“Oh my gosh. Here he comes. I could just die! It’s so embarrassing. All these people watching. Come on Pat, let’s take a boat out. Anything to get away from here,” Anna Marie said pushing her friend Pat through the water toward the white rowboats lined up along the shore.
“He’s really funning looking in that old suit. Where’d he get it anyway? Pat asked following Anna Marie slowly out of the water.
The two girls launched a boat and rowed out into the lake. The sun-warmed seats of the boat were uncomfortable on their bare legs. Anna Marie leaned over the gunwale of the boat and splashed water onto the boat seats.
“That should help cool the seat off,” she said.
“Stop rowing Anna. Let’s see what he does.”
“I don’t care what he does. Why can’t he wear a normal swimming suit like other dads?”
“He’s just having fun.”
“Fun? Easy for you to say. He’s not your dad.”
Father was walking, parading actually, slowly down the hill towards the dock. Mother and several tourists relaxed in red metal and green stripped canvas chairs in the shade next to the ice house. The dock was strewn with beach towels, bathing caps, bottles of sun tan lotion and bars of soap. It was a late afternoon in August. The air was hot, heavy and still. There was no breeze and no waves. To the west, blackish gray clouds piled one on top of another, billowing, reaching up to obscure the sun.
“Whew it’s hot. Too hot to cook. Fish probably won’t bite until just before we get rain. Looks like we could get rain later tonight,” Mother had said glancing up at the noise of a screen door banging just before Father made his promenade down the slope.
“Here comes our bathing beauty wearing the latest 1940’s beach wear. The owner of this resort, father of two daughters and my crazy husband, Mr. Jack Kobe!”
Mother had stood up and bowed as Father sashayed past her wearing a blue and white wool one piece ugly swimming suit. He wore his favorite old straw hat on top of his head. He had an empty pipe stuck in his mouth. Father had returned Mother’s bow and slowly advanced into the lake. Once the water was up to his shoulders he turned over on his back and swam between the resort kids. They shrieked with laughter when he stood up, displaying the out-dated suit, the wool droopy and saggy from the water now hung down to his knees.
“What’s the matter? You don’t like my suit?” he asked. “Well, I do. I’ve had it for ten years. Ten years. That’s older than some of you.”
And with that, Father continued to swim round and round the kids who stood in the water watching him.
“Hold my pipe, will you?” Father asked handing his pipe to Jean.
Jean complied. Father proceeded to swim on his back, tilting his head back and drawing in mouthfuls of lake water before squirting it into the air.
“See. A whale. A big blue whale.”
“That’s enough. Show’s over. Come back next year. Maybe I’ll still have this suit. Maybe not.
With that Father sauntered up the short path to the store leaving puddles of water behind in the dirt.
The next day after a refreshing night-time rain, Jean, Anna Marie, and Mike the chore boy raked the beach. Father wanted the beach raked at least once a week. The rowboats were pushed away from shore and anchored while the kids rake. Buckets of lake water were thrown over the dock’s wooden planking. Sometimes the dock was less than pristine. There was an incident, a time when the dock surface was covered with the innards of clams. Someone had told one of the kids that there were pearls to be found in freshwater clams causing the kids to go pearl hunting. Jean learned that the Minnesota Health Inspector was at the resort on his annual unannounced visit. She made a beeline down to the dock to let the clam diggers know. What a mess! The kids quickly threw the slimy clams under the dock. When the inspector walked onto the dock Mother greeted him with a smile and a “good day.” The inspector simply turned and left. That was a close call!
Anna Marie learned to swim by wearing an orange life jacket. Mother insisted Anna wear it, especially the first summer the resort opened, whenever Anna was near the beach. It was a busy time for Mother. She could easily spot Anna Marie in her red wool swimming suit and bright orange life jacket. Anna Marie hated wearing the confining life jacket but found it held her up in the water, which allowed her to quickly learn how to dog paddle. The next summer she learned how to swim. Not well but at least well enough to paddle around after the other kids.
During that second summer Father found a pine log about six feet and eighteen inches around, carefully peeled it and drilled a hole in one side and out the other so a rope could be strung through it. The log could be tied to the dock and pulled up on the beach after use. A kid would sit on each end of the log and teeter totter up and down. Kids swam under it, tried to stand on it to dive off and best of all, rolled over it belly first. It was simple fun!
Most of the resort dogs loved the water. Most, that is except Colonel the bull dog. He was top-heavy and struggled to swim. His little back feet went straight to the bottom as he stood upright trying to dog paddle. Randy the cocker spaniel “fished” with his face in the water for minnows or for whatever caught his fancy. He was at home sleeping on the dock between sunbathing kids. Duke the golden Labrador Chesapeake mix was a beautiful swimmer. Anna Marie teased him by running the length of the dock as fast as she could. Flap. Flap. Flap. Bare feet would pound against the wooden dock followed by a loud “kerplunk!” as she dove off the dock. Sometimes Duke followed her in a belly dive: Ears flying legs reaching for the water. He swam up to Anna Marie, grabbed her by the bathing cap, and towed her to shore.
“Cut that out,” Anna Marie would yell.
