Monthly Archives: October 2011

Up North: The Series::Return to Chetek — Part 2

From Green’s Point May 1964 – June 1968

Before we visited the bars in town and chit-chatted with Barb we searched for my grandparents’ cabin. Had this been five years ago I suspect we may not have found it so easily, but this time I was prepared with technology in the form of Google Maps on my phone. I knew the house was off Ten Mile Lake Drive and had pretty much figured out where it was by looking at the satellite view on Google Maps. I remembered that you drove to the end of Ten Mile Lake Drive, then veered off to the right onto a gravel road and went down a hill. Grandpa always honked his horn as he drove down and up the hill to warn other cars he was coming.

Google Maps led us to Ten Mile Lake Drive and we found the turn-off which looked exactly like I remembered it. We drove down the hill and there, at the end of the drive, was the cabin. It looked so much like it did when I used to visit my grandparents I nearly expected Grandma to walk out around the house to greet us. Even the outhouse was still standing.

I was delighted to see that the house had not been torn down or fallen into disrepair. The opposite, in fact. It looked very well taken care of and I could see a number of improvements. The large picture window on the front of the house was replaced with newer windows — in fact it looked like all the windows were replaced. It may also have been enlarged slightly in the front — the old roof line is no longer visible. The only disappointment was that the woods behind the cabin is gone and is now part of a subdivision.

From Chetek 2011

The lake looked much like it did when I used to visit as a teenager — although I suspect the docks have been rebuilt. I’d forgotten that there was a cabin so near Grandma’s cabin, but remembered going inside it and being surprised that they had a large water pump (the old fashioned kind with a handle) at the kitchen sink instead of a faucet.

No one was at the cabin when we stopped by — I was both glad and disappointed. Glad because I would have been shy about trespassing but disappointed that I was not able to meet the people who now owned the cabin. I left knowing that the cabin I loved as a child continued to be loved by the new family.

I’ve since been in touch with the new owners and showed them photos from the time my grandparents owned it. I feel as if something has come full circle for some reason. I went from not knowing if the cabin would even still be standing to having communicated with the new owner who obviously loves it.

If you are interested, you can view photos of the cabin in the 1960’s and photos of the cabin & Chetek now.

Up North: the series::Return to Chetek — part 1

You may or may not recall that I wrote about my grandparent’s house in Chetek, Wisconsin a couple of years ago and how I wanted to visit Chetek again and possibly find the house they lived in. Well, this summer I finally did return to Chetek.

After dropping Andrew off at Oberlin in September, Dean and I headed west. We visited family for a few days then drove to Wisconsin. Our first stop was Madison to drop off some bulky items to Andrew’s friend Peter, who is studying at the University there. Then we visited Two Rivers which will get a post all of its own. We drove to Hazelhurst and settled in to mom’s lake house for a few days. On Wednesday we drove the 130 miles to Chetek which is through beautiful Wisconsin farm country.

When we arrived in Chetek, I immediately saw it had not changed much in the 26 years since my last visit. The first thing we did was try to find the house that my grandparents owned on Ten Mile Lake. I’ll write about that search in Part 2. This part is about the bars.

I’m not sure I mentioned this earlier, but a reporter from the Chetek Alert — the town’s weekly newspaper — contacted me spring 2010 and asked if they could use the post I wrote for their special section called Summer Scene. I was happy to allow them to use my post.

Rereading my blog post from 2009, I’m not sure why I left out one of the most memorable parts of Chetek. I suspect I wrote about it, but cleaned it up for the article. Perhaps I didn’t want the town of Chetek and the visiting tourists to know about My Family and The Bars.

Chetek has a number of bars. It is in Wisconsin, after all. And it is a town that relies on tourism. After a day on the lake any self-respecting tourist likes to belly up to a bar and have a beer. My family was no different. Well, maybe it was. We spent a lot of time in bars. Since there rarely was anyone to babysit the kids — the kids went to the bars along with the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends.

