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We’re visiting Mom and Dad in Chicago this weekend.
Mom likes to employ Sabra’s green thumb and have her help plant the garden the past couple of years, and brother Bob is taking Dad and I fishing.
We’re going angling to Bangs Lake, a summer destination in the Fleck household dating to the early ‘60s. Mom would fill our big red “Drink Coca-Cola” cooler with food and a couple of boxes with cooking and eating utensils. Dad gathered up fishing gear, a bag of charcoal and a Coleman stove. It all got loaded in the cavernous trunk of the Ford. Mom and baby sister Bonnie rode in the front and the boys– Bruce, Brad and Brian– in the back. Rarely, if ever, it was just our family. Sometimes our cousins Suzzie, Cherrie and Darcy came along, or we’d bring friends or both. In a pinch, you could get five kids in the back: four on the seat and one lying prone on the shelf in the back.
Today, the road to the lake is a four-lane with many stop lights through the ever-sprawling suburbs of Chicago, but back then, the highway’s two lanes weaved 30 miles into the country. There was one section with a small dip on a straightaway that always prompted Dad put the pedal to the metal on the rusty old sedan. None of the Fleck children became astronauts, but we all experienced weightlessness.
Over the past few years, Mom has converted the flowerbed nearer to the house into the vegetable garden but she still puts in a couple tomato plants in the traditional plot behind the garage. To help her get around, Dad has pounded green metal stakes in the ground and capped each with a day-glow tennis ball, bright yellow orbs hovering here and there, for her to lean upon.
The beach at Bang’s charged the princely sum of a dollar a car plus a quarter for each adult and 10 cents for kids over 6. Kids were under 6 in our family until they reached puberty in our family to save the dime. We were usually first in line when the gates opened at 8 a.m. It cost more than two bucks to get in and we were determined to get our money’s worth. By 8:30 a.m., Dad and his sons moved picnic tables to a central location– relatives and neighbors would be joining us later– and Mom had bacon and eggs frying for breakfast.
The day was spent swimming. Usually, we went to a lake with a lower or free admission, but then there’d only be a raft for play. Bang’s had several added features, including a tall slide that sent you flying and a water wheel that made you crash and splash in some very awkward ways. Everything was slightly dangerous, but that just made it more fun. I doubt if anything quite like it exists anymore. The soil is rich and crumbly after nearly seven decades of hand cultivation. As detailed many times, Sabra is a compulsively neat gardener and Mom appreciates the head start of the good planting her daughter-in-law provides. Rows are straight and planting depths exact. While Mom doesn’t get the same volume of food out of the garden as in days past, she still harvests an impressive amount of tomatoes, onions and beans from the smaller space.
If Dad was feeling flush, he rented a rowboat for fishing or he fished from shore. At least once during the day, he’d put on his swimsuit and join the kids in the water, tossing and splashing anyone who came near. He, like just about every other adult of the time, smoked cigarettes and could flip a lit Lucky Strike into his mouth using only his tongue and lip, dive under water and come up with it still lit. A lot of kids had fathers with better jobs or a higher education, but only mine could smoke under water.
On the ride to the lake there’d typically be some squabbling over things like who got to sit by the window and who was looking funny at someone else. On the way home, we slept without a peep in a tangled pile of damp bodies.