Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Upper Peninsula of Michigan, circa 1975

Can you see it, out on the horizon? A low black blotch along the water. A freighter, riding low in the water, moving its cargo of iron ore from Ashland, Wisconsin, to somewhere in the lower Great Lakes. A romantic vision, even before the eerie lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot became part of our memory.

I am blessed to have been raised within a three hour drive of views such as that. Copper Falls, Potato Falls, Saxon Harbor, and Ashland in Wisconsin. Just over the border in Michigan are Ironwood proudly displaying the world’s tallest Indian, Black River Harbor, the Porcupine Mountains and the Lake of the Clouds.

In 1975 we started our vacation at McLain State Park just outside of Hancock, Michigan. I don’t know what it is about this state park, but it has always held a fascination for me. I think it is the amazing sunrises and breathtaking sunsets over Lake Superior. Late in the evening, when all is still, you can hear the water lapping at miles of beach. When the weather is not cooperating, the waves pound upon the shore, spraying the lake water inland.

Somewhere on the highway, heading towards Copper Harbor, there was a small gift shop on a bluff above the water. The proprietor sold pieces of driftwood with paintings of birds on them, rocks with paintings of birds on them and framed paintings of birds, along with lots of polished stones picked up from along the shore. The building had a small tower. Up two flights of stairs there was a little windowed room with fantastic views of the Lake, scenes made even more memorable by looking through the telescope bolted to its four foot high post. The iron ore freighters were still too far out for any detail to come into focus, but at least you could now make out the outline of the vessels.

Five months after we returned home from that particular trip, one of those freighters along with its 29-man crew would succumb to the will of the Great Lake. You can't spend anytime along Lake Gitche Gumee without hearing the strains of the ballad of the Edmond Fitzgerald.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hey, it's me again. Mom is so stressed out over her lap top not working that she just really is in no state of mind to write her blog tonight. She is so busy trying to save her lap top, that I jumped on the desk top and she hardly even noticed. I just really don't like the desk chair on wheels. It is hard enough to prop myself up on my haunches without the chair rolling away from the desk.
That is nothing compared to what Mom is doing on the lap top. She has to hold just exactly so or the screen goes blank. She has more stuff on it than she thought and she is trying to get it all on a jump drive, but like, if she breaths the screen goes out on her. I know how much her blog means to her though, so I am glad I can help her out by at least writing something. The best part is putting my picture on her blog. This is my "I loved going on vacation, but I am so happy to go home" picture.
Wow, how come the first part is suddenly different. Dumb puppy paws!
I think Mom wants to get back on the desk top, to check and see if everything she saved on the lap top will read on the desk top. She is so weird. Dad wanted to buy her a new one yesterday, but she wanted to shop around. I think that this is all teaching her patience. She needs to learn alot more patience. She needs to learn that God will take care of her, and her writing, and her computers, but she just has to trust Him.
It's so much easier being the wonder dog. My only job is waking Mom up in the morning. That and being massively adorable. It's so easy for me to be a success. I wish it was easy for Mom.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I came home from the Green Lake Christian Writer's Conference totally inspired to write, write, write. Hmm? Hasn't happened yet this weekend. My lap top is continuing to have issues. In fact, we went to Wausau today, and my husband said, "we are going to buy you a new lap top today. You are making me crazy." It's not like buying a loaf of bread. For him perhaps it is since he bought Bimbo brand bread last week. I am not kidding. I should take a picture of it for next time.
Anyway, so I am just making up excuses now. I promise to get back on track tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy more pictures from the Conference Center.
Mysterious stairs in the woods
The beautiful rose garden, just outside my window in the building in the background
I sprang out of bed at 5:50 one morning and went down to the lake to watch the sunrise. Well worth it - I should have gone down there every morning. The weather was perfect the entire week. It was tough picking just one picture of the sunrise though - I took a ton.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Conference Center

“Can’t we stop the car and get out?”
“No,” Mom answered from the backseat of the Buick.
“Why not?” My sister Pat never took “no” for an answer. “It looks so cool out there.”
I agreed, but being the dutiful good daughter, I kept my mouth shut.
“It’s owned by the Baptists.” Mom’s cousin Doris sincerely thought that was the answer that would satisfy us.
So we drove, once again, through the beautiful, mysterious grounds of the Green Lake Conference Center. It was the early 1970s. We went to the Green Lake area each fall to visit Doris and Richard and to explore back roads, picking wild grapes. The drive often made a detour through the Conference Center grounds, but we never stopped for fear the Baptist police would arrest us.
Flash forward to 2010. Yes, I am here, on the Conference Center grounds. Legally. And I can explore to my heart’s desire. Well, not really because I am not here to goof around. I am here to write and learn to write and meet people who write, people who will give me the affirmation which I need.

