July 16 • 06:45 PM

Stepping back into summer

June 18, 2008
Editor's note: The following column was written by Rodney Robertson, a frequent guest columnist for the Tri-City Times. Robertson, a native of Chicago, is a life coach and businessman who lives and works in Lapeer. An actor, Robertson has appeared in numerous productions with the Lapeer Community Theater group.

I find myself in another nostalgic moment. I have been thinking a lot about spending my summers in northern Wisconsin near a tiny town called Hawkins. It was one of those "don't blink" towns at the time. Small enough to go unnoticed if you were headed somewhere else. It was a nice, sincere town. Think of a cross between Mayberry and Walnut Grove and you have Hawkins.

What I remember most about the town was how simple it seemed. I mean the centerpiece of the town was an old log that had been cut down and identified to be around 100 years old. I don't know why it sticks in my head...maybe because the people in that town saw the importance of that tree's age. They understood the relationship between the people of that area and the trees. They took care of the trees for lumbering and it provided them with a way of life. In return they replanted and kept the forests growing. A symbiotic relationship forged in the sands of time between man and nature immortal.

I loved the forests. I loved the thick canopys and the groves of pines, the air filled with that smell of the outdoors. It seemed natural to just walk amongst the trees and listen to the thunderous quiet of the woods.

The town itself had a small restaurant where the locals gathered in the morning to begin the day. Local gossip, talk and business-type meetings came to order amidst the smell of bacon and eggs. The aroma of ham and hashbrowns was constant in the air. This little place was a mom and pop café complete with the local regulars and characters. I remember ordering breakfast and getting a plate filled beyond capacity with all I could eat. It just seemed warm and welcome.

The general store in the town was right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The creaky wood floors and the smell of sawdust were everywhere. Old barrels filled with rags, sponges and an assortment of goods lined the store. In the far back corner I came across the true hidden treasure: Comic books. That's right; graphic heaven. Adventure for a dime. Thirty-two pages of action, suspense and imagination. Musclebound heroes and tightly dressed Amazons...hooo eeee! Spiderman, X-men, Superman, Batman and, for laughs, Archie comics! All in color for a dime!

The only gas station in town was run by two brothers. Both seemed pretty decent, although I suspect the oldest ran things while the youngest tended to fish a lot. On the few occasions we needed a mechanic this was the place to go. When dad needed someone to keep an eye on things while we were away he went to these fellows. It was a time when strangers helped strangers and became friends. If you wanted to know where the fish were biting this was the place.

There was an attraction down the way called the Big White Pine. It was one of the oldest white pines in Wisconsin. We always stopped by to see it for some reason. It was on the way to Big Bear Lodge. This was a place we stayed before we started camping and then bought the property in Hawkins. The main attraction to Big Bear Lodge was a big bear that would dance if you gave it a strawberry Nehi. It was one of those things that would not be allowed today but the truth is it was fun to watch as a kid. The bear was quite tame and would lick your hand if you gave it a candy bar.

There was a beach down from the lodge that everyone went to. I remember the water being so clear. No jet skis making noise. No boom boxes spouting raunchy lyrics. Just nice folks sitting on the beach having picnics and playing in the water. People respected people's privacy back then. The smell of barbeques and potato salad filled the air.

I think one of the things I remember most was being able to go with my siblings to the corner store by ourselves. We didn't worry. Our parents didn't worry. We just walked and talked. Along the way there was an old shade tree along a creek. We would rest there a moment or two and maybe play in the water a bit. We would talk about things that brothers and sisters only talk about when they know there are no adults around. We talked about life, love and the problems each brought. Moments that bonded us together.

It was a simple life. We had never heard of a drug problem, serial killers or child molesters. Vietnam had not yet scarred my family. Video games were science fiction and no one spent the whole day inside watching bad television. We were innocent to the evils that mankind had wrought. We just played and laughed. We pranked each other and defended each other. We laughed when no one else knew what was funny. There were races run and lessons learned. Warm summer breezes and swift cool rivers to swim in.

It was a time filled with the simple honesty of youth. Innocent youth. A time when you could walk up to a stranger and ask for a glass of water and get it with a smile and a story. Baseball was played for the love of it and not money. Cars were bought for their look and style. Everyone wore Keds or PF Flyers. Going to the zoo was cool and the museum was the best!

I miss those silly little simple days. I miss treehouses, forts in the woods and playing cowboys and Indians. I miss the adventures of riding a bike to some new place and finding new friends. You haven't lived until you have tipped a cow or an outhouse. Lying on your back on a warm summer day and finding adventures in the clouds. Is that a horse I see? Or a monkey? What is that bird I hear? Hey, is there time to go fishing? Farmer Bill has new apples on his tree. I think I smell an apple pie cooking too. No shoes on and shirts were an option. The cool grass and the warm sun playing off each other like dueling banjos. The toughest decision to make: Chocolate or vanilla ice cream at the Dog and Suds.

Life has gotten a little easier but it hasn't gotten any simpler. Sometimes in advancing civilization we set it back. Sometimes in trying to makes things easier we complicate life. I know those days are gone but I have to shoes, an old fishing pole and a bottle of Nehi strawberry pop sure would be good about now.

Email Rod at

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