Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sink, Sank, Sunk

The other day I met up with my brother and cousins. It was our monthly lunch date over at my Aunt’s house. We got to reminiscing like we always do and pretty soon our tales took us back to the cabin when we were kids. We must have ranged in age from about 8 to 15.

It was the Summer of about 1971 or so and me and my youngest brother (my oldest brother was in the service at the time) and three of my cousins were all up at the cabin for a few days. Somehow, our Grandma and Grandpa had been left in charge of the 5 of us while our parents went back to the Cities to work for the rest of the week.They were expected back on the weekend. 

Our cabin was a one room cabin partitioned off with curtains for bedrooms. No running water, no indoor plumbing, a pot-bellied stove for heat from my great-grandma’s homestead and no phones.The cabin was near the little town of Grey Eagle on Swan Lake. It is where both my parents grew up.It was the farmstead where my mom and her siblings grew up and my Uncle Ed now owned and farmed. The shoreline had been divided into lake lots for cabins and there were a few cabins on the lake that some of the extended family owned. And even my Dad’s partner from the police force and his in-laws, Grandpa Louie and Grandma Clara had a place.The front of the cabin had the shoreline and the back was all alfalfa pasture for my uncle’s dairy cows. Oftentimes we would wake up to a cow staring at us through the window.

Between the waves hitting the rocky shoreline and the smell of fresh alfalfa and clover mixed with the sounds of cows mooing as they headed to the barn for milking, it was pretty close to heaven as far as I was concerned. With the exception of one thing...the dark, smelly, spider webbed outhouse out back. 

Our Grandma, although raised by water, had an incredible fear of the water. There had been a family drowning of a young child years before and that always stuck with her. She didn't like us kids in the lake, much less near the lake. She didn’t want anything happening to anyone...not on her watch. Looking after the five of us near water must have been her worst nightmare being she hated the water so much. But somewhere in her watching us, she let her guard down and let us take the boat out on the water. My 2 other cousins were up at their cabin and had their boat out.

We loaded up into our 12 foot aluminum boat. All of us were strapped into our life jackets, tighter than last year’s tennis shoes, courtesy of Grandma.We hopped into the boat with my brother, in the back running the motor, and two of my cousins in the middle seat. Me and my younger cousin in the front seat scrunched in tight with our life jackets snug touching each. I felt like 2 marshmallows on a stick getting roasted and puffing up sticking to each other..

Off we went out to the middle of the lake where the other boat and cousins  were waiting for us. We were headed for the sunken island on the lake about a mile from the cabin. Swan Lake is a long and wide lake about 2 miles long and a mile wide. Back in 1971 there were really only a few cabins on the entire lake and they were down from my Uncle Ed’s farm.

We went racing out with the other boat bouncing up and down with the waves from the wind and from my cousin’s boat that was doing circles around our boat. They had way more horsepower and easily were doing donuts around us. All the time the water was churning and  splashing in on me and my cousin in the front of the boat.We were about ankle deep in water. We were all laughing and having a great time, until it happened. Grandma’s worst nightmare was beginning to unfold right before our very eyes. 

Our motor decided to die a fast quick death, causing the water from the wake we were leaving behind us to enter the back of the boat. And as that happened the boat started to plane and level off in the front as it was slowing down. Water started washing in the front and the boat took on the character of a submarine ready to dive under. I looked at my younger cousin as she started to drift away from me into the lake. My other 2 cousins were also floating out away from the boat. My brother was making last ditch efforts to make sure the motor was securely attached to the boat as it went under. And then all 5 of us were in the lake floating next to the boat that was now floating upside down.

Within seconds of being out of the boat and in the water floating with the lifejacket that I was thankful was on tightly from Grandma, I felt myself going under water. I was struggling to come up for air. I felt the weight of my younger cousin climbing onto my shoulders and holding me by the hair. She was convinced that her lifejacket wouldn’t work, and there were leeches going to get her. She decided to hop on my back to stay afloat with my lifejacket. Fortunately my brother saw what was happening and pulled her off of me as she was screaming and kicking. I was thinking she maybe needed someone to slap her back to reality like you see on movies with people who get hysterical. To this day, I am not completely sure one of her sisters didn’t slap her upside her head, because she eventually did calm down and hung on to the edge of the tipped boat like she was told.