There were four bars we’d visit on our Chetek vacation:

  • The Indianhead Bar: (we called it Millie’s because Millie was an owner) I remember that Millie would serve a chicken dinner one night a week and I often helped tear up the bread for stuffing. My grandparents and Millie were good friends. I have many fond memories of sitting at the bar with my grandparents while they talked to Millie while she tended bar.
  • The Black Bass: This was right next to the Indianhead Bar. We didn’t go there that often, but I do remember being there a few times. They sold off-sales alcohol. That I remember. It may have been here that the Leinenkugel heir would buy beers for anyone who talked to him and drank the family brew. It may also have been here that as I wrote in my journal at the bar a man yelled at me and asked me if I was writing down what he and the woman next to him were talking about. I wasn’t.
  • The B & B Bar: I think my parents liked the B & B bar the best. I remember being there with them most often. At least once they put a couple of chairs together and I’d sleep on the chairs while my parents drank and had fun. My brother took his first steps in the B & B Bar. Mom doesn’t remember that, but I do. For what it is worth, it was daylight when it happened. My fondest memory of the B & B Bar is the bartender we called “Butch”. Somewhere exists a photograph I took of Butch standing behind his bar, his arms outstretched, leaning on the bar. I had a schoolgirl crush on Butch and he humored me. There was a jackalope behind the bar and I remember my grandfather telling me about it.
  • The Spot: We rarely went to The Spot to drink, but I remember visiting it when my grandfather was tending bar there. What I remember is the restaurant. The Spot was a supper club and had really good steaks. They served their baked potatoes with melted cheese and it was delicious. To this day I have cheese on my baked potatoes. One vivid memory of being at the spot is being bored while my parents and grandparents talked. I’d had a kiddie cocktail which had a mermaid cocktail pick. I remember playing with the plastic mermaid and whenever I dropped it on the floor under the table, I held my nose like I was going under water to find her.

All four bars are still standing and two are still called the names I knew them by when I was a child. Of the other two, one resembles the bar I remember and the other seems completely different.

The Indianhead is still called The Indianhead and looks pretty much as I remember it when I was a kid. The current owner told me that the bar is now longer and the bathrooms have been moved to the back. I was able, however, to picture my young self in the back room, tearing bread up for stuffing.

The Black Bass is now called Stringers and looks the same inside, although the owner said it was completely redone after a fire. I guess it was a two story building before the fire. (The Indianhead also caught on fire).

The Spot is now a sports bar called Gilligans and really looks different from my memory — however I don’t remember a lot about the outside.

Saving the best for last, the B & B has the same name and the same bar, but the rest of the bar area looks different. In addition the jackalope is gone and in its place is what looks like a monkey’s face, but on further inspection is the rear end of a white-tailed deer with a cigarette in its “mouth”. Apparently, according to the Internet, it is called an Adirondack Snow Monkey.

We talked to the current owner of the B & B for a while and he told me that Butch worked just down the street at a real estate office if we wanted to pay him a visit. Normally I would have been too shy to do something as bold as that, but since Dean was willing, we headed over to Six Lakes Reality to see if Butch was in the office. He wasn’t, but his wife, Barb, was and she graciously  took a few minutes off work to talk to me.

Dean and I ate lunch at Bob’s Grill, next to The Indianhead. I don’t remember ever eating there before, but the food was great and we each had a spudnik (doughnut hole made from potatoes and created when Sputnik was launched) along with our meal.

The most visual of my memories of Main Street Chetek is the huge fish outside the Rod and Gun Shop. He’s still there. I remember going to the Rod and Gun Shop with my dad or grandfather and looking at the fish in the sinks. The smell was exactly as I remembered it — part fishy part, plastic (from the fake lures).

Seeing downtown Chetek again was like putting together a puzzle. I remembered bits and pieces, but seeing it all together brought being there back to me.

Check back later for part 2 of my Return to Chetek including a fun Internet surprise.

The Year of Reading Leisurely: Book 1 — What I’m Going to Do, I Think by Larry Woiwode

When I was searching my bookshelves for a book to read I came across Larry Woiwode’s first book and thought how appropriate I read it for the first book of my book group break. I’ve been meaning to someday read it ever since I was in the 6th grade and Mr. Woiwode visited our class.

Mrs. Anderson, my wonderful 6th grade teacher, had a student teacher named Mary Woiwode. It turned out that Miss Woiwode’s brother, Larry, was a published author. He was invited to give a talk to the two 6th grade classes at Highland Elementary School. It was the 1968-1969 school year, but I don’t recall when the visit took place – I’m thinking second semester, so it was probably sometime in the spring of 1969.

Mr. Woiwode published his first book, What I’m Going to Do, I Think, three years earlier, in 1966, and was either working on, or had just published his second book, Beyond the Bedroom Wall, when he visited our class. I remember him mentioning that the second book might be made into a movie and he named a famous actress of the time who might be in the film.

I only barely remember the rest of his talk. He mentioned John Updike, and may have said, “my friend, John Updike” in answer to a question about writing. Our teachers encouraged us to ask questions, and I asked him what courses in college an aspiring author should take. I don’t remember his answer, except that he said it was a good question. After the talk and the question/answer session he signed autographs. He signed a piece of notebook paper for me – I still have it, but since I wrote, in purple ink, all around it, it probably is worthless.