I know that I should practice writing description and tell you about the ancient buildings, the rock walls, the romantic harbor. Maybe next time. This time you just get pictures. Besides my laptop is ill and I should try to cure it before I type much more, and lose everything.




Sunday, August 22, 2010

To all of my faithful readers (both of you), I am taking another week off. This time it is for a very, very good reason. I am going to a writer's conference. I am so excited I can't wait. I am also a little apprehensive; you know, the big buildup and what if it is a bomb.

I am going to Green Lake to the beautiful conference center started by the Baptists many, many years ago. Here is the website telling some of the history of it http://glcc.org/glcc/Green%20Lake%20Story.html . Doesn't it sound awesome? When I was a kid, my mom had a cousin who lived in Green Lake, so once in a while we would drive through the Conference Center grounds. It is gorgeous there.

They have been hosting a Christian Writers Conference there for 62 years! Crazy.

I hope to learn a little bit, hone my writing a little bit and hopefully make some connections that may further my walk along the trail towards publication. Or at least start me on the path. Or at least show me where it is.

Wish me luck. And I will be back writing soon, hopefully from a more interesting prospective.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oh, Canada


Our trip to Canada in 1974 was full of stories but none tops the one I will share now. In fact, very few family stories from my entire lifetime top this tale.
We had stopped at at wayside for one of the many pit stops we took on any trip.
It was a large rest area and I wandered off somewhere, exploring. Pat and Mom used the facilities, while Dad walked the dog. I came out of the woods where I had been roaming, and decided I best use the outhouse while I had the chance.
When I came out of the little girls’ room, the camper was no longer parked where I thought it had been. I looked around and saw it driving off.
My parents were about to leave me in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign country – ok it was only Canada, which, at the time, you could get into without any ID. But it was still a long way from home.
I began my sprint. And I don’t run very fast, I never could, and usually when I ran as fast I could I would end up tripping and falling flat on my face. Luckily that didn’t happen this time.
About the time I had been finishing up in the bathroom, my parents had decided it was time to leave. They saw Pat go in the camper, and since we were practically inseparable, they figured I was already in. Pat, at first, figured that I was in the cab of the truck, but it didn’t take her long to realize that I was not. She looked through the camper window and the truck window, saw Mom, Dad, and the dog, and not me. She started beating on the window, but, with the truck window in between, Mom and Dad were oblivious to her panicked attempts to get their attention.
At that moment, Pat made a crucial decision, possibly a life-altering decision in my regards. Risking her very life, she flung the back door of the camper open just as Dad was breaking for the stop sign before turning onto the road. I had gotten to within five or six feet of the truck by then, so easily leapt into the camper before Dad started to accelerate.
Before I could catch my breath, Pat started laughing hysterically. Within a minute I was laughing right along with her.
At the next break in the trip, when we told Mom and Dad what had happened, Dad rolled his eyes and Mom just looked surprised. Dad did, however, install an intercom system between the truck and the camper as soon as we got home.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Southern Wisconsin

Dad had always been opposed to city driving. He would go great distances to avoid driving through any metropolitan areas. It was surprising, then, that in 1973 we were able to get him to go to Milwaukee to take us to the Zoo.

The Milwaukee Zoo, then as now, is considered one of the country’s finest. It was innovative in the 1960s and 1970s by getting rid of the old iron bars in favor of more natural environments. Each exhibit would have predators of a continent at the back of the exhibit with its prey in the front, separated by a deep moat which went unnoticed by the zoo visitor.

Samson, the huge lowland gorilla, was a zoo star. In his enclosure was a large scale which he liked to sit on. His weight would at times top 600 pounds. He would eye up the visitors watching him, pick one out of the crowd and try to stare them down. If he got mad at you, he would rush the thick Plexiglas wall keeping him contained. On several occasions over the years, he managed to crack the thick glass.

