Today’s pace is, admittedly, much
faster than the one that I can remember from the years during which I grew
up. Nonetheless, a family vacation is still one of the best opportunities
to reconnect with the ones who are most dear to you.
My second cup of coffee was history
and I had just finished re-covering my boat. The threat of storms again
this morning was finally going to produce some desperately needed
rainfall. This was the second driest June that I could remember in my
30-plus years on the lake. As the thunder rumbled in the background and
the rain began to sizzle through the pine trees just outside my cabin, the
melodic strains of one of my favorite CD’s soothed the nerves that had
been jangled by an incredibly slow walleye bite and hot, humid air that
had been accompanied by a south wind for four straight days.
Jim Chappell’s album
Living the Northern Summer
was on and the song “The Finest of Times” had started
to play. My breakfast of eggs, hash browns and bacon was steaming in
front of me in the cool, humid air of the morning as I began to recall
some of my own finest of times. According to my mother, I was only two
years old when my parents had placed me in the bow of their boat as they
fished a lake in northern Minnesota. Perhaps that is when I unknowingly
developed my love of the water.
One of the things that my dad seemed
to always look forward to was our annual trip to Minnesota to a little
town named Bagley. It was there that he had made a significant recovery
from what would be a lifelong battle with the effects of the malaria that
he had acquired in the jungles of Guadalcanal during World War II. And it
was there that he had found some of the peace that I believe he wanted to
share with his family. We stayed in a small log cabin, one of a
half-dozen or so owned by Hank and Irene – relatives of a sort – a short
distance from a small lake. Every summer until I was about 9 or 10, our
family spent a week or so “Living the Northern Summer.” My mother,
father, sister and I laughed and ate dinner together, swam in the lake and
fished, played cards and enjoyed the simple things that life had to offer.
Years later we journeyed a very long
way to a place called Lac de Milles Lacs in Ontario, Canada for another
fishing trip or two. Again we enjoyed the things that families enjoy
together and life couldn’t have been any better. Don’t get me wrong.
Neither my sister nor myself enjoyed the outhouse that was at least 100
feet from our cabin. My sister did not enjoy the leeches in the lake either!
Her desire to go for another dip in the lake was overpowered by the dozen
or so that attached themselves to her legs following an afternoon swim.
And there was no shower; the only water to be had came from the pump at
the kitchen sink. It was always ice cold! Many times there were
complaints about being dragged along on all these trips. But we were a
family and we stayed together as one. The fishing, by the way, was
But then something terrible and
altogether unavoidable happened: we grew up. Family vacations become
difficult when the kids get to high school; there are other priorities. I
think I almost forgot how to fish… and my old rod and reel sat neglected
in the damp of the basement.
When I graduated from college, my
father announced that he had heard from a friend at work about a lake in
northern Minnesota and that he was taking me there for a graduation
present. It had been years since I had done anything of that sort with my
dad and frankly, at the time, my sentiment was: “what kind of a graduation
gift is this?” Well, you know what kinds of things college can
often do to a person. Looking back, my response was pretty selfish. But
the end result… ahhh, now that’s a different matter entirely.
My sister had married and moved to
California and so it was just my mom, my dad and I who tried to recapture
some of the finest of times. And, to be sure, we did. The trips brought
back some terrific memories. I had to learn to fish all over again. But
it was the time with my parents that I will always treasure.
Unfortunately, only four trips were to be made by that trio. I too had
suddenly decided to chase my fortunes on the left coast. My father then
retired and, a year later he died. The job-related stress – and the
malaria, I believe – had taken their toll on his heart. He was only 63.
The year of my father’s death – 1976 –
was the only year that I did not journey back to the lake. I returned
from California and for the next 25 years, my mother and I would head
north every June for that special magic on the lake. My sister would fly
all the way from San Francisco to join my mother and me and the three of
us continued to enjoy “Living the Northern Summer.” In 2000, my mom
finally rejoined my dad.
My sister continues to make her own
journey every June and we still share a great tradition that really
started back in the 1950’s. So as I sit at the table this morning and
look out at some of nature’s finest gifts – the pine trees, the wildlife,
the lake – I drift back to the simpler and slower pace of another time. I
have my own boat now and a lot of other things that perhaps I don’t need.
But I have the one thing that has made me a better person; something that
I could never live as well without. I have the memories of great times
and a great family. Thanks Mom and Dad, for The Finest of Times!