Meanwhile in the other boat my cousins were floating next to us in the water and laughing at what they had just seen. Here we were about a ½ mile from the nearest shore with our boat upside down and us clinging to the edge of it. We were in deep water and not even close to the sunken island where we maybe could have got in shallow water and righted the boat to get home.

Once the other cousins got done laughing at us in the water, we came up with a plan. Somehow we needed to all get back to shore and all at the same time so Grandma would see us all and not freak out that some were not in the boat and were MIA. We were afraid, with her intense fear of water, she may have a heart attack if she saw that. Since we couldn’t have 7 people in the boat at once, we’d have to take turns getting back to shore. So we hoisted my younger cousin into the boat, all the while screaming she was going to drown and then my other cousin was lifted in. Off they went to shore down by Uncle Ed’s pasture about a ¼ mile from the cabin. They were told to not go back to the cabin until they saw us coming back. We were to arrive all at the same time. Me,my brother and other cousin stayed behind and held on to the upturned boat and drifted further out into the middle of the lake. We watched as the other boat hurried off until we couldn’t see them anymore, but could only hear the hum of the boat as it got farther and farther away. What seemed like forever was probably more like about 30-45 minutes until we could hear the boat getting closer coming back for us. But there’s something creepy about hanging onto the boat and floating farther away. A feeling like you may be forgotten out there.

Eventually they came back to pick us up. One by one we climbed and they pulled and we hoisted ourselves into the boat. Finally we were all in and on our way back to the cabin. As we headed back we could see the cousins on shore running through the cow pasture trying to get back to the cabin at the same time. just as we had planned. The cousins were rounding the corner of the cabin and we were in front of the cabin in the boat when Grandma saw us coming. She saw that it wasn't the right boat or the right people in the boat and clasped her hands to her chest. Even from the boat we could see her face pale and she grabbed for the railing to steady herself. We all started yelling we were fine and to look by the cabin where my two cousins appeared. We got dropped off on the dock and continued to yell and point to the two on shore already. Within seconds they had reached her and were wrapping themselves around her and we were running up to her saying we were fine. It took several seconds for the color to come back into her face.

We all felt pretty guilty putting Grandma through that ordeal. She never said a word to us about how we had scared her half to death. She pretty much didn't say much to our folks about it either when they arrived at the cabin. None of us got in trouble. As my cousin said the other day when I wondered why she never outed us to the parents, she said because then she would have outed herself for letting us go out on the lake. Maybe...but I think more so she was wise to let us each come to our own conclusions regarding that day.

The fishing tackle from the tipped boat remains at the bottom of the lake to this day 50 years later, the boat with the motor secured to it was recovered and cleaned up and had many more outings. Through the years, many a conversation has been had regarding the sinking of the boat and the Summer we almost killed our grandma. Never did she scold us for going out there that day. She was a wise woman, she let us feel our own guilt for putting her through the fear of losing her grandkids. And that was our consequence... feeling our own stuff. 

She was quite the lady with so much wisdom. I can only hope to have even half the wisdom she had as a grandma with my own grandkids. Hopefully they will benefit from Grandma’s wisdom too.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Camping in the "Damn Camper"

We were pretty excited that after a long year of being homebound, due to Covid, we can finally head out and do some traveling. Our first venture out post Covid, we decided, was going to be to take the camping trailer to a State Forest up near the Canadian border. There is a beautiful place right on a lake that we had been to several years ago. Warm days and cool Northern nights, no better weather to be in after the incredible heat of the past 3 weeks.

Way back in April my Best Half put in for vacation time and the preparations began once the snow was off the ground in May. We have a smaller camping trailer we bought used 3 years ago for a much anticipated trip to the Big Bend National Park in Texas. We knew there were a few things needing to be worked on in the trailer and we set out to fix them one by one. Fortunately the air conditioning was not one of them as the heat was in the triple digits most of our time down in Texas. We could at least have some cool relief while sleeping at night. You really don’t want to mess with a Minnesotan that has not slept because of temps being over about 75 degrees at night. We can get pretty sleep deprived and all out ornery. It is best to just stand back or walk away for your own well-being.