The next day we toured the Cave of the Mounds, a cave west of Madison. Over the years, we have been through quite a few caves. I don’t remember anything special of the cave itself, but outside in what would appear to be the driveway, they had set up sluices so that young geologists could shift through rock from the cave in search of gemstones, or just plain cool rocks. Over the years, we have collected more than our share of just plain cool rocks.

Next we visited The House on the Rock in Spring Green. This would have to be the one tourist place I have visited by far more than any other. In 1973, it was still mostly about the House, which all by itself was interesting enough with all of its passageways, low ceilings, hidden seating areas. Carpet on the walls, stained glass windows, interior fountains, book cases in recesses that were not accessible.

The House on the Rock was the home of Alex Jordan, a sculptor and collector. I don’t know where in the great scheme of things he lost control, but to me, I just liked the simplicity of the House itself, the original Gate House and the Mill House. Over the years, the attraction has been added to and added to. The maze of buildings holding thousands of collections of everything from merry-go-round horses, to butterflies, to room-size music machines, though very interesting to experience, seems to detract from the straightforwardness of the original structures.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flash forward to 2008. Mom, my daughter Val and I took one more trip to Virginia in March to visit the relatives. Mom's uncle had just turned 100 that January. He was in excellent health, but really - how many years does any centenarian have left? We had a good trip, and of all the vacations I have ever been on, this was the one I would never give back. You see, only a few months later, my mom's aunt passed away at age 94. As I write this though, at 102, my great uncle is still going strong.

Someday, if you are lucky (or unlucky I should say), you'll be able to read my blog about all the details of the 2008 Virginia trip. In the mean time, though, let me tell you about a little delay in our travels.

Hopefully you read yesterday's blog, about how I got sick in 1972 on the way to Virginia and ended up in the emergency room in Cherokee, North Carolina. Well, if you missed it, you must go back before reading further.

You see, 36 years later I had the pleasure of discovering another emergency room in one of the east coast states. This time I was in Danville, Virginia, and it was my daughter who kept us awake half the night with severe abdominal pain and vomiting. We determined it had to be from food poisoning (darn that Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwich).
Val 12 hours after her ER visit, waking up from a nap at our cousin's home.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tennessee

In 1972, we traveled to Tennessee with my sister Judy and her family. After seeing Nashville and Chattanooga, they drove onto Florida, while Dad, Mom, Pat and I swung thru Virginia to see relatives there again.

The Country Western Hall of Fame must not have done much for me, because I don’t remember any of it. All I can see of it is the picture that someone took of Judy and Claude with two of their kids, Paula and Brian, in front of it. The young siblings were wearing matching outfits, Paula in pink of course and Brian in blue. The Wax Museum of Country Stars scared me; the figures looked so life-like. Either Pat or Dad kept saying, “Look at that. That figure just moved!”

Chattanooga was much more interesting.

Rock City, acres of rock gardens through wooded paths and narrow passages of solid rock, had been the dream of Frieda and Garnet Carter. They were also the ones who invented Tom Thumb golf, which would one day be known as Miniature Golf. Rock City also had Lover’s Leap, a rock outcropping several hundred feet above the valley floor. To get to it, a person had the choice of crossing a solid rock bridge or a Swing-Along bridge held up by cable. Naturally Pat charged across the swinging bridge with Dad swinging it all the way. I plodded across the rock bridge, scared enough by the distance to the chasm below that I certainly didn’t want to feel as if I would be tipped right off of it.

Following the beauty of the outdoors, the trail went indoors to Mother Goose Land, a cave-like place with cubby holes filled with figurines lite by Black Light. The figures were kind of lame, but the black light was astounding. We laughed at each other’s glow-in-the-dark teeth and at any white we had on our clothes. At that time, we were leading very sheltered lives.

Shortly after Chattanooga, Judy’s family headed south east, while we drove straight east to Virginia.

The first night we were on our own, we stayed in Cherokee, North Carolina, a little town on an Indian Reservation. Some time in the middle of the night, I woke up with a severe stomach ache. Soon, I was in the toilet with diarrhea – not a good thing in those close quarters. Next I was throwing up. Mom says she wasn’t overly concerned until I started passing blood, then it was time to pack up camp and find a hospital.

