Tom Stangl

Happy Labor Day to you!

The unofficial end of summer is upon us, the school year is right around the corner. The coming weekend is the “last call” for many people to enjoy the last drop of summer.

I’ve been noticing the sun rising later and setting earlier and it makes me sad. Summer seems to slip just as we are getting used to it. Winter seems to last forever, so it just doesn’t seem to be fair.

Every summer when Labor Day rolls around, I recall Labor Day weekends I spent as a child. Coming from a large family with two working parents, going out of town for a vacation happened once in my childhood — a trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We did, however, spend some weekends at my Uncle Jack and Aunt Gladys’s cabin on Big Spirit Lake.

As you may recall, I grew up in western Iowa. According to online searches, my home state has a total of 65 lakes, 34 of which occur naturally, the rest are man-made. A far cry from the thousands of lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I can understand why many natives are blasé about the lakes here, but back home, they are few and far between and highly valued.

Big Spirit Lake is the group of lakes known as “Iowa’s Great Lakes” near Okoboji. The cabin was an over two-hour drive from our home, so for us to pack up the crew in the station wagon we needed to stay longer than one day. My late father, Arved (a.k.a. “The Chief”) worked five and a half days as a mechanic at the Chevy garage in my hometown. He ended his week at noon on Saturday. The Chief valued his spare time and if he was going to spend two and a half hours in the car with a bunch of noisy kids, there needed to some ice-cold Grain Belt or Canadian Mist and a burger waiting for him. My father was a simple man and drank socially, mostly to forget his frustrations dealing with other humans.

Uncle Jack was a charming man who had an implement dealership and sold real estate. Aunt Gladys was the Chief’s sister and a wonderful, welcoming soul. Their lot was less than 50 yards from the water and contained a small cabin and a single wide trailer, where the kids slept. They had a dock and a motor boat.

To a kid who just learned to jump from the high board at the pool, a warm, murky lake with fish in it was a new challenge and exciting thing to explore. After getting acclimated to the water, I enjoyed finding shells and keeping still for fish to come near. Well, the fish never did come near, but I did find a mussel still in its shell.

After finding an old coffee can to put the mussel in, I was able to convince my parents to bring it home. Looking back now, I think I thought it could be a pet, but it was pretty silly. A biology teacher down the block took it off my hands and put it in a fish tank at school. 

It was a grand adventure to me. I hope you and your family will get to have an adventure this weekend, making some memories to last through the long winter ahead.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading. I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same. 

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