But it was “no dice”. Duke hung on until he had her safely on shore. Rescues by Duke quit when Anna Marie was older and grew too heavy to be dragged through the water.
Pat, Anna Marie’s friend from Duluth was an excellent swimmer. She had taken life-saving classes at the Duluth YWCA. Anna Marie was envious of Pat’s graceful crawl and diving skills. But diving from the end of the dock was allowed only in early June before the water level went down. And then the dives were limited to belly flops. The water was simply too shallow for a full out dive.
For protection against the hot summer sun Jean and Anna Marie mixed up a concoction of baby oil and iodine. Drops of iodine were carefully added to a bottle of baby oil. The mixture was shaken and then smeared on bare skin. Some summer afternoons there might be twelve bodies sprawled on beach towels on the dock. A suntan was a badge of honor when you went back to school in the fall. Strewn amongst the sweaty bodies were bottles of oil, bars of soap, tubes of shampoo, clothes, books and magazines. Jean would sit on the dock in her one piece blue swimming suit, dangling her toes in the water as she knitted. Anna Marie’s favorite swimming suit was a two-piece dark green satin Rosemarie Reid. She wore it so often; she wore a hole in the seat! It was a sad day when she had to throw that suit away.
“Hey Mom, look at me,” Anna Marie called out above the din of two outboard motors.
She was calling to Mother sitting on shore watching the kids take turns riding a homemade surf board. Father had found the surf board on one of his boat excursions looking for driftwood. The surf board was really only a small door bleached by the sun. Father towed it back to the resort, drilled two holes through the wood, added some rope, and presto, he’d made a surfboard. Two ten-horse outboard motors were needed to create enough power to get the surfer up out of the water.
Anna Marie stood on the board sailing across the water waving to people on the dock as she passed by. She had a big grin on her face.
Just wait until I tell my friends about this, she said to herself.
Father saw an opportunity to make something from nothing, something the kids could have fun with at no cost. The surfboard kept the kids happy and content. At times, Father also put the kids’ creativity to the test.
“We need a few short boards, the hammer and that big can of nails,” Jean instructed Anna Marie. “No, not the saw. Just those short boards. Ask Bill and Bob to help.”
A log raft was pulled up on the beach. Father had towed the raft back to the resort after finding it in a bay on the opposite end of the lake from the resort. Once he had the raft on shore he bought four empty oil barrels and helped the kids tie them under the raft with strong rope. The kids were attempting to add a diving board to the raft when Jean gave the orders to find some boards.
“Watch your thumb. OK, a few more nails. Look for rough spots so we don’t get slivers in our feet.”
“Push, Bill,” the big sister commanded once the construction was completed.
“Ugh, this thing is buried in the sand.”
“Get Bob to help.”
“OK now. One. Two. Three. Heave ho.”
The raft slid into the lake.
“Hey, it floats!”
Six kids pushed the raft out from the end of the dock, threw the rock anchor overboard and sat down on the wooden platform. But the water was up to their armpits. Too many kids, not enough raft!
“This is fun.”
“How about a dive Pat?”
“Well, some of you will have to get off so this thing is higher.”
A few kids slipped into the water. The deck of the raft rose above the surface of the lake.
“OK, here goes.”
A dive off the new diving board. Not much spring to the board but the water was at least deeper than the end of the dock.
“Jean, remember when that dumb kid pulled the top of your swimming suit down?” Anna Marie asked.
Anna was talking to her sister, recalling resort memories, ones from down on the beach in particular, as they sat on the dock.
“No. You sure that really happened? Was it that red and white striped two-piece?”
“Yup. Maybe you don’t want to remember.”
“No big deal. It happened. So what?”
“Well, it was pretty funny.”
“What did I do?”
“Nothing. Just pulled the top back up.”
“Who was around?”
“You mean adults, kids and tourists? My friends?”
“All of them.”
“Maybe they didn’t notice.”
“Well, this kid, I don’t remember his name, he came up behind you, grabbed the top of your suit and pulled it down. You jumped up and waved to Mother on shore with your suit floating around your waist!”
“That’s not a bit funny!”
“So you do remember.”
The waves of Bear Island Lake rolled in, gently lapping the sandy beach and the flat black rock where Anna Marie baked sand cakes in the sun. Same beach. Same sand. Same view. There were years spent in the water there, horsing around, hollering “last one in’s a sissy” ducking in fast, hair plastered to head, teeth chattering if the day was cool. Hours were spent there, having fun, sharing time and the sun with friends.
There was a day, a day late in August. Two more days before Anna Marie was due back at school in Duluth. She held a fistful of rocks and tried to skip flat ones across the water. She held three tiny stones. She tossed them one by one towards the lake.
“Kerplunk one. Kerplunk two. Kerplunk three.”
Then it was quiet. The water rippled in small circles where the stones had entered and sunk. Anna Marie turned and walked slowly uphill away from the beach. The air was cool. Summer was over.
Timber Wolf Lodge is honored and excited to share the delightful book “Back Of Beyond” A Memoir from the North Woods. We will be sharing a new story in the blog from time-to-time.
From Susanne Schuler’s memoir “Back of Beyond”. Susanne’s family founded Timber Wolf Lodge over 70 years ago and her book recounts her childhood days growing up here.