By Kurt J. Kolka
(Originally Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014)
Typically, in late winter, I begin thinking a lot about summer. Well, this year, with the longer, colder winter, I have been giving summer even greater consideration. You see, every year I vow to spend more time relaxing and enjoying the short warm season. And every year, it goes zipping by, with seemingly each weekend filled with some have-to-do activity or have-to-attend event.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to the summers of my teenage years — a simpler and less busy time. Those lazy, carefree summer days down in my hometown of Grayling, back before cell phones, the Internet and even cable TV.
OK, I know life back in the mid '70s seems more idyllic than it probably was. No doubt, the innocence of the teen years brings its own rose-colored glasses with it. Even so, it warms me up to think back.
The summer of 1975 was when my true teenage summers began. It was actually the summer before my sophomore year, but also the first year I was old enough for a job (my birthday is in the fall). Some long-time friends from downstate, Bob and Laurie, whose family knew my mom's family for three generations, would come up for several weeks and stay with their grandparents in town. We worked at the same fast food place and spent plenty of our off-work time hanging out together as well.
A lot of leisure time was spent at Lake Margarethe, where a relative of theirs owned a house. Bob and I would sit out on a dock sunbathing and listening to tunes like "Wildfire" on the radio. I know we talked, but the what-about escapes my memory, probably girls and music. The only plans we had were whatever popped into our heads at any given moment. That might include swimming in cut-off jeans or borrowing his uncle's little motorboat and running out of gas on the other side of the lake (Observation: Being carefree with gas tanks is not a good idea)!
The summer of 1976 was also memorable because it was the nation's Bicentennial and my first summer of love (as far as I understood it at the time — which was like zero). On July 4, there was the usual free watermelon to eat, watching people attempt to walk across the grease pole above the AuSable River in the city park and the best fireworks display in 200 years! My best friend, Sid, and I were dating a pair of sisters and would be watching the fireworks display together. We thought that was really cool, because that might mean someday we might marry our girlfriends, become brothers-in-law and move in to houses next door to each other for the rest of our lives. BFFs! Of course, today we are married to totally different people and live around 900 miles apart. (Observation: Not a good idea to plan quite so
far in the future when you haven't even worked up the courage to kiss the girl yet.)
Even time alone was good back then. My parents' house was just two blocks from the AuSable River by street or about three blocks if you followed the path through the woods along the old football field. It was a great place to go on a warm day, to walk the dog, to just listen to the river flow, to read a book, to explore the series of paths along the river or to just daydream of the carefree life of a writer that I was sure I would have one day. (Observation: Achieved the writer part to some extent, still waiting for the "carefree" part to begin)
It seems like stores carried a wider variety of merchandise back then. I remember making the rounds to various stores about once a week in search of good reading material. On the main thoroughfare through town, there were at least six stores where you could pick up a decent paperback, a comic book, or even a "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine, and a bottle of Mountain Dew, with the picture of the hillbilly on it, to enjoy it with. Today, sadly, those places are all gone, paperbacks seem almost extinct in that area and people have forgotten that little hillbilly. (Observation: Enjoy the simple pleasures in life while you can, they don't last forever.)
Summer nights were mostly spent working at the A&W Drive-in throughout my high school career. I washed mugs, filled trays for the carhops, poured root beers and got yelled for washing the refrigerator during a rush ("But, Barney told me to, Kathy!") The latter three of those four years, the restaurant was run by Chuck and Sue Warren of Farmington Hills and their blended family, who became like a foster family to the rest of us who worked there. While the pay was less than McDonalds, the family atmosphere, free food and adjustable schedule more than made up for it. And then, there was the water fights after work. (Observation: When there is a choice in jobs between more money and great co-workers, always choose the co-workers.)
Those great teen summers always ended with the annual church youth retreat to an even more rural location — South Manitou Island on Lake Michigan. The Rev. Paul Weber, of Mount Hope Lutheran Church, the young, mustached, guitar-playing, sandal-wearing pastor who was the epitome of cool and fellow pastor, the Rev. Bill Winters (a.k.a. Captain America) of Houghton Lake, along with a few chaperones, took around 12 of us on a four-day, tent-camping trip. The island featured sand dunes, a cemetery in the middle of a cedar forest, a shipwreck visible from one of the beaches, an old lighthouse and a tiny general store, which kept no more than four of each canned item on its shelves at a time. Fortunately, it was well stocked with pop, candy bars and chips! At night, we'd join together for Bible study, spooky stories around a campfire and a suspenseful game called "Killer." (Observation: Technology is not required for a good time.)
I know this summer can never recapture those days back when I was growing up and I certainly wouldn't want to go back to a teenage mentality again. But once again, I vow to take some time to really enjoy summertime. Maybe I'll call up Bob and make plans to get together. Perhaps, my daughter can download "Wildfire" from somewhere on the Internet for us. Then, maybe, he and I could sit back and try to remember just what we used to talk about on that dock all those years ago.