… and it was the best gift ever. This older gentleman took the time to pen his memories of down for us. It’s confirmed what we have always thought- nothing has changed in over 60 years. (Thanks, Bob for sharing this with us.)
(He also shared a really special gift, rolls of super-8 film of every summer vacation spent at Wandawega for over a decade of his childhood. We cut a little film together with it CHECK IT OUT.
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF WANDAWEGA
My memories are that of a 5-10 year old, so I cannot guarantee how accurate some of them are, although others are very vivid.
FELIX: At night, people would gather at the bar and tables in the dining hall to socialize. On some of these evenings, there would be a scratching at the screen door. Someone would open it, and in would walk Felix, no, not a cat, but a raccoon. The owners had found him as an abandoned or orphaned kit, and raised him at the resort in a pen located by the dog run. When he reached maturity, they returned him to the wild, but he remembered where things were good, and came back for treats such as popcorn, pretzel’s, and candy, which the people gave to him. He let people pet him, and when he had his fill, scratched at the door, and was let out. He had it real, real good.
OWNER: The owner was a stocky man with squinty eyes and a hard, leathered face similar to that of Charles Bronson, but he was very friendly. He had pictures of when he was in the U.S. Army and part of General Pershing’s expeditionary force chasing Pancho Villa through the U.S. southwest and Mexico in the early 1900’s.
CLOVER PATCH: The section of grass at the intersection of the sidewalks at the entrance to the dining hall frequently saw people on their hands and knees. This is because there was a clover patch that yielded a high incidence of 4-leaf clovers, which when found, were pressed into tissue paper and kept for good luck. I never found a 4-leaf clover anywhere other than Lake Wandawega.
HAMMOCKS: There were a number of hammocks tied to tress on the grounds between the dining hall, hotel and shuffle board area. It was amazing how comfortable they were, especially after a big lunch on a warm summer day. At my age, I was never one for a nap, but I couldn’t stay awake in one of those hammocks. Typically, the hammocks were usually occupied in the afternoon.
ARKY: The owner’s daughter had a standard poodle named Arky, who was kept at the end of a dog run on the other side of the badmitten courts. He was a large, good looking dog, but very uncontrolled, so they couldn’t let him go out on his own or he would have disappeared into the woods and become a Wisconsin legend.
DAD: My dad told someone that he could swim to the other side of the lake, they bet him, so he did, but was smart enough to have someone in a row boat follow along just in case. I think he won $5.00.
FIRE PIT: There was a fire pit near the cabin at the west end of the resort, and some evenings there would be a roaring bonfire, and people would gather and tell some incredibly interesting and funny stories, and the kids loved to sit there, watch the fire, and enjoy the stories. I really looked forward to those evenings.
OWLS: Another time my dad and the owner’s son, Hank, who lived and worked up at the resort, were in the bar one night and were told that there were some baby owls in a tree outside the dining hall. So after a couple of beers, they got the idea that if they shined a flashlight in the birds’ eyes, the birds couldn’t see them and then they could catch them (I thought it was a great idea, my mother thought dad would break his neck). So they got a flashlight, a ladder and a fish landing net, and, to the dismay of my mother, went outside, but once they got in the tree, the birds took off like rockets, my dad and Hank almost fell out of the tree, and everyone had a good laugh.
TURTLES: One year, I made friends with a boy about my age that lived up at the lake, and we got into a row boat one morning and went out to the lily pads to catch turtles, which we did with great success. When we got back, the boat was crawling with so many turtles you couldn’t see the bottom of the boat, and my dad was on the shore and really ticked off. Seems we stayed out past lunch time, and everyone was worried. He asked what we were going to do with all those turtles, but being kids, we never thought about that and didn’t have a clue (and I don’t know why turtles are different from owls). He made us row back out and let them all go. I’m sure that some of these turtles are still living in the lake right now.
BELL: There was a large metal bell that hung outside the dining hall. When breakfast, lunch or dinner was ready, they would ring the bell to notify everyone it was time to eat. You could hear the bell everywhere, unless you were out catching turtles.
DINING: You did not order your food like in a restaurant. This was more like camp, or the military, the owners chose the menu for each meal, and you were served family style with large platters of food, although there was usually a good selection from which to choose. The food was excellent, and there was plenty of it, which is why the hammocks were so popular.
GARTER SNAKE: My dad and I tool a hike one afternoon into the woods along a path extending out from the west end of the resort. A large snake, about 3’ long, began to cross the path in front of us, so I yelled “snake”, ran over and grabbed it about a foot behind its head, upon which it turned and bit me on the hand. My dad almost had a heart attack, and screamed it was dangerous to do something like that. Well, I knew it was a harmless garter snake and said so, but dad emphasized you can’t always be sure and should more careful in the future, and I did find out that garter snakes do have teeth, although very small ones, for the bite left tiny red pinhole marks on my hand where it bit me. Which leads me to…….
DA OTHER SNAKE: One day, I was walking with about 4 or 5 other boys along the shoreline just east of the fishing pier when we spied a large, jet black snake swimming parallel to the shore about 12-15 feet out. So some of us threw stones at it thinking we would scare it way, but instead, it turned and came at us, raising its head and opening a snow white mouth with large fangs. We yelled and, instead of doing the smart thing and running away, we kept throwing stones at it. This went on for what seemed to be quite some time, with much yelling and screaming. Finally, the snake was killed (of which I am not proud), and we brought it to shore with a dead tree branch we found. We were looking at it when a young man who worked at the resort during the summer came by. We told him what had happened, and when he looked at the snake and forced its mouth open, told us how lucky we were, because it was a cottonmouth water moccasin.
THE GREAT POPCORN INCIDENT: This is the incident that I heard retold by family members most of all, although I have only vague recollections of what transpired, having been about 5 or 6 years old at the time it happened:
There were always fish at the end of the fishing pier (that’s a no- brainer), and people liked to feed them, usually with stale bread. But one day my grandmother splurged and bought my a box of popcorn to feed the fish, and I was beyond joy, so I was standing at the end of the pier feeding the fish when another boy about 1 or 2 years older than me came up alongside. Now I didn’t know it at the time, but this kid was considered by everyone to be a totally spoiled brat who constantly annoyed and irritated everyone else at the resort, except his parents of course. Trying to be friendly, I extended my hand with the popcorn box and asked if he would like to feed the fish. According to my mother, he grabbed it out of my hand and threw it into water, upon which I immediately grabbed him and threw him into the water (all I do remember is the box floating along with all the popcorn spilled out, and this kid, soaking wet, walking back to shore, crying his eyes out, with his mother waiting for him yelling and screaming). Of course, my mother apologized to his parents profusely (although I doubt sincerely), but after they took him to their room for a change of clothes, everyone down at the lake had a very good laugh and thoroughly enjoyed it all, and even the resort owner, whom I was told had an extreme dislike for the kid, came down to shake my hand.
Well, that’s about I can recall as of now, but I do remember how much we enjoyed being at Lake Wandawega. They say you can’t go home again, but the memories are still nice.