To Montello and back again: A Donna story

As I look back on these posts, I realize I’m behind — but I can’t go back to April yet. So I’ll begin with my latest adventure: my week in Wisconsin.

After all this time, summer is where I see my Pavlovian heritage. I am still a product of my first 18 years. Summer is and, I suspect, will always be for me at time out of school, tanned and shoeless, filled with farm and 4-H and afternoon interludes peacefully reading under a cool, shady tree or lolling in refreshing water, watching or listening to softball and baseball, and nourished by meals of charcoal and picnic food. Thinking ahead to this summer, I was loath to repeat my last three intense, fast-paced, exhausting “vacations.” The inner me screamed “simplify, slow down, relax.” The question was how to do that, see my people, and attend to the McFarland house.

Maurie’s Cabin

While I was home growing up, there were only two real vacations. The first was when Ken and I were really small.  Grandpa Henry Van Bogaert wanted to see the mountains and my parents, brother Ken, and me accompanied him in his big cadillac. I remember Mom having little toys wrapped up to open each day to keep us from being bored during the long drive. I recall icy mountain streams, picking up stones, eating waffles, and Mount Rushmore, but I’m not certain if those are my memories or recollections of the pictures and stories that have been recounted over the years. I was 4.

The other vacation(s) was going to Maurie’s cabin. We actually went more than once but not often and no more than once a year. My best guess puts these trips between the ages of 10 and 14.

Maurie Potter was one of Dad’s best friends. He was part of the Potter “dynasty” in LaFox, Illinois where I grew up. OK, in a town of maybe 60 people–dynasty might pushing it, but the Potters and Scotts “owned” most of the town. LaFox was stretched north/south along LaFox Road over about four city blocks surrounded by about seven miles of fields. The Chicago Northwestern line ran east/west through the middle.

Potter’s owned the white federal style house on the north side along with two smaller houses, a carriage house, and some other work buildings occupying most of the first block over the tracks on the northwest corner. They also owned Potter’s General Store which had been around since the late 1800s and housed a small grocery plus a little hardware store. The Waltonesque post office was tucked in the northeast corner of the building.

Carrie Scott owned the other “big” chunk of LaFox. The farm buildings and three houses on the southeast corner of town were hers. She owned and lived in the little colonial with the big catalpa tree out front in the middle of the southwest stretch of town. Carrie also owned the farm we lived on at the far northwest corner of town. Her fields, that we worked, wrapped around the entire village up to the Gillis house and the Divine farm about a city block north of the farm and to Kesslinger Road on the south end.

Maurie was the only person I knew within our circle that had a summer cottage of his own. The “cabin,” as we referred to it, was about five hours north on Pleasant Lake near Westfield, Wisconsin. It was a modest building perched on a bluff overlooking the lake. There were two floors. The upstairs had two bedrooms with curtains instead of doors, a great room with fireplace and mostly windows on the western exposure with a grand view of the lake. The downstairs was an exposed basement with sliding doors. The kitchen was on one end and a big shower on the other.  As I recall, there was a cement slab outside the door and then an incredibly long set of wooden steps going down to the beach and pier. Although Mom doesn’t remember those trips with fondness (she was cooking for all of us and taking care of kids while Maurie and Dad “fished”), I developed a real love for Wisconsin, sand, and the smell of those tall pines. We helped with dishes, but mostly we played in the lake, built sand castles, and read books while we were there. For a few days (we usually stayed a 4-day weekend), farm work was forgotten and, Dad, especially, was accessible and part of the water frolics. Maurie’s cabin, Geneva swimming pool lessons, and 4-H became my ideas of what summer was or was supposed to be. Over the years, I’ve rekindled the cottage experience a few times. And I’ve always loved it.

One of my first solo trips as an adult was at the end of college. Rosemary Mueller and I were invited to use a the cottage belonging to a friend’s parents. We had it to ourselves for a long weekend. And paid homage to the sun, potato salad, brats, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. We read, rowed the boat, and talked smart about things we didn’t know.

Right before and after I got married, Mike and I camped at Little Silver Lake by Wild Rose, Wisconsin. Lori Slattery (a friend by marriage to one of our groomsmen) and her parents camped there every summer with people they had camped with for years. We spent two really fun summers with our groomsmen and their wives and extended families. We roughed it in a tent. Something I don’t do or want to anymore.

