My Summer Tradition

Pretty much every summer for the majority of my life, I have traveled to Lake of the Woods.  Have you heard of it?  It occupies parts of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, and northern Minnesota.  It is over 70 miles long and wide and has 14,552 islands.

When I was young, we would attach one of those Winnebago foldout campers to the back of our car, and drive three hours up and three hours back.  Somehow, we packed: my parents, my brother, a couple of my stepbrothers and sisters and our huge black standard poodle, Mitzi into the car.  We did this EVERY weekend of the summer!  This is where I sat on a bee and got my first sting, and had my first wee little crush on a boy a few campers down.

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From the Winnebago, we graduated to a little white house on Rainy River. Rainy River runs into the big lake and is just outside of Baudette, Minnesota, population about 1,100. Now that we had the benefit of heat, plumbing, etc., we started traveling here during the winter months, too . . . again, EVERY weekend.  This is about the time where I just wanted to be home on the weekend.  I had friends and a social life where, if I missed out on something happening, my life would be over and I would die (I’m a teenager now). I had a hard time convincing my parents I should stay home so, instead, I would bring my friends along.

lynne-blog-3-2There is a tiny little island that my best friend, Jillie, and I would love to sneak off to. She had a tiny fishing boat, kind of like a dinghy. She would pull up to my dock, pick me up and off we went.  We were always alone on this island; it was like our little secret.  The island was very remote, had nothing on it to speak of except a bunch of sand ,so no one ever ventured there but us. One time, we thought we would be super grown up and sophisticated and sunbathe topless.  That was the very rare time that another fishing boat came floating by.  Now, the island has somehow been discovered and is full of big boats and lots of families picnicking.  My family and I still love to go there.

My parents decided to build their dream home at the Lake about the time I was starting my own family.  I had moved to Minneapolis and, so now, the three-hour drive is a seven-hour drive.  The drive takes us through many quiet, small towns and truly is a slice of Americana.  Homes with wrap-around front porches, lawn art and flags waving proudly.  Nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere, and everything is slowed way down.  So lovely.

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There really isn’t that much to do at the lake . . . except for fishing, and so heading out onto the huge lake means spending the entire day on the boat . . . fishing.  I’m not that great of a fisherwoman as it takes great patience, and I get extremely bored waiting for something to happen.  We usually catch walleye and trout.  Nowadays, we bring a couple of boats onto the lake and have fishing competitions between them, which can get really loud and boisterous.  To this day, my boat has never won.

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Fourth of July celebrations at the lake are my favorite part. Thousands of people come into Baudette for the street fair and fireworks.  At the street fair you can listen to bagpipes, enjoy fried walleye, get a tattoo or our favorite thing, watch someone else get a tattoo. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the tattoo truck is located right next to the Beer Garden. At dusk, it is so cool to see all the families sitting on blankets with their coolers, fluorescent light-up necklaces and twirly thingies in anticipation for the fireworks.  Our neighbors in Canada across the river have lit up American flags in their backyards as a sign of friendship.  The fireworks are choreographed to music, and always end with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” When it’s all over and we’re walking back to the car, it’s always the feeling of “best night ever.”

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2 thoughts on “My Summer Tradition”

  1. Many thanks for sharing with us your wonderful memories of the lake & Islands … Sounds like the BEST times ever ❤️👍🏽❤️ …

  2. Lynn- I know Lake of the Woods and the islands. My dad work for GM in Indy and supposedly a co-worker or former co-worker purchased one of the islands in Canada and built cabins and rented. We set off for our adventure. It was a long drive from Indy, I suspect we stopped overnight. But we always left on vacation at 5 or 6 in the morning. We drove through Minnesota, I recall Canada and arriving in a small town for groceries, etc. We met a motor boat (I assume the owner of the island) for our transportation to the island. I recall speeding past all the islands most w/a Canadan flag flapping in the wind. We arrived, there was a pier and not much else. Perhaps 3-4 cabins in total (including the owner’s family cabin). The cabin was fine, clean, had running water and indoor plumbing I don’t think we could get even get radio reception.
    I recall that the water was like ice water, too cold for myself and my older brother. What to do? Well, nothing but fish. I believe Walleye was the “catch of the day” which was breakfast, lunch and dinner. My dad was a good cook and happily made all the meals consisting lively for all meals, fried Walleye and fried potatoes. I recall that I could take a string w/a safety pin and sit on the pier and catch a fish. There was a row boat but no place to go..or so we thought. Or, were afraid to venture out on the lake.
    Unsure what my father represented to my mother to get her to go on the “vacation” but she packed her extensive circa 1950’s work wardrobe of heels, hats, gloves and matching coat/dress ensembles. My brother w/his Brownie trusty camera took many fashion “shots” of my mother leaning against a tree or in a tree w/several costume “changes”. It became our “thing” as we saw the humor in being stuck on an island w/nothing to do and clearly our mother had been misled on the nature of the vacation.
    We could not go into “town” w/out asking the owner to take us…I am assuming the travel by boat was 30-45 minutes to the nearest town.
    My younger brother, likely 6-7 decided to try the water and test his swimming lessons. This effort was short lived in the frigid waters as he emerged covered in leeches shrieking. My father took his trusty cigarette lighter and “burned” the leeches off. I still do not know “how”. After that…we did not even stick our tootsies in the water.
    Thus vacation is vivid in my memory and still w/fondness I recall. I assume because (at least for the three kids, 7, 12 and 15 and our mother) we were utterly clueless on the nature of the vacation. And we made the best of it by finding the humor in the situation. We were not wealthy by any means, but for vacation we always stayed in nice accommodations and dined at nice restaurants. Thus, I guess the joke was on us……none of us were naturalists or avid fishermen including my dad.

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