Monday, May 21, 2007
Mom and Dad at the Lake, circa 1965
We began going to Lake Koshkonong in southern Wisconsin, about 70 miles from our home in Rockford, sometime during World War II. Some friends of my parents from the Moose Club, the Olsons, had a cottage there which they rented out. We subsequently began spending our summer vacations there, in a small compound of four lakeside cottages all owned by people from Rockford
Lake Koshkonong is formed by the Rock River. It is about 2 miles wide and 9 miles long and very shallow…perhaps 20 feet deep at its very deepest point. We could wade out from in front of the cottage for a good block and a half without the water reaching our shoulders (and I was not very tall at the time). The bottom was also very, very muddy, and the water was muddy brown.
It could also be deadly. Being so shallow, the winds could quickly whip it into a froth of whitecaps. The last cottage in the row of four belonged to the Skinner family, whom we knew well. One evening, they and a group of friends decided to go across the lake for a fish fry. Nine people crowded into the 16-foot boat, and on the way back the winds rose, the boat was swamped, and seven of the passengers drowned. Their cottage was sold shortly thereafter to the Fines, a very nice elderly couple from Chicago.
When the cottage between the Olsons and the Fines also went up for sale, my parents bought it. It was small…only two small bedrooms…but it was jerry-built pleasant and had a lovely curved stone fireplace. The people who built the place had carefully gone all around the lake collecting different colored stones for it. And somewhere along the way, someone then painted it white.
While I was in college, my “gang” of friends would frequently come up for weekends, during which we’d sing college songs all the way up and back, water ski and sunbathe during the day while we were there, and play charades, cards, and board games at night. And thinking of those days as I write, I feel the sweet ache of intense nostalgia.
One of these weekend excursions was during rehearsals for a play, and several of the cast members came up, ostensibly to rehearse our lines. When we returned, David, one of the guys who couldn’t make it asked how it went, and with the spontaneity of college kids, a tale developed—with each of us who’d gone contributing a piece of the story—of a weekend from hell. My parents, David was told, were religious fanatics of the most fundamental sort. My mother, he was told, had spent the entire weekend doing nothing but quoting scripture and tatting an altar cloth. My father had insisted on loading us all into our boat and taking us around the lake to distribute religious pamphlets. It wasn’t fair to David, of course, but it was great fun.
My parents came down for the play the closing night, and I told David that I wanted to be sure he met them, though he was less than thrilled by the prospect. Just before curtain, one of the girls who had been up for the “weekend from hell” came in to the dressing room to report that she’d looked out into the audience and that my parents were there. “Your dad must really be mellowing,” she said. “He’s not wearing black.”
After the show there was a cast party to which friends and family were invited. Dad was, by pure coincidence, wearing a dark grey suit. I’d told him of the story we had given David, and the first chance I got, I went to bring David over to meet him. Poor David had been totally traumatized by this point and didn’t know what to expect, but he reluctantly came along.
“David,” I began, “This is my father…,” at which point my dad, poker faced, raised his hand in benediction and said solemnly “Peace, David.”
It is one of my fondest memories of my college career.
I miss my dad.
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