A week with 30 family members – sleeping mostly in tents and sharing one small bathroom – isn’t everyone’s dream vacation. But town of Farragut employee Arleen Higginbotham looks forward to her family’s trip to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, every year, and she’s never disappointed.
Arleen works in the town’s Parks & Rec department. If you call to rent a pavilion or register for a class or event, you’ll talk to this transplanted Yankee. She’s worked for the town for 11 years, but she grew up in Munhall, Pennsylvania, with six siblings.
Her father, Andrew Hruska, was a bricklayer for U.S. Steel. Arleen doesn’t remember how her dad and seven or eight co-workers came to purchase property near the lake in Edinboro, but she knows they worked together to build one cottage at a time until each had a vacation home. The Hruska home was finished in 1950. At the time, Edinboro was 3.5 hours from Munhall. (Interstate construction has reduced the travel time to 1.5 hours.)
From the time she was a small child, Arleen spent every summer at the cottage.
“The day school got out, we loaded up the car and went to the cottage. Come Labor Day, we were back home. We swam in the lake, rode bikes, went for walks – we just had so much fun up there.”
Now Arleen shares the cottage with her siblings, and each July, the family gathers there. This year, the party included Arleen’s three grown children and seven grandchildren, and two of her siblings. The cottage has just two bedrooms and one bath, so the family reunion always spills over into tents. Arleen got a bed in the house this year, but she’d have rather been in a tent with the grandkids, she says.
“The cottage doesn’t have air conditioning, and it was really hot!”
The cottage’s double lot easily accommodates the temporary tent village. One of Arleen’s nephews is recently engaged, so in honor of his fiancée’s first trip to the lake, the family christened the week “Julymas” and celebrated by decorating tents with a Christmas theme. Decorations multiplied as the week went on.
Lines for the single restroom were long but respectful, Arleen says. The only time the sharing was stressful was when parents tried to bathe children in the evening. The small water heater guaranteed cold baths for those at the end of the line.
The group shares responsibility for grocery shopping and food prep, but the vacation always begins with pizza from John’s Wildwood Pizzeria. The family was sad to learn that the local restaurant burned in the spring, but the tradition is so important that pizza was carried out from another John’s location in Erie – a 40-mile round trip.
A new food tradition appears to be in the works as Arleen’s son, Chris, roasted a pig for the second year in a row. It resulted in such a bounty that the neighbors were invited to join the feast.
The highlight of the week was a nightly bonfire when the family would sit and talk. One evening, anyone who used bad language was required to do a “walk of shame” around the fire while hanging their head. It was so much fun that the conversation lasted until 3 a.m., Arleen says.
The cottage will soon be 70 years old, but Arleen hopes the family will continue the tradition of coming together there each summer.
“I hope my kids, and my siblings’ kids, will continue to take this on. I’ve given keys to my kids.”
Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.