I don’t know if anyone had him sign copy of his book – probably not because, although he encouraged us to read it, our teacher and parents were a little more conservative about 10 and 11 year olds reading books with adult content in them. The paperback copy – which was published the following year – contains this description on the front:

The literary discovery of the year – The haunting, erotic novel of a young man and his girl and their doomed honeymoon…

Here’s the excerpt chosen for the back:

He saw sand and dune grass and felt he could count the grains of sand below the curve of her shoulder and throat, each was so individually clear as they made love, and he realized she was seeing the sky, the bright blue sky he’d been staring at, and there was the freedom and openness of sky in her body, in its growing lightness of motion, and then all the space of the sky came.
They lay in silence, still linked, with the wind blowing over them.

Then, the quote from a book critic (Robert Phelps, Life Magazine) reads:

“THERE IS PLENTY OF SEX
Chris and Ellen make love abundantly, and in assorted moods, but never merely to put down Puritans. The lovemaking is sweet and horny, bewildering and majestic, funny and emboldening, somber and joyous – everything, in fact, that sex is always in literature, as well as in life, when it isn’t being used to sell something. …The day I read this book was wonderfully quickened, nourished, consecrated for me. I am grateful.”

I finished the book last month and, for the most part, really enjoyed it. I’m not sure I would have liked it if I didn’t have the connection with Mr. Woiwode, but it was well written and had many wonderful passages. I enjoyed meeting the characters of the book: 23 year-old Chris and his 20 year-old bride, Ellen. Ellen’s grandparents were interesting, as were neighbors, Orin and his sister, Anne. As I read the book I felt like I was meeting people I should have met years ago. I’d first heard about them over 40 years ago and, until now, had kept them locked away. Unlike some things, however, characters in a story don’t go bad with storage. There were a few parts that didn’t quite pass the test of time, but I tried to keep in mind how long ago the book was written.

There was not that much sex – and nothing graphic at all by today’s standards.

The hardback cover of the book holds a photograph of a rifle. Mr. Woiwode said something about a gun in his talk. For more than four decades I’ve expected this book to be tragic and as I read it I worried each time a character picked up a gun. The gun, I think, is another character in the book.

The most complex character is Chris. He claims to love Ellen, yet he is alternately jealous of men she may or may not have slept with during their one year apart and completely overwhelmed in his adoration of his wife. He slept with women during their year apart – and flirted with others when they were not apart yet cannot get over her possible infidelities. He carries a lot of baggage from his earlier life as the son of a Catholic farmer.

Ellen is less complex, although has at least as much baggage as Chris has. Her parents were killed in a mysterious accident when she was young – something that makes her so terrified to talk about, Chris rarely brings up the subject. She was raised by her Christian Scientist grandparents.

When Chris and Ellen marry, earlier than planned (she’s pregnant) her grandparents, who dislike Chris, offer their cabin in a remote area of Michigan on the shore Lake Michigan for their honeymoon. The book tells the story of their honeymoon from their arrival to Chris’s hellish day bailing hay for the odd neighbor, Orin to Chris’s demand that Ellen tell him the truth about her year in New York to his jealousy of what she revealed to him. It also introduces the gun and keeps the reader in a sort of suspense not unlike the works of Stephen King. In fact, I found Woiwode’s writing style to be a lot like King’s writing style.

Woiwode has written many other books – I own probably 80% of books he’s written. I recently read online that he is now a right-wing republican who is active in the right-to-life campaign. The blurb I read about him also said he gave up writing. It cannot have been that long ago, because he published a book called “What I Think I Did” within the last ten years.

I’m not going to recommend this book – only because you probably won’t find a copy anywhere. I believe it has been out of print for a while. Also because, while I am happy I read it, it left me flat –wondering if I missed something or if it really ended the way it did.

Finally, here is the description on the inside cover:

There is a remote summer lodge high on a wooded bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. A farm is down the road, and a village seven miles away. But otherwise there are only sky and lake, wildlife and weather – And a young man and his wife on their honeymoon…

L. Woiwode’s What I’m Going to Do, I Think is a hauntingly beautiful novel about youth growing up to the pain of loss, the puzzle of love, and the sense of despair lying near the surface of modern consciousness. This wildly acclaimed first novel introduces an author of unique and memorable talent. A best-seller since it was first published, What I’m Going to Do, I Think has also been bought for motion pictures.