Today’s the fourth of July – Independence Day here in the states. Back in the 60s and 70s, from the time I was about eight until my first summer job when I was seventeen, my dad rented a cabin at Bass Lake – a small man-made lake located about 45 minutes north of Fresno. The 3500 foot elevation would shave 15-20 degrees off the valley heat, giving us some much needed relief.
We spent many Julys up there, including many fourths watching the fireworks over the lake. We were also there in late July 1969 when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. Several families crowded in the caretaker’s cabin to watch the historic event because they had the only television in camp – a big console black and white with a small grainy picture.
When I got older, that’s one reason why I protested our yearly family trek to the lake. No television. The other reason was no telephone. When I was a teen, the thought of living without those luxuries was just short of inhumane treatment. But somehow after inhaling the first scent of pine and spying the first red branches of manzanita bushes on the way there, the need for all of those necessities disappeared into the clean mountain air.
We stayed in a small three room cabin surrounded by other cabins housing familiar families. The first room tripled as a multi-purpose kitchen, dining, and master bedroom since there as a sink, stove, refrigerator, table and full-sized bed in it. The next room contained a full and twin bed, and last was the bathroom. In the corner of the bathroom stood a bumpy, gray, concrete shower with a missing drain cover. I always pictured some large bug crawling out just as I stepped in. I remember showering with my bathing suit on, just in case I needed to make a quick escape.
One of my favorite memories of the lake was fishing. I loved to fish. Every morning about 6 am, I’d take my little fishing pole, tan tackle box, and white Styrofoam container of fishing worms down to the dock. I’d bait my worms and cast, waiting for that first strike. Some of the other kids that showed up later used salmon eggs. I preferred worms. Better wiggle action than pink little eggs that usually skittled across the lake with a heavy-handed cast. Plop, plop, plop and then they were gone; free meals for the large-mouth bass waiting just under the surface. Naw, worms stayed on and worked much better.
I’d also go out at night and stay til I saw the bats flitting through the trees catching flying insects. I didn’t need a watch; I used “bat-time”. Flying bats meant it was about 8:45. With a ten minute walk back to the cabin, I could easily be back by 9.
Days were full of swimming and log-rolling. The cove included a short, thick pine log that we all tried to conquer on a daily basis. Yes, I actually stood on top and stayed up long enough to brag – several times. Then, one-by-one everyone would misstep and succumb to the slimy moss on the ends and we’d fall into the lake. I can’t believe no one wore life jackets, but we all managed to survive and brag about it back at camp.
Speaking of bragging… One of the highlights each week was the Tuesday Night Potluck and Talent Show. At 6 pm sharp a plump, older woman would ring a giant metal triangle. Ding, ding, ding. Time to take our tasty contribution to share with the rest of the folks gathered in the eating area by the lodge. Dozens of pine tables with pine log halves for sitting – enough room for all. There were all kinds of food – regular casseroles to exotic; one year someone even brought abalone. Then after everyone ate their fill, the program organizers would ask for volunteers for the talent show chiding us with a prize. We could trade our humiliation for one free candy from the general store. What I wouldn’t do for a Chick-O-Stick. One year I sang a bazillion verses of “I know an old lady that swallowed a fly
” until the host finally shoved me towards the candy while everyone clapped. Another time I did some little song about a little cabin in the woods with hand gestures. Easily scored another Chick-O-Stick.
Too soon the two weeks were over and we made the trip back home to the valley heat and back into the world of normal. I caught up with friends and television shows and life was ordinary again.
I look back on those great summer memories thanks to a lake, some courage, and giving up the things I thought were important. It took a few years, but I realize now how much I miss that ol’ lake, going fishing and just having fun. Tonight I think I’ll entertain the family with a few verses of “I know an old lady…” If I get lucky maybe they’ll throw candy at me to stop. Too bad we don’t have any Chick-O-Sticks.