Chuck Brooks' column: Happy memories of his hometown
If you were reading these weekly thoughts from me last year at this time, then you might remember I wrote one of them from the kitchen of my sister. Once again, I find myself writing to you this week from that same kitchen table. Let me take you by the hand as we traverse the streets of my hometown. Excitement around every corner!
When I was a little boy until I was nearly 10, we lived on the corner of Maple and LaCrosse Streets. It’s where all my childhood fantasies still reside: Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny. You get the picture. Many fond memories of mine exist in that home. One Christmas season about 10 years ago when I was back for the holiday, my two older brothers and I were allowed to walk through that home, owned then by a lady who lived there alone and still does. Every corner, every room, the woodwork, the fireplace, every square inch of that place held such fond memories and while my two older brothers were talking and enjoying the tour, I was fighting back tears, remembering a time that seemed so long ago. However, that return to my childhood home may still be the best Christmas present I’ve ever received.
Mom and Dad always wanted to have lake property, so they bought a little cottage about 25 miles away. It was a summer weekend getaway. It was great fun. My grandmother, who also lived with us all my life, bought a little silver trailer for herself that was placed on the property as well. When I was nearly 10, a home on Beaver Dam Lake became available. It was down the street one block from where we then lived. My parents scooped it up quickly. By then my parents, two older brothers, my younger sister and my grandmother lived in our home. My twin brothers came along the first year we moved into the new house. That’s where Mom would live out her life. Dad lived 15 years longer but moved from the house to a small little place since it was just himself, and he didn’t need to be maintaining a lot of property at his age.
I know I have students whose early memories of home will be painful as they grow into adulthood and beyond. I think it’s tragic, but it’s the life they’ve been given. I have grown, over the years, to be so appreciative of my formative years. My family wasn’t without issues, but they were microscopic when compared with the conditions under which some of my students have to live.
Thus, the lake became our babysitter. It allowed us to fish, swim, boat, ski, and it generally provided a place to escape. I’m certain it’s where I fell in love with the water. I have been on one cruise in my life and my favorite part came each evening when my brother and I would head to the deck of the ship. I enjoyed listening to the water beneath the boat as we moved along.
One of my humorous lake stories as a young adult came when my sister asked me to drive our boat so she and her friend could ski. Rule was then, and perhaps still is now, a driver and a spotter had to be in the boat if someone was skiing behind it. I said I’d drive. Once they were done skiing, they asked me if I wanted to ski. “Sure!” In my defense, I want to point out the motor was 35 horsepower; it wasn’t enough to get me on top of the water. The more we tried, the more we failed, and soon we found ourselves in the middle of the lake. My arms were so exhausted I couldn’t try any more. I also couldn’t crawl into the boat because my arms were wet noodles. There was only one option. They had to DRAG me back to shore behind the boat. My sister laughed so hard she had to take a nap once on shore. When morning came, I couldn’t stand up. I ended up at the chiropractor, which cost my parents $100 just for the x-rays. Mom was not a happy camper.
When I visit my hometown, memories like that one surface. It depends who might be around at the time, but there’s always something to reminisce about that has us laughing uncontrollably throughout my visit. It’s why I love returning. I am blessed to have so many deep attachments to the town that raised me. On many levels, it’s remained one of those towns where a lot of people still know one another. My class reunion was a fitting end to this summer vacation. Soon, the alarm clock will have to be plugged in and life, once again, will do a 180.
When you’re reading this, we’ve already hosted freshmen orientation night, and the staff is down to one week of vacation. Hmmmm. Then what?