I don’t remember how we got to the hospital; all I remember is laying on a gurney in the Emergency Room. I slept on and off, while Mom sat at my side the entire night, and once when I was sleeping I dreamed about Cheerios. What in the world was up with that? And more importantly, why do I still remember that all these years later?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

South Dakota

How is it possible that I remember so much about some trips and so little about others? It seems as though every trip has had something memorable, something that needs to be passed down through the generations. A story that would make the headlines if there was a news channel dedicated to just our family. There was no such story on our first trip to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.

But by now, you realize that I won’t leave it at that. If there is no story, I will have to create one.

In 1971, we went out west again, only this time our destination was the southwest corner of South Dakota, where yet another tourist mecca lies, the Black Hills. The Needles Highway is incredible, with its hairpin curves, fascinating rock outcroppings, and narrow road. When the highway went through the solid granite mountain, Mom would get out and film Dad driving the camper through. If we could have stuck our hands out of the camper windows, we would have been able to touch the sides of the mountain.

Custer State Park has an impressive herd of buffalo and a band of friendly burros. The Badlands area, by contrast, is stark and moody. Throughout a single day, the weather can change from warm to cold, from sunny to rainy, and with every change the rainbow colored hills go through a wide range of hues.

One of the big tourist attractions of the Black Hills is, of course, Mount Rushmore. The giant heads of four of our most adored leaders are stunning. It is so hard to believe that someone could carve that out of the side of mountain. Well, ok, that a crew of 400 could carve it still seems unreal. A little further down the road is another such carving, but sometimes it’s hard to make the comparison.

Dad was always fascinated by Crazy Horse. Mount Rushmore was a finished work when we first saw it. It was built between 1927 and 1941, for just under one million dollars, at least half of which was government funds. Work on the Crazy Horse Memorial started in 1947 and has accepted no government funds. It is being built strictly on donations and admissions to the grounds. I haven’t been able to find out any estimates on its cost, and no one knows exactly when it will be finished.

We stopped there for the first time on our way to Yellowstone in 1969. Two years later, no one could tell that any work had been done on it. We traveled through the area again in 1976, and again, I sure couldn’t see any advances. But they were there, what appeared as a small fragment from 1500 feet away amounted to several tons of rock.

The whole story of Crazy Horse is fascinating, I can see what Dad saw in it. I would recount it all here, but you can just as easily find it on the web as I can. With pictures too.

Unfortunately, on the way home, we had to stop at yet another tourist trap. Everyone stops at Wall Drug and I don’t think anyone knows why they stop. Advertising free ice water since the 1930s, the small drug store grew and grew, and now encompasses most of the downtown of the small town of Wall, population less than a thousand.

So we stopped, wandered around, looked at all the cheesy souvenirs for sale, took pictures of Pat and I on the bucking bronco, and got our free ice water.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Yellowstone

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first ever park of its kind. It was dedicated to the American people, to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. At the time, though, since there had never been a national park anywhere before, the government and those put in charge of the park didn’t know what to do with it. There had not even been any funds allocated to preserving the area. Poaching was common in the area. At the time the Wyoming territory was in a very remote area of the country, so the public the park was created for had a difficult time getting there.

Before long, though, there were railroads and roads into the park. Though visitors on horseback were the first to explore the park, automobiles began arriving by 1915.

When we traveled to Yellowstone in 1969, it was already the most visited national park, but the American population was a lot less then too. There were no hoards of people, just the same hoards of bears that still hang out along side of the roads, blocking traffic and looking for handouts.

Old Faithful was very popular and easily accessible. A crowd would gather when it was predicted to be due to erupt. The other geysers were just as fascinating, even when they weren’t erupting. Just the thought that at any moment they could spew hundreds of gallons of water high into the air was enough for me. Morning Glory Pool was gorgeous, so hard to believe that hot water bubbling out of the ground could attract such amazingly colored algae and other organisms, microscopic life forms that thrive in the hot water. At various other pools the blues and greens and pinks seemed to glow under the boiling water.

Some of the other geysers and pools were a short hike away from the parking lot. So, at one such place, Mom wanted to stay in the truck while Dad took me, Pat and the cameras to check out hot ponds and steaming pools.

We took our share of pictures and home movies, Pat and me scampering in front of the camera for Dad. But we didn’t get to view any other geysers discharging. When we got back to where the camper was parked along the far edge of the lot, Mom was all excited. She pointed to a small lake not far away.

“A moose came right out of the woods and went through the water. He was just a couple hundred feet away. And you guys had all the cameras.”

Sure, Mom.

