Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Remember Momma - A Serenade in the Moonlight

 I don't know why blogger won't let me eliminate this big space, but please keep scrolling down there is more.        

Serenade in the moonlight

When I was a kid that wacky duo I call my parents used to whisk me away each summer for a couple of weeks up to the Minnesota north woods were we would stay at a lakeside resort. Please keep in mind I’m talking resort as in a few somewhat primitive cabins on a hillside overlooking a lake, not remotely like any Club Med or fancy spa experience, the word resort might conjure up. The cabin we rented had a large open kitchen/general gathering room, two bedrooms with curtains for doors, and a bath with a shower stall resembling something from a WWI barracks. The cabins were gathered around a big old knotty pine lodge. The lodge played host to the all-important bar curving along one wall, a scarred green felt pool table, well-worn floorboards used to accommodating the feet of running children as well as dancing adults, and that icon of days gone by; the ‘juke box’.

Daddy was an avid fisherman, and Momma did more than indulge his habit. The two of them would be up at the crack of before dawn almost every day, and head out in the boat for those early rising fish. Once I was deemed old enough to be left alone, they let me sleep in. They would be back for breakfast just about the time I was rolling over for the second or third time. I knew the minute Momma’s foot hit the dock, because she would whistle up the hill to me, signaling I had better be out of bed. My parents employed a distinctive whistle, only about twelve notes which they used to call to each other and me. To this day I can’t recreate it, heck I can barely whistle one note, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t recognize it, and know that I should be looking for them, and they were looking for me.

For some strange reason, or maybe I was simply born under a lucky star, but that fish or die gene did not pass into my DNA. I was impatient just sitting out there in the boat, holding my pole still, waiting, and hoping some poor unsuspecting little fishy would mistake my drowned worm for dinner. I either wanted to be zooming around the lake in the boat with the throttle of our old outboard motor full open, or be in the water frolicking around like the mermaid I thought I was. When forced to endure an afternoon of ‘fishing torture’, while the blazing sun reflected off a perfectly lovely lake, that any normal person would rather be cooling off in, staring at the end of a nylon line as it enters the water, hoping for the slightest jiggle, I immediately started plotting ways to be brought back to shore. My plan was to return early enough to catch the afternoon ‘swim meet’ at the end of the dock with the other captive children of fishing addicted adults. One afternoon, in maybe my eleventh or twelfth year I devised a clever plan of annoyance through constant, meaningless conversation, hoping 
Momma and Daddy would relent and return me to my own generation.

Remember I said I was either eleven or twelve. (You know that age when you have just enough information to be your own worst enemy, and have developed the unwitting art of over sharing to the extent that you constantly run afoul of adult authority.) Also, note that I intentionally set myself on a direct path to annoy my parents. So, at the point when Momma told me to be quiet for the third time, because I was scaring the fish away, I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head. Unfortunately, the tables had taken a drastic turn, and I was seriously annoyed. I then told Momma, “Oh, you be quiet yourself, you old walrus.” The words had no sooner left my mouth when my sun soaked brain kicked back in, and I knew I was in deep goo.

Momma was normally a mild mannered lady who I know loved me more than words could ever tell, but she had a teeny little bit of a temper. Often, I could say silly things, and get away with it because, it would tickle her funny bone more than set off her disrespectful radar. Not so today. She slowly turned her head and gave me ‘the look’. There is nothing that strikes fear into an eleven or twelve year old girl more than getting’ the look’, from her mother. The fight or flight instinct immediately kicked in, and I knew with Momma, flight was the only possible answer.  Flight, while in laying in the bow of a sixteen foot aluminum fishing boat, bobbing serenely somewhere far off shore, in a very large lake, really isn’t practical, so I braced myself for the onslaught of Momma wrath.

