Lake Shoakatan…

Mom and Dad tried camping when I was a kid. Maybe some kind of bonding therapy after Larry had been killed. Mona was married and out of the house. They bought this tiny camper and decided our family should experience the joy and quiet contentment of the great outdoors. I don’t remember a family meeting deciding that the Black Hills (since none of us had ever been there) would be the destination of our first ever camping trip. So where did the Gerritson’s choose to go on their great family adventure? Let’s go to Minneapolis! The biggest city within 300 miles. What on earth were they thinking? Mom, who dusted the dining room and kitchen floors on her hands and knees DAILY. Camping-really? This was way too primitive a life style for her. It would be the only time we used the camper. It disappeared from the back yard not long after that strange trip.

 

1962. Neese in camping clothes???

“I wouldn’t give ‘ya a plug nickel for the first 2 years.” I’ve used that phrase when describing our early married life forever. It’s probably time to retire that statement. I’m still trying to put some meaning into those first wobbly years. (Shannon was the best thing) Even though we had dated for a long time, it’s very different once you get hitched. Two personalities trying to meld together. His family was big, loud, played cards and drank. Mine was small, somber, and subdued. He was way more social than me. I’ve always been pretty happy and content with my own company.

John was out-doorsey. He grew up hunting. Tagged along with his older brothers to learn the ropes. If you can imagine he used to routinely take his shotgun to school. Kept it in his locker all day, then would go pheasant hunting after school. Wasn’t a big deal. Sometimes he’d ride the bus on Friday to Dave Grossenburg’s house for a weekend of hunting on their farm. Then it was back to school on Monday morning with his shotgun. He also did a lot of fishing in the Rock River.

Once we got married, John was determined to make me “one with the outdoors.” This was difficult for both of us. I have always been rather resistant to change of any kind. But I did try. We started out with an 8 x 10 tent. John was off work from Friday supper until Monday supper. So a-camping we would go. A lot. Usually to this small, isolated, quiet place called Lake Shaokatan, in southwest Minnesota. I don’t remember how we stumbled upon it the first time. But until we moved to Eastern Iowa in ’74 we spent many, many weekends there. Looks like we took everything BUT the kitchen sink.

 

Camping 1972. Our green Vega and Lawn Darts….

 

Marv and Mamie owned a resort aptly named “Fisherman’s Hide-away.” They were a couple in their late 50’s, and had several one room cabins. After I got used to being away from civilization, I grew to like the whole camping experience. Ashamed to say at first I made John take our massive 13″ color TV along when we stayed in a cabin. Never turned it on, but it was more like a soothing pacifier should I need it. But I was always too busy to sit in the cabin and watch anything. Soon, it felt great to “be away from it all” with our rustic weekends. The cabins were really quite primitive. Not much different than the tent. It did have a bed which was nice. No bathroom though. You had to hike up to the office/restaurant/shower area. We usually stayed in our tent, it was cheaper. The campground back then was not busy at all. Many weekends we were virtually alone in the camping area.

We could rent a small fishing boat with a motor for a couple bucks. The perch fishing was unbelievable. The nice pan-sized fish practically jumped in the boat themselves. Marv had a couple grandchildren who stayed with them during the summers. These kids would clean, pack and freeze your fish for half a penny a piece. Yes, many times we would stand on the shore to catch just one more fish so we didn’t have to cut that penny in half. The summer I was expecting Shannon, I literally had bruises on my pregnant belly from giving the pole a good tug after I felt each nibble. When I had to go to the bathroom at night, (who doesn’t when you’re pregnant?) there were a million little frogs hopping all over the small dense pathway leading to the communal bathroom. Freaked me out. I made John bring along a 3 pound coffee can to use in the cabin instead. I didn’t want to squish any little froggies. Gross.

 

Shannon fishing at Lake Shoakatan, 1973…

 

I don’t remember the resort’s small restaurant being open for supper, but you could get a delicious breakfast or lunch for practically nothing. Out of this world pancakes were 50 cents. They hired no help in the restaurant either. Marv was the waiter and Mamie the only cook. Wish we wouldn’t have lost track of them. They were truly a wonderful couple.

One weekend we got a late start from Sioux City for Lake Shoakatan. It was pitch dark around midnight. We were still driving, but almost there. All of a sudden we heard a gunshot. Scared us to death. Pulled off the road, got out and cautiously checked out each other and the car thoroughly for the stray bullet. Nothing. Must have missed us. We were both pretty shaken up. Out in the middle of the boonies, very late at night and random gunfire. John got the cooler out to get us a snack and discovered the real culprit. Remember when the first glass 2 liter pop bottles came out? Well, a Pepsi bottle froze and shattered inside the cooler. Broken glass and slushy pop throughout the cooler. What a mess but a huge relief.

 

John setting up for a day of fishing at Lake Shoakatan…

 

The summer after Shannon was born, we headed to Shoakatan for a week vacation with John’s brother Arlyn. He had completed a couple tours in Vietnam, and just been discharged from the Navy. He had finally rescued his fancy stereo, speakers, and all of his cool music that we had been keeping for him. The huge reel to reel tapes consisted of his 2 favorite groups, The Beatles and The Doors. We were really going to miss that stereo. Good thing he was taking it though. Shannon was just starting to crawl and getting curious about sticking her little fingers in every available hidey-hole.

Arly brought along Vicki, his girlfriend of a few months. She was from Hull and the most perfect Dutch girl I had ever seen. Tall, blond, leggy and beautiful, about my age. We had also invited one of our best friends, Dale Duits. Dale was one of our witnesses when we eloped. Soon after that auspicious occasion, John and Dale were in a bar in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Dale was ogling a cute, petite, dark haired chick. As she was walking past later, John swatted her on the butt, and quickly turned around. She swung around, royally pissed, and gave Dale the stink eye and a piece of her mind. Just what John the matchmaker had intended. Soon Dale and Beth were dating. Now cute little Beth joined us on vacation that week too.

Arly and Vicky, 1972…

 

A couple of the guys knew how to ski and made it their mission on this vacation to teach the rest of us how to ski. I think we might have had John’s brother Jimmy’s boat along that week, because the motor was big enough to pull someone on skis. We all took turns until we each managed to stay up at least for a few seconds. I swallowed gallons of water, causing the lake level to go down a foot, but I did get and stayed up a couple times. I vividly remember being in that boat and watching my new friends Beth and Vicki. Shannon was about 8 months old at the time, and I was feeling pretty good about my post-baby-bod. I wasn’t looking too bad in my 2-piece swim suit. Single and beautiful, both Beth and Vicki had little tummies about the same as me. But I was the only one with a kid. Yup, feeling pretty good about myself during that vacation. Learned a couple weeks later, both of them were about 3 months pregnant. Boy did that deflate my fragile ego fast. For me, par for the course…

 

 

 

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