While we were there, at Big Bend, we discovered more “fixes” were needed just to make the trailer liveable and not just a metal box where we were sleeping. There were water lines to the shower not working, the hot water heater leaked, the siding had fallen away from the front of the trailer on the way down (Gorilla tape is an awesome temporary fix for many things and it worked for the siding). And on the way home in Arkansas we had a tire blow out. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but at the time “Mr. Fix-it” had a cast on his right hand and was totally unable to get the lug nuts loosened. We were on an entrance ramp somewhere 10 miles from the nearest town when along came Arkansas Jim. He was an elderly man who took pity on us. Seeing the casted hand he took the socket and cranked on the lug nuts and got them off, only to realize the tire we thought was the spare didn’t match up with the trailer. While I stayed back at the trailer, with the 2 dogs, the two of them went up the road 10 miles to Walmart to get a new tire. In the hour or so they were gone there must have been 15-20 people stopping to see if I needed help. Arkansas, you have my vote for friendliest state in the US. Thanks to Mr. Jim and his kindness and efforts we were back on the road and eventually home with no more trouble from the “damn camper” as it had been nicknamed. 

By the time we were home, we had a good sized list of “fixes” the camper needed to be safe and road ready. The entire kitchen side had no electrical power working, more hose lines for the water needed looking at, the hot water heater needed replacing and worst of all, the fridge did not work on any power source, electric, battery or propane. All were fixed except the fridge as the cost to replace was really expensive and it was decided to just use it as a cooler and put buckets frozen with ice in it. So over the past year,while stuck at home due to Covid, we got all the fixes done. I should say My Best Half got all the fixes done, I just watched from a distance to stay out of the way.

So the other day we were all packed up and ready to go on our maiden camping trip of this year with the fixed camper. We set out about 6AM hoping to get to our destination about noon, with a few stops along the way. The drive was beautiful and there was a cool breeze off the shores of Lake Superior. There were tons of fishing boats out there and I reminded myself of my longing to someday go salmon fishing out there with a hired guide. It was beautiful and slowly all the hassles of the “damn camper” seemed to melt away. And we both sat back into the van and got lost in conversation about what we will do and where we will go come December when my Best Half retires after 38 years at the medical facility where he works. As we got further North the scent of the pines filled the air. It was like Christmas time when you bring the Christmas tree in the house and the deep natural pine smell permeates the air. Just like that only magnified 1000 times. I don’t think there is a better scent than that.

As we pulled into the campground and started driving the circle of campsites, we realized that over the past few years they had started taking reservations. All the sites were reserved, each one that we came to. Just as we were discussing Plan B (which we didn’t have), we found the last site and it was open for the days we would be there. And it turned out to be the same site we had stayed at years before. I was thinking, it must be Karma, a sign it was going to be a great few days. The site was huge, tucked in beneath the towering pines with the shore of the lake right by the fire ring. There was a path right into the water and the beach area was sloping out with no drop offs, just a pebbled beach to wade into. Absolute perfection. 

We grabbed the site before anyone else came along and started the process of backing the camper into the site. After many hand signals and me waving my arms on which way to go, and my Best Half just throwing his hands in the air as I tried to guide him into the site, we made it. Backing a camper as a couple is not for those in a weak or vulnerable relationship. Many a marriage has come close to reaching the breaking point with trailer backing. Over the years, I have seen many a marriage teetering on domestic fighting throughout campgrounds in the US. And I am not ashamed to admit it that in our early years it could have been us.  But now we have a system that consists of my Better Half stating, “Remember if you can’t see me, I can’t see you”, and me flailing my arms with directions knowing they won’t be taken into consideration at all. We have perfected our method and it works.

So with the camper in place, the chairs set out by the fire pit and the dogs having a well deserved swim, we went to the camper. I made lunch and then we decided after getting up early a nap was in order. Afterall we were on vacation. For an hour or so the only noise you could hear was the Lab snoring. I couldn’t take any more of the doing nothing so went down to the lake and cast my line, again and again only to catch a perch about the size of a goldfish. I love to fish, but at some point, I love to actually catch fish. I had enough casting time so went on to get some firewood for the campfire and suppertime. 

In the State Forest you need to gather your own firewood, unlike the State Parks where they sell it by the bundles. We went across the road and looked at the downed firewood...and all the green that surrounded the downed firewood. The forest floor was covered with leaves of 3...poison ivy. Yeah, it was covering the entire area. We looked at each other and agreed I should try out the stove in the camper. So the steaks I had brought to flame broil over the fire got put in a pan and fried. With no seasoning as I forgot to pack that. And forks, I forgot to pack forks. The only thing in the camper were “sporks”, you know those things that look like a spoon with jagged edges on the ends? KFC sporks. Our supper consisted of soupy watery rice and not too tender steaks eaten with sporks.

