The unvoiced thoughts and ideas of a septegenarian.


on February 11, 2012


Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end. . .

For we were young and sure to have our way.”

             There is a small lake in southern Wisconsin, a one hour drive from my home in Chicago. The summer I was born my Norwegian immigrant grandparents, built a cottage on a wooded lot two blocks away from a sandy beach on that lake.  I might as well have been born in it.

Today, when my sister and I reflect on the summers we spent there, we are amazed by the freedom we had. Up with the sun, into swim suits, a stop in the garden, salt shaker in hand, we plucked ripe tomatoes, ate them for breakfast as we rode bikes to the beach over gravel roads.  No cell phones; nobody asked where are you going; nobody said be home by five. We were birds – we flew – didn’t return to the nest until dinnertime – occasionally lunch.

Up on water skis by the time I was seven, endlessly circling the lake behind a Criss-Craft, driven too fast by 13 year old Sammy.  The days were long, hot, mellow, mosquitoes relentless. The girls lay in the sun in hope of a tan while the boys googled and teased.  A bottle of baby oil spiked with iodine was the tanning lotion of choice.

After dinner all the younger kids in the neighborhood came over and we played games –  games my children never heard of.  Red Rover, Red rover, Let Susie Come Over.  We jumped rope to the tune of dozens of silly rhymes. We climbed trees, we stole apples, we lay on our backs and gazed at the stars. We learned a lot in such a free atmosphere.. We learned to give and take; we learned about fair and no fair; and we learned, too, howto take care of ourselves. We also took chances, occasionally disobeyed the rules.

Once a week our departure for the beach was delayed as we helped Grandma with the laundry.  Clothes washed I n a wringer-washer had to be carried up from a tiny basement to the yard and hung on lines to dry. I can still remember the fresh scent that enveloped me as they were taken down and folded later in the day. And daily a Good Humor truck, ringing bells loud enough to scare the birds, came down the road. I once fell off the running board on one of those trucks and my arm became inflected.  Grandma knew what to do – no need for a doctor. For three days I sat at the kitchen table with my arm in hot water.

Once in a while we had sleep over parties in the loft of a barn hoping against hope that we’d get to see the bull screw one of the cows.  Never happened.  Some evenings the beach kids congregated on a large wooden porch next door to our cottage.  Many nights I sat by my bedroom window, watching them laugh together as they played Monopoly, insane with jealousy at not being allowed to join them. While the kids played Monopoly the neighborhood adults gathered in our dining room and played Pinochle – endlessly  Sometimes, when Grandpa saw me gazing out the window he’d say, “Wanna go fishing in the morning, kiddo? C’mon,  let’s go get us some night crawlers.”  The night crawlers lived in mud along a stream that flowed past the cottage and I’d grab my rubber boots, hold grandpa’s hand and pull the slimy creatures out one by one until we had a bucketful.

Grandpa was a taciturn man addicted to the Chicago Cubs and Gabriel Heater and the News.  He never said much on our fishing forays but if I was lucky enough to land a decent sized perch and became a bit exuberant I’d b e sure to hear “Quiet. You’ll scare the fish.”  I thus learned about the value of silence. Grandma too never said much. She wasn’t a disciplinarian but she did give me my first and only real spanking – a well deserved spanking for I had bitten the young boy who lived behind us while he and I were double pumping on a swing..  She had a peculiar way of washing the floor. Using a rag and a bucket she bent over from the waist, keeping her legs perfectly straight, and mopped up the sand Janet and I had trekked into the house.  She looked like an upside down V and I never understood why she didn’t fall flat on her face. She was an expert at crocheting: a bedspread she made still covers my bed.

There was a family that lived down the block who had five daughters.   As a child I concluded God must be a woman to allow that to happen. Those five girls, Alice, Mary, Carol, Barbara and Susan, never missed joining the rest of the kids on evenings when we all marched half a mile on a gravel road to a Dairy Queen where we pigged out on Black Cows – still my favorite but now I must order a Root Beer Float.  No McDonald’s back then and there.

Rarely did we venture beyond home and the beach but there was a skating rink in a nearby town and occasionally a parent would drive a few kids there. One hour was our limit.  If we were lucky there’d be a stop for ice cream on the way home.  Every Friday there was a trip to a local farm for fresh vegetables where we’d stock up on corn fresh off the stalk. The kids were allowed to climb the apple trees and help themselves. Some evenings we went to a donkey baseball game and laugh hysterically when someone hit a homerun, hopped on a donkey and the damn donkey wouldn’t move.

Free as the air were we then.  Grateful for that freedom am I now.

Try to remember the kind of September

When life was slow and oh, so mellow………

Try to remember and if you remember,

Then follow…”.

Julie Rose



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