When the boys were small, my sister, Dianne, rented a rustic cottage at Sharenberg’s White Lake Beach Resort outside Montello, Wisconsin. It was reminiscent of Maurie’s cabin—second hand furniture and cooking utensils, old-fashioned appliances, no tv, radio, and bring your own fans. White Lake was clear to the sand bottom and big enough for maybe 20-25 cottages. The resort dated back to the 30s and had an old rock foundation and brown board construction. What made the place unique were the peacocks. The original owners had problems with ants. Their research on the problem suggested that peacocks would make the ants disappear and so they sent to India for a few. The ants didn’t go away, but the peacocks procreated and became a feature of the place—strutting around, fanning their tails, and squacking like creatures five times their size. The boys and I spent a couple days with Dianne, Mom, and some other friends of Dianne’s who came to visit. We ate off the grill, basked in the sun, and built castles. It was such a great memory, I went back that winter to rent a room at the resort to finish working on a book. Much quieter than summer but every bit as peaceful and remote feeling.

In recent years, my favorite cottage experience is visiting the Moon Lake Lodge, aka the Dave and Judy Gonzalez residence in Iron River, Wisconsin. Judy and Dave are wonderful side benefits of my work for the Red Cross. Several years ago they migrated back to the site of their college romance, northern Wisconsin. Tired of traveling and city life, they bought a beautiful home outside Iron River on Moon Lake. I’ve been there several times in summer and winter and it is magical. Moon Lake is a postage stamp of water surrounded by six houses. You can canoe it in a half hour. The best part, of course, is the company. We eat, drink, paint, paddle, talk, walk, and play SCRABBLE. It is heaven. The most difficult part of Moon Lake is getting there. 5.5 hours driving from Madison. Minneapolis is the nearest airport. Somehow I will get there this summer.

White Lake Redux

Back to my current dilemma of what to do on vacation (May 27-June 6)—swimming lessons and 4-H are long gone but a week at a cottage was not out of the question. In fact, it was the perfect solution. An inexpensive, casual cottage provided an opportunity for the boys and I to make a little home of our own for a week. If the cottage was not too far from Madison, the people who wanted to see us would come. If I added in a couple of days to celebrate Grandma Pierick’s birthday and catch up on McFarland house repairs, the boys and I could finish the week relaxing, playing board games, and cooking out. White Lake seemed like an ideal spot.

I took it up with the boys and waited for them to get back to me with their available vacation days. That took me to the middle of May. By that then, I had little hope there would be room at the inn. But the summer gods smiled on us and with only a week’s notice, I booked “Holiday #2” at Sharenberg’s.

Pre-Lake Activities

This trip I allowed lots of time to get to Wisconsin. I didn’t make myself nuts getting out of town on Friday. Made sure I packed all the cabin necessities and checked out two books on cd for the 8+ hour drive. Got into McFarland mid-evening Friday and stayed with “Sister Moon” Krusiec and Norb. On Saturday, Kathy and I hit the Macy’s sale, had a manicure, and sipped a little wine over lunch. Sunday the boys and I gave the McFarland house some TLC and then picked up Thomas’ girlfriend, Cassie, and Grandma for a celebration at the Edgewater. Grandma turns 94 next week!

Monday I left early to move into Holiday #2 and prepare for Kathy and Norb who came up for a Memorial Day picnic. I loved the beautiful ride through farm country to Montello and remembered how, as kids, we marveled at the canals and waterfalls when we’d ride through shortly before reaching Maurie’s cabin at Pleasant Lake.

The peacocks were louder than I remembered and the trees bigger. But the lake was still clear and the beach still white. The cabin was what I expected and the bathroom better. In short order, I was moved in for the week. During Krusiecs’ visit we dangled feet in the lake, met the new owner, and were treated to his hospitality. Kathy and Norb were just the first of many welcome visitors.

The Guest List

Though you were all invited, it was mostly Madisonians that I expected and that showed.  Ellen Bernards spent the afternoon on Tuesday (below in white with the white peacocks). Judy Sauer and Frank Huitt (below trying to keep the food on our table during the big winds of Tuesday and Wednesday) showed up Wednesday. Frank stayed through Wednesday night when Philip and Thomas arrived. Mom came Thursday and stayed until Friday. All the while there was much competitive SCRABBLE, euchre, Rummios, and cribbage played. Frank got introduced to Hearts and insists next year we play Dirty Clubs. Thomas became acquainted with Grandma Van Bogaert’s excellent euchre skills and I managed to relearn the game. We celebrated the boys’ birthday’s again with Mom on Thursday night. I brought my own cookware to make the boys’ favorite pot roast and fresh berry and whipped cream cake—that’s love.

