If ever there was a taste of heaven on planet earth when I was a kid, it would have been Pine Lake. Prairie owned 10 cabins on a small lake about 45 minutes drive from the campus, depending on who was driving! This 50 acre property provided a much needed getaway spot for both students and staff to unwind and relax. The cabins were all numbered and our family had some favorites that Mom would try and reserve for us each summer. Through the years, hundreds of folks took advantage of this quiet, private location. Sadly the school sold the property in the early 1990's and it has been greatly missed.
Every summer, Dad would load up our little red '63 Ford Falcon with his typewriter, stacks of books and research materials. If we could fit anything else in when he was done, we were welcome to bring it along. Fishing rods, model boats, walkie talkies, BB guns, sand pails and shovels were all deemed by us to be summer essentials and we found a way to squeeze most of it in for the trip to the lake. We would bring along whatever pet we had at the time. The cats would help keep the mice down. Mom HATED mice and made every effort to rid the cabin of the pests as soon as we arrived. The dogs would chase the cows and watch over the place. One year we smuggled Snowball, our fluffy white bunny with the pink eyes, into the car. Imagine Mom and Dad's surprise when we arrived and there was the rabbit. Of course, Mom had to fit in bedding, food, clothes and other essentials as well, but that seemed incidental to us at the time.
As far back as I can remember, several weeks of every summer were spent at the lake. There was no running water, sewers or electricity and that suited us just fine. We hauled water from the ice cold spring, did our business in rickety old outhouses and lit coal oil lanterns at night. Our days were filled with fishing, boating in old wooden row boats and rafting on primitive structures that we lashed together. We would scour the rocks near the beach looking under them for bloodsuckers that we would use for fish bait. We fished for perch and northern pike. The perch were much better eating in my opinion. Dad would fillet them, coat them in corn meal and fry them over the fire in the old coal stove in the cabin. I remember Dad telling me when he first started fishing at Pine Lake, before there were limits, he pulled out over 100 perch in one day, many of them close to 14 inches in length. He has the pictures to prove it! At that time the water was so clear that you could see at least 10 feet down into the lake. If the fish approaching your hook was not to your liking you could just move it aside and choose another one.
The spring at Pine Lake was of particular note. Ice cold, crystal clear water would come up out of the ground. The water was piped to a large wooden storage locker where each cabin had it's own locked and numbered compartment. The water would flow in and around each compartment keeping fruit, vegetables, meat and milk cold. At one end of the locker was a spout from which we would fill up our water containers for hauling back to the cabin. This water was incredibly tasty and made the best coffee, tea and juice. Some distance from the spring an area was set up for cleaning fish. There was a large trough that we could store the fish in before they were cleaned, keeping them cold and firm.
When we were little, Mom would sit in her lawn chair on the porch of the old wooden boathouse and keep an eye on us. We would sail our big plastic boats, sit on the dock, build sandcastles and play on the swings. We would watch muskrats and beaver diving in and out of the water. Giant blue herons would nest in the reeds and ducks and geese would watch over their babies as they swam in a little row on the shallow, calm water. When we were tired of fishing and playing in the water and sand we would head up to the cabin for lunch. Mom brought special baking along and made considerable effort to have our favorite foods and drinks on hand for this vacation.
Dad would sit in the screened porch and study, read and type. We could hear the clickity clack of his manual typewriter down on the beach. In our early years, before we could row the heavy row boats, he would come out with us and be our oarsman. Sitting in the boat in his straw hat, he taught us how to bait a hook, set our bobber's and more importantly, how to get the fish off the hook once we caught it.
In the afternoons we would often go in search of wild strawberries, raspberries, saskatoon berries, gooseberries and Alberta wild roses for Mom. She would put them in a big bowl on the table, their fragrance filling the room. We would chase the cows, shoot gophers and build forts. It was as if time was frozen. If the weather was cooperative, we boys would spend the entire day just wearing cutoffs and were brown as berries by the end of the summer. Playing in the back woods we would sometimes hike out to sand and gravel pits that were on the property. We chopped wood, fetched water, hauled coal and cleaned fish. On Saturday, piling our laundry into the Falcon, back to town we would go. Mom went grocery shopping and we got all scrubbed up. On Sunday, after Dad had preached at Bethel, the small country church he pastored, we piled into the car and headed back to the lake for a repeat of the week before.
