From Where I Sit

By Pat Spilseth, Columnist

Summertime  means trips  to the Dairy Queen for hot fudge sundaes, trips to the beach to tan on colorful beach towels or Mom’s discarded bath towels, sock hops/teen nights at the dance hall and outdoor movies.  

But summer vacation is almost over. August means the Dog Days of summer have arrived with green lake algae, lake poison, closed beaches and no swimming. Every kid wants to enjoy each moment of these last fleeting days of summer! With closed beaches and hot humid days, we need to find some substitutes for summertime fun.

Remember stuffing sweaty friends into Dad’s car to go to Buck Nite at the outdoor movies? But where do you find a good outdoor movie today? I loved sitting at the drive-in theatre in Alexandria on mosquito-infested evenings with the car windows cranked up, stifling the passengers in our stuffed Chevy with the cool fins. After all, Buck Nite meant that we could pack our friends in the trunk, the back seat and on laps in front, straddling the shift lever, and get into the movies for a BUCK! Wow, what a deal! And, of course, anybody who was important to our social lives was also parked in another crowded Ford Falcon or Punky’s Model A on the gravel lot at stands holding a speaker that we attached to our car window.

The stars shone extra bright on movie nights. I was sure I could see the North Star and a few planets, perhaps Mars and Venus, up in the starry night sky. It was so romantic…so exciting! Raging teenage hormones were robust, kids hoped to claim a boy friend or girl friend before the curfew whistle blew.

When my date decided to park on a country road or overlooking the lake, I recall telling Jimmy or Billy that “I wasn’t one of those girls.” I must have been crazy to think that line wouldn’t get out to the crowd I hung with. But naivety about all that confusing hormonal teenage behavior and my daunting questions were soon answered by the older sisters of my pal Lou. Those gals were experienced daters: Lou and I were ingénues at the dating game. Her sisters Deann and Jackie knew all the answers to the questions I wasn’t comfortable asking my mom.  

Summer vacation meant beach time! Ouch! The sand was so burning hot on my white toes, unaccustomed to sunshine and hot sand in early June. Naturally, we were anxious to get a bronzed tan with a tube of Coppertone or baby oil and iodine, but first we had to burn and our skin had to peel and flake in order to get really brown later. 

Another concern at some beaches, namely the shallow Lake Linka beach, was blood suckers. Those fat sucking bugs were so squirmy; they’d get between my toes and latch on to my skin. I had to pull the suckers off, and they would drip blood.  

For years Gail Setter in her black swim suit was an institution at the Glenwood beach. She was lifeguard, beach snack shop manager and taught swim lessons. Gail ruled the beach. Her nose and the noses of her hired lifeguards were always swabbed with white zinc oxide beneath their cool black sun glasses. Those lifeguards had the best job: they could sit in that tall chair above everybody on the beach and supervise, getting the best tan of anybody who frequented the sandy beach. Though I coveted that job, I was too unsure of my swim skills to apply. I knew I’d be rejected, so I just continued to dog paddle and do the back float or the side stroke out to each succeeding higher diving tower. What a test that swim was to my confidence. But I felt such pride and success when I got to that last tower and climbed the cool metal ladder. My next self-imposed test was the infamous gang plank.   

At the end of the plank was The Big Test, diving. Though we’d practiced sailor dives, front dives, back dives and somersaults, I prided myself on doing a swan dive. I got fairly proficient at that dive, only a few belly flops impinged my reputation. But those belly flops really smarted! I’d come up with a red face and tummy, painfully hurting a bit from smashing into those threatening waves.  

I imagined I was Esther Williams, the famous swimmer of the movies. She never put her head in the water: it might mess her hairdo. I didn’t like to put my head in either. Too often I’d swallow a big mouthful of water and start choking. How embarrassing. And I never would be as glamorous as Esther because I had to wear those pink plastic ear plugs to keep from snorting water through my nose. My one saving grace was the fact that I didn’t have to wear ear plugs. My ears didn’t seem to be affected adversely by the waves.  

As my friends and I became high school students, some days we’d get invited to Carol’s house out on Minnewaska’s lakeshore west of town where we could water ski behind her boat. What a fabulous luxury for kids of the Fifties and Sixties! What a coup it was for any of us to crouch low in the water, put on our ear plugs, make sure our swimsuit straps were securely fastened so the pull of the boat wouldn’t dislodge our swim straps, insert two feet into those fat skis with the rubber feet holds and wait for the pull. Oh, the thrill when the ski rope actually pulled me out of the water and up onto the waves!  

At first I didn’t try any fancy stuff. I just let the boat pull me in a straight line following the boat, slicing through the waves in a smooth ride or dropping one ski or trying, unsuccessfully, to ski backwards…that might come later as I became more proficient. Waves splashing in my face, I rode those waves like a pro. Water skiing was the highlight of my summer. 

Ahhh…to be a kid again basking in lazy summertime fun!

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