Thursday afternoon Mom left and the boys and I rented a pontoon for some fishing and cruising on the lake. Surprisingly, the boys turned into fisherman during the trip. They shared one pole borrowed from the

lodge and entertained themselves for hours

hooking blue gills and searching for “Big Fin,” the elusive bass. The lake was loaded with fish.

Friday night Liz Bernards showed up late to spend the night. Liz and Philip were born two weeks apart 25 years ago. She and Philip have been close from the start and she is a second daughter to me. Saturday we played marathon euchre, cooked out, fished, and took several walks around the lake. Later cousin Mary Buhrmann and her fiancée, Kevin, who showed up. Their third stop on a weekend whirlwind including a wedding in Wausau and farm work in Merrill.

By the end of the day, the last of our company had departed. We lolled around and ordered pizza. Thomas went back to fish and Philip and I drank beer, played cribbage, and philosophized. Later that night the boys bonded while spotting fish and later in the resort bar. They’re not babies anymore.

On Sunday morning I awoke early and took my, by now, customary walk around the lake. Thomas opted to sleep while Philip and I went to Sparks (the local fire engine themed greasy spoon) for breakfast and then to the resort golf course to see how nuts we could make ourselves in 9 holes. I’m glad that Philip inherited my attitude toward the game – we did not punish ourselves unduly in sand traps, ponds, or roughs. We bought six balls and lost them all, but finished with a net of two (found on the second hole). I missed the ball only three times and thought that impressive given I hadn’t held a club in 10 years.

We didn’t keep score but I do know my best hole was four over par. I had a fabulous time! The only thing raining on Philip’s parade were the burnt tops of his feet (no sunscreen while he fished the day before).

About 4pm we packed up.  Divided the leftover food, packed the cars, then went to the resort bar for a slushy before hitting the road. We said good by e to the proprietors who urged us to come next year and me to sing again on barbecue night. It was tough to watch the boys pull away. Withdrawal stayed with me a few days. Despite the parting, we had a wonderful, restful, summer vacation—together, in our own little temporary home.

We all agreed it was good and we should do it again—and we will. Come November, Sarah will send us a note offering us Holiday #2 and we will say “yes, see you in May.” For the time being, Philip is off to work in the Dells and Thomas is back at the McFarland house and Jimmy Johns Subs.


Back to the Past

I made one more stop on the way back to Cincinnati. Some time ago, I decided to write about growing up in LaFox, the little town in Illinois where I lived until almost 16. As I’ve grown older, I realize that my childhood was a unique experience largely due to the place and time. My cousins lived nearby and times were changing fast in a place far off from the main street of real life. LaFox then was idyllic in a way I never appreciated at the time – a bit of Our Town but grittier with it’s share of odd people, mysterious situations, and, for me, the adventure growing up.  While my mother was visiting us in Montello, I asked her to look at a map I’d made showing what the town was like when we lived there and who lived where. I remembered more than she did but we were both foggy on some of the houses. As I was traveling back through northern Illinois, I made a spontaneous detour to LaFox. Maybe it was being in Montello and the  memories of Maurie’s cabin that made me miss LaFox. Maybe it was remembering how my mother’s took us to visit my Grandmother’s grave in nearby Elburn Cemetery each Memorial Day. Whatever the reason, I felt a great pull to visit and fill in the missing pieces. But tales of LaFox will have to wait until next time when I will share pictures, epiphanies, and much more . . .


About vbassoc

Donna Van Bogaert is a researcher and consultant in the field of cognitive styles, health communication, and organizational communication and behavior. Her business, Van Bogaert & Associates, Inc., specializes in cognitive-based coaching, management consulting, and leadership development. When the winds are blowing her way, she travels and talks about workplace potential and creative problem solving. In another life, Donna sings jazz. For a very long time, she fronted two 18-piece big bands —All That Jazz (Madison, WI) and The Gardenia Big Band (Rockford, IL). She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio where, in a third parallel universe, she leads a media branch of a national research institute. Mostly she has returned to painting, poetry, and plotting the next chapter of her life.
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2 Responses to To Montello and back again: A Donna story

  1. Bea Neal says:

    What a wonderful read. Thoroughly delightful, I felt like I was there visiting you all, too. Thanks for sharing that with us and I look forward to reading more about your more recent discoveries. :)B

  2. What a great idea the lake cottage was/is! I so enjoyed our (too short) visit and was glad Liz got to come up and spend time with you and the boys. Thank you for sharing your unique view on the world and your life. Love you, Ellen

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