Many times we would see deer, rabbits, skunk and coyotes. Colorful birds would nest in the trees near the cabin and families of chipmunks and gophers would roam the grounds in search of some tasty morsels. Like silent sentinels, large gray owls would sit atop fence posts keeping a watch over us. Their heads seemed to spin around in a complete 360 degrees. Sometimes at dusk, we would observe a snowy white owl heading out on a hunt. The odd time we might spot a wolverine or badger slinking into the woods. Hawks nesting in the back trees would keep a wary eye out for lunch.
Directly to the north of the Prairie property there was small trailer park resort called Rushton's, named after the owners. A narrow winding trail went through the woods and came out at the resort. We would take family walks over to the little store to buy ice cream Revello's, and steal a listen to the jukebox out on the deck. Walking around on the docks and beach, admiring the gleaming boats, we would observe swimwear that was not quite in keeping with Prairie standards! Several families from the church had their camping trailers parked at the resort and we would stop in to say Hello and the adults would have a visit.
For supper we would sometimes build a roaring fire out in the fire pit and roast hot dogs, tinfoil dinners and marshmallows. A special favorite was smores, made up of roasted marshmallows and chunks of chocolate sandwiched between a couple of graham cracker wafers. As the night wore on and the smoke drifted skyward from the fire, bats would start to flit about eating mosquitos and other little bugs.
The evenings were full of family games, reading books by lantern and listening to Dad's little battery operated Sony transistor radio. Mom and Dad loved word games and would listen regularly to a rebroadcast on the CBC of a BBC program called My Word. As the evening cooled off, Dad would get a big fire blazing in the coal stove and then bank it up for the night. Before we turned in, he would read a chapter or two from a special book that he had saved for this purpose. One book in particular that I remember him reading was Where The Red Fern Grows.
All the activity during the day, combined with the water and heat, usually had us tuckered out before it got too late. After we hit the hay, Mom and Dad would have a game of Scrabble, which sometimes turned quite competitive! We would be awakened the next morning to the sound of Dad rummaging around in the kitchen, getting a fire started so that he could cook breakfast. The kindling crackled and sputtered as the larger wood caught fire. When there was enough heat, Dad would add big black chunks of coal. The cabin slowly warmed up and the day would begin.
In 1974, when I was 13, Ray Stevens recorded what was perhaps his most famous hit, "The Streak". The song poked fun at the early 1970's fad of running nude in public, known as streaking. It made No. 1 in both the UK and the USA and No. 3 on the country chart. This novelty song had the format of an action news reporter on the scene at various locations where the activity in question was occurring. It featured a crazy whistle sound, a plunky banjo and the sound of a crowd roaring their approval. There had been a little streaking done by some of the high school students back at the campus. No one got caught and no harm was done.
I thought this song was very funny and played it at the lake that summer for Mom and Dad. One night the song came on and I said somewhat jokingly that I was going to go streaking that very night. Dad said, "Knock yourself out son, just wait until we have gone to bed". I was a little shocked that my announcement was not met with any resistance. The more I thought about it, the better the idea became in my adolescent head. After everyone was in bed I announced to all in the little cabin that it was time for my adventure. In the pitch black everyone was giggling and wondering if I would really do the deed. I doffed my shorts and donned some sneakers, knowing I wouldn't be able to see much of the ground to avoid tree roots and rocks. I opened the door and was off. I got about halfway down the trail and began to freak out just a little.
There I was all alone and it seemed deathly quiet except for the occasional howl of a coyote. There were no street lights within miles and most of the other cabins on the property were already dark. The night was black except for the moon. As it glistened off the water I began to worry that who knows who might be in the bushes and could reach out and grab you know what. With this thought resonating in my brain and with fear in my heart, I quickened my pace. The more I thought of this impending danger, the faster my skinny little frame ran. I took a short cut from my initially intended circuit and rushed back to the cabin. This must have cured me, because I have never gone streaking since. I think Dad got the last laugh.
So, tonight, if you happen to see a full moon . . . rest assured, it won't be mine!
THE ROAD TO PINE LAKE
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.