And since we had the cameras, there was no way to prove it. As I said, the crowds were small, so there were no witnesses to back up Mom’s story. We believed her, but continued to give her a hard time, mostly because we were jealous that all we had seen was hot water.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Virginia I

In June of 1968, and again in 1972 and 1978, we went to Franklin, Virginia. My mother had a pair of aunts and uncles who lived there, and she’d been there to visit before.

Luckily Mom's cousin Georgia had kids close to the ages of Pat and me. This meant that instead of spending our vacation days inside with the female adults, while they shared tea and stories, we could be outside where her son George would dare us to curl up inside a tractor tire so he and his sister could roll us across the yard. OK, Pat accepted the dare; I was too chicken try it.

At night, in the backyard, we caught fireflies in a pint jar and then released them in George’s room. With the lights on, the drab insects seemed to disappear into the furnishings of the room. When we threw the room into darkness with the flip of a switch, the fireflies would appear as if by magic, bringing a glow to the room.

Mom’s other cousin Shirley raised horses, trotters, and lived in a restored plantation house. Riding up the long driveway was like entering a different era. The house looked like something out of "Gone with the Wind". The interior seemed to go on and on and on, one room leading to the next until I felt lost, antiques everywhere.

The animal life at Shirley’s farm was quite varied. In addition to the beautiful sleek mares and their gangly foals, there were several riding horses along with a small herd of round furry burros. A pair of Great Danes was off set by a pair of Welsh Corgis, with their German shepherd type heads and short stubby legs. And everywhere there were either peacocks, their long iridescent feathers or their droppings. The birds would constantly be emitting their loud cries, scaring those of us who had never seen the exotic creatures before.

.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Smelt Fishing

Smelt fishing was an annual event for our family, kind of like Christmas and the Fourth of July. If you have ever lived in the Northwoods you will know that that does not make us strange at all, it means we fit right in.

There was no question that on a Friday afternoon in April or May, Dad would pack us all in the camper as soon as he got home from work, and we’d head to Ashland.

Dad and his cronies from the paper mill would spend much of the night in the lake. Wearing chest-high waders, they would trudge with their nets into the freezing water of Lake Superior, then pull the nets back in full of hundreds of three to six inch fish, many of their undersides bulging with yellowish eggs. Or at least that’s what I pictured happening. Since this all went on after dark and it was cold out, Mom was reluctant to let us out of the camper. Someone usually lit a bonfire though, and occasionally Mom would let us out to bask in its heat.

The most vivid smelt-fishing incident involved chili and hot chocolate. Pat, the son of one of our neighbors, and I were sitting at the table in the camper sipping hot chocolate. Mom was at the stove heating up a big kettle of chili. The camper was parked in its usual spot, far from shore, when suddenly it started moving. Well, we were all stuck inside. Mom was understandably vexed, but she was willing to ride it out and see what Dad had in mind.

Then he drove over a set of railroad tracks. These were not ordinary railroad tracks you would find on a downtown city street. These were hideous tracks, compact-car-eating tracks.

Though we kids were tightly clutching our cups of cocoa, we could do nothing to prevent their contacts from making a quick exit and spilling all over the table. That, however, was nothing compared to what happened to the chili.

Tomatoes, ground beef, sauce sloshed all over the stove, the back wall, the ceiling, Mom. You name it, there was chili everywhere.

When the truck had come to a complete stop a short while later, Dad came around to the back door to sheepishly apologize. He had decided to drive down to the beach and hadn't realized that the railroad tracks were that rough.

I don’t remember what Mom said, maybe nothing. Or maybe it was one of those things so awful that our subconscious buries the memory so we won’t be haunted by it the rest of our lives.

It didn't matter what she said or did next; the fact is that she was wiping up tomato sauce for months afterward.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Texas

The end of October, 1967, Dad and some of the other guys from the paper mill in town were needed at the mill in Orange, Texas. Dad drove our pickup and the camper there.

At some point, during his absence, Mom loaded me, Pat, and several other people into her car and drove to Texas for a few weeks. For some reason we left at four o’clock in the morning. It was pitch black outside and freezing cold that November.

We arrived in Texas the next day to a warmth we never dreamed of in November. We were amazed that we could go outside without jackets or scarves. The motel where we stayed had an outdoor pool that was still in use. Or course, Mom wouldn’t let us use it, but no decent mother of the time would let their children go swimming outdoors in November no matter what the weather or where you were.

