Two years ago, I started writing a series of blogs telling stories from my childhood. I never finished what I started. Today I will continued from where I started. The reason I’m telling these stories is partially to allow myself to reminisce and to remind myself of where I came from. We all have stories we want to tell and my fear is that if I don’t write them down, I may not remember them to tell to my children. Our stories tell a lot about us and their value cannot be overstated.
Over the coming weeks, I hope to remind all of you of the important stories you have to tell and remind you to tell these to those around you.
When I was a little boy, my parents would take my little sister and I to Lake Ontario every summer for a week. My aunt and uncle (my dad’s sister) had a house on the lake and were always happy to have us. My aunt and uncle have seven daughters so at times, it was tight and after a couple years, my parents took to renting another nearby house for the week.
My memories of trips to Lake Ontario vary, but all bring a bright smile to my face. My uncle owned a liquor store in Syracuse at the time and was known to commute from the lake house to the store every morning to work during the summer. As a little kid I always woke up early. It wasn’t rare that I’d wake up early enough to eat breakfast with my uncle before he headed off to work.
I remember one morning specifically where my uncle made himself breakfast. My Uncle Herbie is a diabetic, so he isn’t supposed to eat much sugar. My Aunt would always buy him plain corn flakes instead of frosted flakes that he much preferred. My uncle poured himself a bowl of plain cornflakes, added milk, and then a giant scoop of sugar. This is just the kind of man he is. To be fair, added plenty of sugar to mine too.
Lake Ontario also always reminded me of barbecues. Since there were always so many people at the lake house, it wasn’t uncommon for my uncle or my dad to cook out on the grill. It was never anything too fancy, just hot dogs and hamburgers and corn. The corn was some of the freshest and crunchiest I’ve ever had even to this day. Just to get to my aunt and uncle’s lake house you had to drive past hundreds of fields of fresh corn. New York white corn was always a tasty summer treat.
Sometimes after dinner we’d head over to an Ice Cream place called Cleo’s. The weird thing about Cleo’s is that it was connected to a gas station and wasn’t even called Cleo’s. Years before, it was called Cleo’s and my dad never took to calling it the new name and I don’t think any of us know what it was called at the time. Cleo’s served giant ice cream cones so it wasn’t too surprising for all of us to order smalls. The small at Cleo’s is the equivalent of most other place’s large. I would always order Moose Tracks and if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you look it up or try it (unless you are allergic to peanuts). I can remember on more than one occasion being piled into the back seat of my mom’s white Ford Windstar. Years later Cleo’s and the gas station burnt down.
Lake Ontario is also partially where my love for baseball comes from. Up until 1999, the Cleveland Indians had a Minor League affiliate in nearby Watertown, New York. One of the necessary trips of every summer was to see the Indians play. I didn’t really understand baseball at the time, but boy did I love cheering on the Indians. Somewhere I have a Sean Casey autograph from an Indians game, but I’m not entirely sure where it is today.
One of the other great things to about trips to Lake Ontario was playing with Scruffy. Scruffy was a stray dog that my Uncle Herbie had saved behind his liquor store one day. Back in an alley behind his story, my uncle found two kids being cruel to this poor little puppy. As the story goes, my uncle yelled at the kids and took the dog in. My uncle at the time was a pretty imposing figure of about 6’2” or so and the family’s dog at the time TJ had recently passed away, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Scruffy was one of the goofiest dogs I think I’ve ever met. Whenever I’d go into the lake, it was not out of the question to hear him running after me into the water. Scruffy wasn’t great at the doggy paddle, so I had to stay shallow to make sure he could “take care of” my little sister and I. If someone got near us in the water, he’d bark to “protect” us. Scruffy’s other great skills were digging random holes in the sand, eating anything you put in front of him (I made that mistake once), going through my mother’s luggage and scaring away birds.
We spent at least one July 4th on the lake. I can remember sitting with my family watching the fireworks over the lake. My aunt and uncle’s neighbors were playing with sparklers. Being only about 7 or 8 years old, I thought they were the coolest things in the world. Sparklers weren’t legal in New Jersey, so I had never see anything like them. I can remember for years begging my parents to buy me some on trips into New York City. They finally broke down once we moved to Atlanta.
I remember so much more about my trips to Lake Ontario, but frankly, I don’t know the right way to tell you. I remember giant coolers filled with clean drinking water, bunk beds, blue boxes of macaroni and cheese, grandparents, paddleboats, seaweed, fishing trips to Henderson Harbor, an antique typewriter I played with, dominos, card games, and far far too much ice cream to the point that I am at times surprised I still have teeth.
Trips to Lake Ontario were only a small period of time during my childhood, but they stand out to me. It’s interesting to thing about how my trips up to the lake house made my life the way it is. We’ve all had our own trips to the lake house, or down the shore, or wherever our favorite family vacation place was and I think it is important to remember these stories. They tell about who we are and where we came from more than a resume or a passport. Are stories are our lives and tell where we came from like the rings on the inside a tree.