Yesterday was one of those beautiful days on which good memories wash over you.
Good memories of our Aunt Carol, whose life we celebrated. She was 89 when she died a week ago. She was the last of my six aunts.
The good memories come from times spent at family gatherings with our cousins, her four kids. Of all the cousins on Mom’s side of the family, we were closest to them. We all were roughly the same age and they lived closest to us.
Fun fact: Though I always knew Aunt Carol came from a family of skiers, it was fun to see old pictures of her at the local ski hill as part of a women’s ski team and as a ski model, both from the late ’40s or maybe the earliest ’50s.
Yesterday also was one of those gorgeous blue-sky summer days on which seemingly everyone in Wisconsin makes a beeline to the water.
Good memories of that, too, as I drove along the Wisconsin River from Stevens Point north to Wausau, my aunt’s hometown and more or less my hometown. There were tons of people at the taverns along the river, where you can park in the parking lot or at the dock. There were big floats on Lake DuBay, dozens of pontoons and smaller boats tied together for sun-splashed parties.
That took me right back to the mid-’70s, any summer from 1972 to 1977.
On summer days like this, we’d walk out the door and think “OK, where are we going to get into the water today?”
We could go to Yellow Banks, an old swimming hole on a small, lazy river. When it became a park, they gave it some gentrified name that escapes me, but everyone still called it Yellow Banks. Eventually, the powers that be conceded the point, and the park became Yellow Banks Park.
We could go to the Kennedy Park pool or the Rothschild pool. Once in a long while, we’d drive across town to Manmade, which was a small lake that was exactly as advertised.
If our friend Herb had his dad’s car and boat, we’d put in at Bluegill Bay and go water skiing on Lake Wausau. Which was fine until Herb cracked the whip and you wiped out while slaloming, losing your ski and somersaulting on top of the water and coming to rest on top of a boulder that’s just below the surface of the water.
But of all the places we could go, The Dells was the biggest adventure. We’d hop on our bikes and ride 19 miles from my friend’s house to The Dells, some of it on fairly busy back roads. Once there, you’d sit atop the rocks that formed The Dells of the Eau Claire River and watch the daredevils jump into the pool at the base of the rocks.
Here, look. The experience hasn’t changed much since the mid-’70s, although the daredevils back then were pretty much straight-up cannonballers.
Nope, I never did that. Drank a few beers on top of the rocks, but never did that.
It was ..
“Hot Fun,” Stanley Clarke, from “School Days,” 1976.
My friend Emery reminded me of this when he shared it yesterday. I’ve had that record since it came out back then.
Daredevils aside, and truth be told, the vibe of those long-ago summers seemed more like this …
“Summer,” War, from “War’s Greatest Hits,” 1976.
Fun fact: The single was released on my birthday, the day I turned 19 in June 1976.