Our jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico was a little bit chilly, more seasonable for us, a stiff breeze coming off the ocean. Mom made us wear our jackets and scarves. Our plaid cotton scarves, with fringes, were almost extensions of ourselves, to be worn at all times unless the weather was extreme. Extreme being the cold we left behind in Wisconsin that November, requiring a home-knit cap pulled down around our ears. Extreme heat being the month of July which was those four weeks during the Wisconsin summer when the temperature consistently stayed above 45 degrees.

Two of the souvenirs we brought home were silky scarves with a picture of the lone star state printed on it. Pat’s had blue trim, mine red. Mine is still in the bottom of one of my dresser drawers, thread-bare and wrinkled, but still bearing the Texas logo.

The other item I remember Mom purchasing was a play cowboy whip for my 16-year-old cousin. I cannot fathom why she thought that was an appropriate gift. As soon as she gave it to him, he chased Pat and me around my aunt’s yard with it.

The free souvenirs are sometimes the best. Dozens of seashells found their way into the camper, only after Mom had inspected them to be sure no animals were lurking inside.

“You know that animals do live inside those shells, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mom,” we obediently answered and immediately thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one of those animals made it all the way home before crawling out when we took the shell to school for show-and-tell?

We really wanted to take the jellyfish to school. We found one washed up on the beach, its long transparent tentacles trailing into the ocean. It was positively unearthly.

“Get away from that thing,” Mom shouted before we could get within ten yards of it. “That thing is poisonous.”

“But Mom, it’s dead.”

“It doesn’t matter. It is still poisonous and can still sting you.”

So much for cool wildlife.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Niagara Falls

The first big trip we took in the new camper was to New York State. It was June 1967. We visited my brother Tom, who was stationed as an MP at West Point and then went on to see Niagara Falls.

I remember next to nothing of West Point and absolutely nothing of my brother’s role there. He was 21; I was just a kid, a punk, not even in kindergarten.

I do remember the falls though. I can still hear the thunder of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge of rock eons old. I can see the lights they turned on at night illuminating the falls in a rainbow of color.

Dad took my sister Pat on a trip under the falls; I was too little to go. The story of my life seemed to be being left behind with Mom while Pat, two and a half years my senior, did something cool with Dad. Pat was all excited about it, but never admitted until 20 years later that it had scared the wits out of her.

It became almost a quest during the 1980s and 1990s, for me, Pat and our other sister Judy to view every waterfall in northern Wisconsin and the UP. Even the tiniest trickle of water tumbling down stream was a fascination and a photo opportunity to be sure. Often the smaller waterfalls were the better ones, less people, often no people, just lots of peace and stillness, except for the sound of water.

Niagara Falls certainly was the biggest waterfalls I’ve ever seen, but would I go back there? With all the congestion and commercialism? I think I will take a ten foot waterfall in the woods in the middle of nowhere. But the passion of it all maybe began for me at that New York tourist trap.

(And in case you didn't realize it this is not a picture of Niagara Falls.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wisconsin Dells -1966

The first trip we took in the new camper was a weekend getaway to Wisconsin Dells.

The Dells had drawn tourists since the advent of the automobile. In the first half of the twentieth century, the beauty of the Dells themselves, the rock formations carved by thousands of years of the rush of the Wisconsin River and the work of glaciers, were what people came to see. The famous ducks, amphibious vehicles engineered and first used by the military, would ferry tourists across land and directly into the water for scenic views of the area beginning in the late 1940s.

By the 1950s various entrepreneurs saw opportunities to expand the tourist attractions. One of the first such attractions was Storybook Gardens and Mothergoose Land. These beautifully landscaped grounds had life-size figures from all the beloved fairy tales of my youth. There was a little cottage with statues of the three bears, waiting to greet any girl willing to be their Goldilocks. There was the wall Humpty Dumpty sat precariously on. There were three men in a tub in the middle of a pond. Many more settings from children’s stories dotted the grounds.

When my family visited the Dells in 1966, Pat and I ran from one fairytale scene to the next. We pretended to eat porridge with the bear family and carried on imaginary conversations. We climbed the crooked ladder to the roof of the crooked home of the crooked man and his crooked wife and slide down the crooked slide.

Storybook Gardens is still in operation, and I hope that the children of today have as much fun there as I did. Unfortunately I bet that the kids who visit the Dells area now are much more interested in the multitude of waterparks that have sprung up all over town.