I started to clean up and turned on the water in the kitchen sink. As I was washing the plates my feet began to feel wet and then soaked. A water line had burst open under the sink and water was gushing through the cabinets and under the sink. It was soaking wet on the carpeted area. Two bath towels couldn’t contain all the water. Yep the “damn camper” had done it again...another fix needed.

We sat there in silence with our soaked rug and feet and then the question was asked, “A penny for your thoughts?”. Trying to gather my thoughts, I finally blurted out, “I’m not really into camping much anymore. We live in the country, surrounded by nature, not much noise to speak of and no business around us. We have space with no one around us except deer, bears, coyotes and eagles to look at when sitting out on the deck. If I want a campfire, it is right by the house with a load of wood stacked ready and waiting to be burned. I can see the stars and the milky way on a clear night. I can canoe or kayak a few miles down the road and go fishing and catch all the fish I want. I like to travel and see new places and then move on. I’m just not sure I am wanting to sit here for the next 3 days when I could be home doing the same thing with running water and a dry floor. 

Leave it to my Better Half, he looked at me and said he kind of felt the same way. He loved hanging out at home on his days off and doing stuff around home. In a matter of minutes, we packed up the campsite, loaded up the dogs and at 7 pm headed home. We got home, showered and were in bed sleeping by midnight. 

I guess the last year of hunkering down at home because of Covid we learned to be ok and content in our daily surroundings. We have more here than we could ever wish for out on the road. We still want to travel and explore when retirement comes in December, but for now there is a contentment knowing that everything we want or need is right here. For the next few days, we are on vacation and will enjoy every minute of every day here at our home.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Is It Hot Enough for Ya?

Minnesotans love to talk about the weather. If ever you are at a loss for words when speaking to a MInnesotan, the weather will always be the thing that will get a conversation going...with anyone...friends, family, and even complete strangers.

For the past 11 days or so, Summer has hit Minnesota full force and somewhat unexpectedly. For most of us, we had just put away our red plaid flannel shirts in exchange for T-shirts and flip-flops. We were just getting acclimated to the start of Summer outdoor sports too.

Three weeks ago was the start of Summer soccer for the grandkids. In Minnesota, because of such a short season for outdoor sports, games are always played no matter what the weather. Except if there is lightning. Games are called off or postponed if there is any lightning nearby. As a precaution that someone could be hit by lightning the fields are cleared. But otherwise the game will go on, in light rain, rain storms and all out monsoon downpours. Just not lightning. But a new rule was put into effect 3 weeks ago.

Three weeks ago a few of the grandkids that are in a soccer league had their game cancelled. Due to lightning? Nope,it was 34 degrees and snowing. Yes, the end of May and snow was coming down. A league first? Not really. Over the years we have had snow in every month except July. In July we are pretty much guaranteed no snow. Just tornadoes and maybe a flash flood here and there. 

But, back to the instant Summer we have been experiencing the past 11 days. It has been in the upper 90’s-100 degrees without any evening temperatures below about 85. The weather station here at Hillbilly Holler sends me messages whenever the temperature goes above 99. It will also include the “feels like'' heat index temperature in the message. Several times daily, messages are dinging on my phone to let me know that the temp is 100, 101, 102.5 and the heat index is 115-125 degrees. I at first thought I maybe had the report plugged into Tucson or El Paso, places we have been frequently, but nope it was here at Hillbilly Holler.

Not only has Minnesota been experiencing really hot weather, but with over 10,000 lakes that we brag about, we have a lot of humidity to go with the high temps. It truly resembles a traditional Sauna we are all familiar with in the winter time. But there is no snow to jump into and roll around in to cool off. Imagine temps around 100 degrees and dew points in the 70’s. A tropical island... no, just Minnesota in the Summer. No Palm trees, just pine trees and birch trees and mosquitoes to suck the very blood right out of you.

The instant tropical Summer weather in Minnesota after a long cold winter is welcomed...the first day or two. And then it happens, the reality that it is just plain freaking hot and super humid sets in. Minnesota nice becomes a little more challenging and sometimes downright hard to maintain. The heat just does something to a Minnesotan at the Kwik Trip when holding the door for all of those entering. You open the door and feel that blast of 70 degree air inside and you long to just barge in front of everyone and go to the cold. For as long as you can tolerate it a person will hold the door open and let others in, until finally between the scalding metal door handle you are holding and the sun blazing down, you do it...the worst most un-Minnesota thing butt in front of someone and walk in, leaving the door opening job to some other poor baking soul.

