LAKESIDE, O. - "Welcome. Your room is Anne. Front door key enclosed."
The brief message written in longhand on a plain white envelope was my introduction to an overnight journey into the past at Green Gables here.
The charming inn operated by the Lakeside Women's Club is definitely vintage. It dates to 1928 and is as much like my mother's rooming house in Adrian as I will ever enjoy now. Having to share a bath brought it all back, with pleasant recollections.
But it wouldn't be fair to say that all parts of the summer retreat founded by Methodists on the southern shore of Lake Erie aredated and old-fashioned. Once you get into the spirit of the people of Lakeside, you soon realize that it's as up-to-date as the children who bicycle in the street that is roped off for them. It's as energetic as the young people who play basketball until 10 p.m. on the public court, and the other teens who keep in step at line dancing in the afternoon, and as up-to-date as last week's programs on national women's issues.
Lakesiders are true blue to their waterfront acreage, located 10 miles east of Port Clinton and a stone's throw from Marblehead.
"I don't think anyone has ever been tied and dragged to Lakeside. We all love it," says Barbara Mauntler, whose family has been coming to this chautauqua for nine years - which makes the Mauntlers newcomers compared to several generations of families who swarm here to stay from May until Labor Day.
But the Woodville, O., woman and her husband are so immersed in the activities here that they regret the few hours they must be away - to do their laundry.
The Lakeside attitude begins with walkers who start shortly after sunrise, and continues past sunset and an evening program in either the Hoover Auditorium or Orchestra Hall.
I question that the sunset is ever more beautiful than it was the evening I watched it from the pier, a custom with Lakesiders. The option was to see the film Life is Beautiful at Orchestra Hall.
I am sure I made the right choice. The wrong decision was when I didn't stay a second night to hear the Lakeside Symphony at Hoover Auditorium. Symphony members are from all over the country.
By 8 a.m. the seats were filling at the Abigail Tea Room and Elva Thomas was handing out menus, calling just about everyone by name. It's her 27th year as hostess there. "What else would I do all summer?" the Bay Village resident said, recalling that she went to Lakeside to help out for one season and got the summer bug.
There may be 800 cottages at Lakeside, but it still has a small-neighborhood feel about it. I hadn't been to Abigail's since 1981, but little has changed at the 1930s restaurant - only the prices, and they are still reasonable. Walleye dinner with two sides, $6.75.
While there are many long-time senior residents who began their summer stint as children with their parents and grandparents, there also are newcomers. Marilyn Burns has adopted Lakeside as her summer home and the place for a new business venture. After operating the 12,000-square-foot Apple Tree gift shop in Sylvania, Ms. Burns decided to downsize her business to a 400-square-foot space in Lakeside. She opened Marilyn's, a variety store, in the summer of 1999.
Teel Blust is another newcomer who plans to return to Lakeside in 2001. Ms. Blust is the Green Gables hostess, the person who takes reservations for the four rooms, greets guests, makes them comfortable, manages the place generally, and plays bridge on the Internet on her day off. A retired teacher, she is a resident of Coshocton, O.
Green Gables is a unique women's club project. With the exception of Ms. Blust and Nancy Wilburn, it has been operated continuously for 125 years by volunteers. The club also provides the only public library at Lakeside, and Ms. Wilburn is its librarian.
The 1873 Victorian house is appropriately furnished in antiques, including wicker rockers in a second-floor sitting room where guests gather to chat, and where a communal refrigerator is kept for snack stashing. The conversation well might be about what a bargain $20 a night is for a room right out of a novel.
Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor.
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