For me, though, it was enough to just frolic in the grass and pretend that I was Little Red Riding Hood.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Camper

In 1966, Dad bought an aqua-blue Chevrolet Pickup truck, with a standard transmission, a white roof and white stripes down the sides. The white stripes must have been standard on all vehicles in the 1960s, because every car or truck we owned during that era seemed to have them.

When we went for trips in the new pickup, Pat and me sitting in the front seat between Mom and Dad, one of us kids would use the wide metal clip of the seat belt to “shave” the stick shift. We’d slowly move the metal clip across the black ball of the shift, listening to the click, click, click sound and feeling the vibration as we traveled down the road at 40 to 50 miles an hour. At such speeds, no one ever wore a seat belt, or thought of it as anything but a nuisance (if you were Mom) or as an electric shaver (if you were a five-year-old).

Along with the new truck, came a Hiawatha pickup camper. This was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It had its own tiny refrigerator, stove, sink, furnace and even a toilet. The dinette folded down to make a bed for Mom and Dad, and to this day I have no idea how they slept in such a minute space. Pat and I had the best sleeping arrangements; we got the bed over the cab of the truck.

We not only slept there, we played there and when traveling down the road, we laid there on our bellies watching out the front window, a magical land of the unexplored rushing towards us. We waved at every passing motorist and pedestrian who would look our way. Sometimes we wrote up signs to flash at these people, something benign and amazingly original like “hi” or “smile”.

The one rule that Dad laid down for us, the law of the land which we were never to break, was that when the truck was moving the door at the back of the camper was locked and we were under no circumstance to get within three feet of it. The edge of the dinette marked as far as we could go. After that the closet on the left, the enclosed toilet on the right, and the door straight ahead meant certain death, for we were sure to fall out onto the pavement to be crushed by a passing semi if we went near the door when the truck was moving.

Other than that we had free rein within the camper. On rare occasions we’d play cards at the table as we rode down the road, but more often than not, we’d instead crawl to the bed above the cab. To view all the wonders of our world

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"The Family Vacation"
For some reason, when I was a kid, I assumed that everyone went on a family vacation every summer. I don't know why, because none of my friends ever went on a trip with their families. My family, however, did travel somewhere every summer. These family trips were never anything spectacular, no vacations in the south of France, or even south of the Border.
It was a simpler time. People didn't have to jump in a plane and travel half-way around the world to see new and different things. Growing up in the sixties in the rural upper Midwest, it took very little actually to be new and different for me and my sister Pat. Everything was an adventure for us. And everywhere we went, our eyes bugged out in wonder and awe.
I could never imagine having had a childhood like the kids today. Where it is go, go, go, all the time, none stop. A barrage of internet images, high speed everything, information overload, no down time, not even on vacation.
Perhaps mine is the last generation to live through that simpler, idealistic time. We didn't know anything. And that was totally acceptable.
So I have written down the stories of all those family vacations. All those memories from an idealistic youth, a simpler time. A time when it was all right to spend time with just Mom, Dad and your sister.
As if I had a choice.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010



I wish I could say I that I was going to write something immensely inspirational, that I have come up with my new theme, my new story to write. I am still mulling it over. Actually I have quite a bit already written and some of it is even already in my laptop. I just haven't decided yet which route to take.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the last entry, the musing of Dino the wonder dog. We just took him for a ride tonight to see if we could see the northern lights (no such luck), and when we got home he didn't want to get out of the car. He is still in "let's go for a trip" mode.

Speaking of the pets, the night that Val and I brought Fred home, in November of 2005, the northern lights were the most fantastic that I have ever seen. There is something about the Aurora Borealis that is so other-worldly, eerie, as if they had a life of their own. Because of that, I thought we should name the new cat Aurora or Borealis. I was quickly shot down, and thus the Flintstone theme for pets evolved.

Which brings me to the next thought. What are we going to name the new kittens? We still haven't come up with anything that has stuck. It is between Charlie and Sally, Charlie and Lucy, Linus and Lucy, Mork and Mindy. The problem with starting a new theme is then I need to continue it (which is why I like Mork and Mindy), but I keep telling myself that these are the last pets we are going to get. When they die of old age, in 16 to 20 years, I will hopefully be retiring and taking off in our RV to travel the country, so I don't want any more pets around to have to deal with.