At this point in my story it’s probably important to let you know that I’m not up for divulging any more  incriminating evidence about myself, but I am old enough to have been raised in a time when it was thought that ‘sparring the rod would definitely spoil the child’. Yes, I was spanked. On this day, in that little boat, in the middle of that beautiful lake, Momma definitely did not appreciate being called an ‘old walrus’. ‘The look’ was immediately replaced by a glare that screamed at me, ‘run for it’. She stepped up on one of the benches in the boat between her seat and where I was laying, yanked her fiberglass fishing pole out of the water, and gave me a whack. I, of course, screamed as though she had cut off my leg. Then she gave me another whack. At this point the boat is dangerously rocking back and forth, taking on large splashes of water over the sides, while Daddy is trying to calm the situation. Momma is having none of it.

We hadn’t noticed another boat fishing not too far off. They did take note of this crazy woman standing on the seat, frantically waving her pole in the air, and they decided to come see if assistance was needed. Stopping at a safe distance, using proper fishing etiquette, they hailed our vessel. In an instant, the way only a parent embarrassed by their actions toward unruly children in public can achieve, Momma looked up and smiled allowing her pole to sway gently in the soft summer breeze as though she were simply fluttering a scarf to see which direction the wind was blowing. My folks and these would be good Samaritans exchanged pleasantries about the conditions and then they went on their way offering no help whatsoever to my predicament. I must assume that they had unruly children of their own, or were as crazy as Momma, because they easily accepted the entire situation as though nothing were amiss. Fortunately for me, this took the wind out of Momma’s sails, and she stepped down off the seat to continue fishing as though nothing more had happened than she was swatting away a pesky bee away from her delightful daughter. I, on the other hand, learned two valuable lessons; never ever call your Momma an unsavory name while trapped in a small space, and a whack with a fiberglass fishing pole really stings.

What I recall most about those summers up at the lake, was the fact that there was no TV, telephone, or other worldly distractions. Each evening after dinner we would be down at the lodge enjoying the company of the other vacationing folks. The kids were usually fighting to fit their coins into the juke box and make their selections, until the adults chased us off and started playing their own favorites. This is where I was introduced to the old standards, and that famous big band sound, in tunes like, ‘Canadian Sunset’, ‘Stranger on the Shore’, ‘Harbor Lights’ and my favorite ‘Moonlight Serenade’. Us, kids would then head out onto the dock to listen to those great melodies drift out over the water. We were pretty far up north, and on these balmy nights the sun didn’t begin to set until about nine PM and it was twilight until at least ten-thirty or eleven. You could lay out on the wooden dock and still feel the warmth of the sun that had been absorbed in those old water worn planks while your thoughts drifted off. To this day I can almost hear the soft waves lapping up against the beams and feel the sway of that rickety old dock as the stars just begin to peak out of a violet sky.

My favorite song then and now; Glen Miller and his ‘Moonlight Serenade’. I could be sitting out on the end of that dock listening to the dreamlike sounds of this music wafting over the water until a big ole moon rose up in the night sky casting its searchlight beacon over the softly rippling lake. As a very young girl, I recall feeling surely it didn’t get any more romantic than this. I would imagine that one day I would be sitting at the end of that dock with someone who loved me, their arm gently draped around my shoulders while softly humming along to this sweet melody.

I would be out there dreaming of the romance that would be a part of my future until I heard those equally sweet twelve notes of my parents whistle, calling me off the dock, and up the hill. We normally entered the cabin in the dark, hoping not to attract any of the monstrous mosquitoes that the Minnesota north-woods is famous for. I made sure that there was a small gap left in the curtain that hung from my window, as I tried in vain to remain awake keeping an eye on that ole moon as it rose high up in the sky and sulked off till morning.

Today as I rifle through the pages of my memory, I think of the many fantastic vacations I’ve enjoyed and exciting places I have lived. I spent three years on an island in the Caribbean, enjoyed the exciting life of Colorado Ski Resorts, and yes I’ve even seen the inside of a Club Med and visited a fancy spa or two. It was all a great time and I wouldn’t change a thing, but there is nothing that can compare to those summers I spent in the company of that wacky duo. No memories that generate the same warm feelings. No places that I picture as vividly or am taken back to as swiftly as my weeks spent in the north-woods on the shores of the lake. I never hear the first few notes of ‘Moonlight Serenade’ without being instantly transported back in time to a more gentle era when great romance was a possibility, Momma and Daddy were still alive, parents still spanked their children, and we all felt safe, and knew that we were loved.

