Like many Minnesotans, we headed for a lake over the long Fourth of July weekend. July 4 fell on a Tuesday this year, and while many stores were open on July 3, the impression was that a Tuesday holiday is now like Thanksgiving in reverse, with Sunny Monday becoming
the new Black Friday.
The big difference, of course, is that instead of credit card charging in November, most of the charging over the Fourth was to our collective mental batteries.
Our time was spent at our daughter’s lake cabin, and all of our descendants were present, including grandchildren, ages 7 and 8. For a kid, there is something magical about summer days spent at the lake, where one’s biggest responsibility may be for making one’s own s’more.
Our lake is perhaps five or six miles in circumference, with a few hundred residences lining almost the entire shoreline. These homes range from shacks put up in the 1930s to glass-encased palaces of more recent vintage.
Days at the lake may begin early for those who want to fish, but at our place, the pace was slower. We do have a tradition at our house of playing Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” every Fourth of July. This began when our own children were small. I decided that we should have a parade to celebrate the holiday, turned on the song, and we marched around the house for a couple of minutes.
Ever since, no matter where our kids were — and we’ve rarely all been together on this holiday — we’ve called them on the phone and blasted “The Stars and Stripes Forever” into their ears. With the advent of voice mail, the message has often been delayed, but eventually they receive it, and remember that we are thinking of them on our nation’s birthday.
This year, our son-in-law was already up when I played the song at 7:30 a.m. In consideration of the neighbors, he closed the door to the porch before I let Sousa loose. As it was, the grandchildren awoke, as did our son, but our daughter slept right through it. It may be a sign of age.
Otherwise, the day sort of began with brunch at mid-morning with the bacon and eggs and coffee cake that we only have on special occasions.
Lake activity is also slow to pick up. However, from 11 a.m. to dusk, at least 15 watercraft were on the lake at any given moment, doing everything from trying to fish quietly while absorbing the rocking of jet skiers’ wakes to speedboats doing their best to flip into the water those tubers they were dragging behind.
We had a couple of pontoon rides each day around the edge of the lake, waving at folks out on their own docks or occasionally stopping for a short conversation with friends.
This was followed by repeated requests from grandchildren to go for a ride on the jet ski, telling grandchildren to release the small fish they were catching off the end of the dock, and watching grandchildren jump on a “lily pad,” an anchored foam mat that is buoyant enough to hold anyone weighing less than 100 pounds without sinking. We also worked in a game of bean bags on the beach.
At 1 p.m. on the Fourth, a boat parade went around the lake. Traditionally, this parade had always been organized by a guy named Wally Pikal, but Wally passed away in March.
Wally made a name for himself, I kid you not, by playing three trumpets while jumping on a pogo stick on “The Tonight Show” in 1973. (You can check out the video on the Internet.) He had an old-time band called “Wally and the Dill Pickles” that played throughout Minnesota.
Alas, the boat parade was not quite as coordinated as Wally on that pogo stick.
Appropriately, for dinner we had steaks on the grill. On both July 3 and July 4, as the sun continued on toward twilight, traditional fireworks began to be shot off at various points around the shoreline.
We had a few “Minnesota fireworks” bought locally. This led to a discussion of the difference between “Minnesota fireworks” and “South Dakota fireworks,” the difference being that Minnesota fireworks are designed not to leave the ground, while South Dakota is more into bombs bursting in air.
However, sitting as I was about four yards from the incendiaries, I can tell you that the sparks thrown off by the Minnesota devices showered sparks a radius of about 11 feet, 11 inches.
The highlight of the evening came shortly after dark. A few hundred yards down the shoreline, but around a curve so we could see it well, a neighbor had 15 South Dakota shells in a box. Unfortunately, one of the shells ignited in the box, and the other shells thought it was such a good idea that in short order they went off too. It was an amazing display — for about 45 seconds.
We waited for the sound of sirens, but heard none. The next day, we learned that no one was injured.
Regardless, from the “Stars and Stripes Forever” to Wally Pikal’s playing trumpets on a pogo stick to a beach explosion, it was a memorable holiday.
Hope yours was, too.
Tom West can be reached by email at [email protected]