Door County Dalliance

he summer after our daughter was born, my wife and I made a break for it. For what felt more like years than months, we’d been locked in our house, shackled to the needs and concerns of this eight-pound creature. We decided to flee after talking to other parents who’d told us horror stories about never going out alone again since their children came into the world.

Panicked, we called a sympathetic grandparent, who agreed to watch our little girl while we headed out of town for a brief escape from the prison of parenthood. Most of the time, it’s not a bad prison, but we thought a little sunshine would do our souls good.

We drove north through the farmlands, and all around us the world seemed new and fresh, like we were experiencing it for the first time. It was all so exotic—the strip malls, the overpasses, the road construction—like visiting another country.

After a few hours, we crossed the water at Sturgeon Bay and arrived in Door County. Neither of us had been there, and we were surprised to find it looked a lot like the rest of Wisconsin. You hear so much about it that you picture Shangri-La with cows.

We drove into Fish Creek and checked in to our B&B. Of course, the first thing we did after that was call to see if the baby was alive (she was), and if Grandma was, too (she was). Then it hit us: We were off. We felt giddy with the weight that lifted. It felt like Christmas break, skipping school and calling in sick all at once.

Then we did something we hadn’t done in a long time: We rolled into bed like teens whose parents were out of town. Except now we were the parents who’d gone out of town. And no sooner did we do this than the owner knocked on our door to give us our extra key. Like frightened animals, we played dead, pretended like we weren’t there, and soon she went away. This did not do wonders for the mood. Afterward, we snuck out of the house, hoping no one would see us.

A light rain was falling on the street, and we mostly had the town to ourselves. So we wandered from shop to shop, sometimes talking about our daughter, sometimes remembering all the other times in our years together that we’d enjoyed weekends like this. We knew our lives had changed forever, but for now we were relishing the emptiness of having this time and space to ourselves.

We eventually found our way to the lake. From the water’s edge we could see huge salmon swimming under the docks and between the rocks. They had come back to breed, and now they were spent. We understood.

After dark, we wandered through the streets looking for a place to eat that we could actually afford. There was a fish boil that would have been fun but also would have set us back several months’ worth of diapers. The other restaurants also seemed to have menus that came with payment plans.

Finally, we came upon a bar with signs for a nice, greasy fish fry. So we stopped in, ordered it batter fried, and washed it down with beer. For a few hours, we sat there talking and laughing like we hadn’t done for a long time. And when we were finished, we headed back out into the rain, holding hands and remembering who we were.

Frank Bures’s travel writing received a Lowell Thomas Award in 2007, and an Honorable Mention from the Council for Wisconsin Writers in 2008.