Happy Birthday Momma, this memory is for you. I miss you today as I have for all the years since you passed from this life. I will be listening for that sweet whistle until we meet again.


  1. My first thought was, "Boy I sympathize with her on the fishing thing." If they just wanted an excuse to drink quietly, just go to a bar.

    Second was, "Boy do I EVER sympathize with the 'walrus' thing!!" For me, it was "you old bag", age was about 9 or 10, and the goal was a bowl of Cheerios. And the worse thing about it? I GOT the bowl of Cheerios, and the Look. And nothing more. And that was worse than any spanking. Trust me, I'd have traded you.

  2. lol the walrus remark would sure give me a oh crap moment if I ever said it. Sure I said a few things to annoy indeed at my feed. But great times were surely had there at your vacation pad. You sure lived in some fun spots too.

  3. You made me tear up. This was a lovely tribute to your mother.

    Reading the parts about lying out on the dock after sunset listening to the music made me wonder, "Did she know just how amazing that was when it was happening?"

    For myself, I know when I love something. I know when I enjoy something. But, so often I don't know just how much until it is the memory that I am slipping out of the vault when I want to feel safe, loved, or just contented. It sounds like that memory does all three for you.

  4. FAE ~
    What a pleasure to see you post something other than just 'BOTBs' for a change. And what a joy to read this beautiful tribute to your Ma (and Pa).

    I think I've told you, we had similar vacation experiences in a woodsy, cabins-round-the-clubhouse/bar place called Bass Lake in California. Had a little wooden dock there too. (By the way, totally with YOU on the anti-fishing bit. What Brother Martin said... jus' give me the beer and you can keep the rod.)

    Three things I remember from our years of vacationing there: 1) Once I found a nice Case brand penknife in the kid's playground area of our Bass Lake cabin. 2) I remember one night my Ma staying awake the whole night because pine cones kept falling on the roof of our wooden cabin and she was imagining that it was bad animals come to get us. 3) My Ma and Pa sitting at the rustic bar in the clubhouse and my Ma giving me my first sip of a 'Grasshopper'. I loved it! And that's probably when my alcoholism began.

    Speaking of juke boxes... there's one where I work, and occasionally the thing just turns itself on at like 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning. (I did the math last week and I figure that in the 30.5 years this place has been in operation, probably at least 1,000 old people have died there. I figure the ghost of old folks sometimes turn on the juke box in the middle of the night to hear the old Big Band tunes it plays.)

    Last week the juke box turned on at about 2:30 AM, and I went to turn it off before it woke up a bunch of the living, sleeping old folks. But I recognized the melody that was playing and I delayed shutting it down until I knew for sure what the song was. It was 'Moonlight Cocktail' by Glenn Miller. I love that one. Not as much as I love 'Moonlight Serenade' (which is also my favorite piece of music of all time), but still... it's Glenn and it's GREAT!

    Very, very nice blog bit!
    Welcome back to Blogland,... you Old Walrus!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  5. I started playing the song right before I started reading and it ended JUST as I read the last sentence. I love when that happens, and oh was it so fitting for the story.

    I'm with the others. It's nice to see something that's not strictly BOTB.

    I never had a childhood like this. My parents weren't much for the outdoors or for fishing, but we did go on very lame 'vacations' that usually just involved us going to touristy areas in Colorado and exploring for the day. I still did enjoy it, though, and even now from time to time I like to take little getaways like those with them. Might as well while I still have them around, right?

    And I had to laugh, because I've definitely "been beat" over saying something to my mom that I thought was so clever. I'm pretty sure one time when I was 7 or 8 I got so mad I called her an "incompetent boob" because I'd heard it on TV somewhere, and that one earned the dreaded wooden spoon. :)

  6. We had some of those vacations because my dad loved fishing, too. He was more of a river fisherman than lake and it was always a mystery to me how he could cast and cast and cast until he had a trout. I was content to read while he waded in the stream. Great memories, though and, like you, I'm glad I have them.

  7. Oh, man, but I remember times when I ticked off my mom. No rods were spared with me either.

    Sorry to hear your health is still giving you fits. *hugs*