Once inside the Kwik Trip, you or someone near you will start the conversation with “Is it hot enough for ya?” and the standard answer will be “Yah you betcha, if we don’t get some rain purdy soon, the corn’s gonna wilt”. And that is the jest of the conversation, usually taking place by the frozen foods with the cooler doors open and both of you standing almost inside the frozen food section. As you head for the door on your way back out into the heat, you can hear the worker at the Kwik Trip yell out ”See you next time”. You give a wave and now have to face the blast of a hot wall of heat as you exit. After you let the next 10 people in the door, you exit to your vehicle and sit for a few minutes drying off all the sweat on you from that 150 foot walk. As everyone here says, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Minnesota good-byes also take on a different element of timing during tropical Minnesota summers. We are well known for our long and extended good-byes here in the North Country. A person can announce their intent to leave and only after several more conversations, a few more cans of pop will an actual exit plan evolve. While typically a Minnesota good-bye, once announced, can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a full hour or more, in hot and humid weather it can be shortened to 20 minutes or less.

You may announce you are getting ready to leave, and have maybe another lemonade or pop, but once the door opens it is full steam ahead. You won’t stand by the door with it open letting all the heat into the house winding up your conversation. The door is opened and the walk to the car begins. It is not a lingering and chatty walk. In the Minnesota heat and humidity it becomes a very intentional walk to get safely to the vehicle. Once at the car, windows are all lowered and the air conditioning is turned on and the air begins to circulate. For a few minutes small talk will be made about the heat and the next chance of rain. Promises to get together soon when the weather is nicer are made and the customary caution statement of , “watch out for deer” is made and the Minnesota good-bye has just been cut down to under 20 minutes. And you all will have only a small amount of guilt that you will feel for having said your hasty good-byes. But oh well, there is always next time to have an official Minnesota good-bye, maybe the weather will be more cooperative. And besides there’s always text messaging from the passenger to you while on the road traveling home. A kind of Minnesota good-bye sequel.

Stay cool and safe everyone during this hot spell here in the North Country. Go have a pop and take it easy.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Monday Morning Music/ The Baptism of Jesse Taylor

For the past 9 months or so, we have had Monday Morning Music lessons and singing with the grandkids. It started with a few wanting to learn guitar and then ukulele. And it grew with everyone getting together with their instruments and “jamming” whenever we are together. 

As time has gone by we now have a banjo player, a mandolin player, some learning the dulcimer, another learning harmonica and the two 15 year old girls learning the fiddle. Or according to them, learning the violin. I guess that seems more dignified. But with the music we do, I can only say the violin will become the fiddle in our world.

I really give them all credit for wanting to learn more instruments and sticking with the instruments they started out with. There’s something about music that bonds our  family together. We can get silly, get serious and just have a good time making music. This is one proud grandma when it comes to those kids.

Recently we were given some new instruments for the family music time. Thanks to my friend Stephanie, for the percussion instruments, it has kept the little guys included and out of mischief while we play. We are still working on keeping a beat.  And also thanks to Mike and Angie for the nice guitar and the dulcimer and all the tutorial books and music to get us started. I say us because I am learning right along with them how to play the dulcimer. SInce Monday Morning music started, I have learned to play ukulele, harmonica (sort of), and mandolin. I have not been able to master the banjo, but maybe in the future the grandson can teach me.

The song they did on today’s podcast is called “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”. It is one of their favorites. They like the storyline, the fact that they can get rowdy doing it and cut loose. Here are the words. There is some good bass in the song, so go over to the podcast and crank it up and “feel” it.


The Baptism of Jesse Taylor

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Among the local taverns, there'll be a slack in business

'Cause Jesse's drinkin' came before the groceries and the rent

Among the local women, there'll be a slack in cheatin'

'Cause Jesse won't be be steppin' out again

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

The scars on Jesse's knuckles are more than just respected

The county courthouse records tell all there is to tell

The pockets of the gamblers will soon miss Jesse's money

And the black eye of the law will soon be well

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Well, from now on Nancy Taylor can proudly speak to neighbors

And tell how much Jesse took up with little Jim

Now Jimmy's got a daddy and Jesse's got a family

And Franklin County's got a lot more man

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Yes, they baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Yeah, this time he went under for the Lord

Written by Sanger D. Shafer