputation as a family-friendly resort area. With a bit of research, we determined that Canoe Island Lodge was just right as a place where we all could truly relax. We booked four nights after Labor Day, when rates drop but the weather still says summer.

Canoe Island Lodge is open from May to October. In July and August its rates include breakfast and dinner and supervised programs for children, plus a variety of boating, but not lunch. In the other months, lunch is included in the price, but there's no children's program.

We felt immediately at home in the main lodge dining room, where the waiters and waitresses quickly memorized our children's names and used them. The pace was unhurried, and they cheerfully delivered a second glass of milk for 3-year-old Kate, an extra box of Cheerios for 15-month-old Andrew. Once, they brought a whole plate of sliced cucumbers for 20-month-old Gavin, our friends' son, who had decided to eat only cucumbers that day.

It was not entirely just like home for us grown-ups. Tony and I usually have cereal for breakfast, but we indulged in the lodge's freshly baked bread and muffins, which were served as starters before the pancakes, eggs and so on.

At lunchtime we hoarded the homemade cookies. At dinner we filled up on grilled steak and salmon (and, for the kids, pasta). I skipped dessert; my treat was not having dishes to wash.

We also felt at home on the beach. One day, we were playing in the sand as two boathouse workers began heading over to Canoe Island in a motorboat. They were off to fix some signs a storm had blown over on the island, but when they saw us watching they came back to ask if we wanted to go along for the ride. I felt like a kid sister whose big brothers had invited her to tag along.

Others must feel at home, too, because 85% of Canoe Island Lodge guests are repeat customers.

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