There is a lovely breeze blowing in off the lake, here at the Great Camp of the 20 Prospect clan. Sitting on the screen porch, keeping lookout for our resident chipmunk to make sure he doesn’t sneak through the hole in the screen in search of tasty treats, it’s hard to believe that the weather is not always this idyllic. Sad but true, sometimes it does rain on vacation. And sometimes, even if it doesn’t rain, the north wind blowing in off of the lake is chilly, and for all it’s beauty, the deep blue water isn’t very enticing. It’s on days like this when we decide to head into town to break up the exhausting routine of relaxation.
Town for us isn’t Watersmeet, or even Land O’ Lakes, which are the nearest outposts for a thick steak, a cold beer, and a loaf bread & gallon of milk. Town is Eagle River, Wisconsin 30 miles to the south. Eagle River is an old lumber town, that transformed itself into a vacation resort during the later half of the 20th century. Located in the middle of the Eagle River Chain of Lakes, it had enough inherent density to create a sort of gravitational field for the post war tourists that started pouring north in their station wagon’s to escape the heat of Chicago, Milwaukee, in the summer time. Our link to this area extends back to Mrs. 20P’s childhood, when her family rented cabins up on North Twin Lake. Eagle River was the nearest town for them, and the place that her Grandpa would take the kids to buy rubber tomahawks, and penny candy.
I am pleased to report, that it hasn’t changed. In fact, the same old souvenir shops that stood then, are still here today. The mid 20th century signage on Wall Street is worth the drive alone. This is road side America as it used to be. Enter into these stores and you’ll be pleased to see the same faux Indian jewelry, and rubber tomahawks that I remember from trips to Watkins Glen, and Niagara Falls as a kid. Growing up it didn’t seem to matter what State or town you visited. If it was a vacation destination, it warranted a genuine tom-tom or tomahawk, made in China, and printed with the name of the town on the side. In those days kids grew up knowing that all Indians wore feathered head dresses, and war paint, and ran around tapping their palms against their mouths going “woo-woo-woo-woo!!!”. Don’t let the teachers and the history books tell you otherwise. It was only through the efforts of guys like Marshall Dillon, the Lone Ranger, and the Cartwright boys that the west was civilized, and made safe for imported Chinese trinkets. Hop Sing would nod in agreement.
If only life and history were that simple. Which is why I can look past the tackiness, and irony of Eagle River’s t-shirt shops, and imported lead-paint covered merchandise, and enjoy it for place it used to be, and still is. A little slice of Americana that has somehow managed to survive without being bulldozed in the name of progress, or loved to death. It wouldn’t be a vacation if we didn’t find a gray afternoon to escape to Wall Street, and browse the shops. Every year I look forward to stopping into Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, and stocking up on salt water taffy, and my own personal weakness, Swedish Fish.
The kids will ooh and ah over the junk in the shops, trying to decide which little souvenir to buy, and bring home as a memento from their vacation. A reminder of the summer days at the lake, and the sunshine shimmering off the water. The hollow clunk of the aluminum boats against the wooden dock, and the shadows of the pines as they lengthen over the shore line, and portend the coming of darkness and the lighting of the campfire.
Nostalgia is the sweetest drink. Smoother than bourbon, and twice as potent.