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Across The Lake

There was a Mobil station where Highway 14 intersects with Arlington Heights Road in Illinois. We used to gas up there every week, usually on the way home from the Northwestern station where I got off the commuter train from downtown Chicago. It was while we were filling the tank that we saw for the first time the bumper sticker that asked the question, "Where the hell is Blackduck?" I think My Favorite Reader saw its first. She knew the answer as quickly as I did.

We didn't know at the time where it started, but I know at least two of the fellows who came up with the idea are long gone. Lawrence Anderson and Milton Beck were two of what I believe was a trio of guys -- Doug Cann may have been the third -- and it probably started over coffee at wherever guys gathered for coffee in Blackduck that many years ago, but somebody liked the idea well enough to invest a little money in getting those bumper strips printed.

Beck was the second generation in the oil business here -- his son Kevin is the third -- and Anderson was a salesman when Blackduck had both Ford and Chevrolet dealerships. Over the years, the population hasn't changed that much, but the go-go promotional spirit those men had is something to ponder. Bob Ness sort of summed it up when he addressed members of this year's senior class. Bob was superintendent of schools here, went on to serve several terms in the state legislature and now presents a scholarship every year to a deserving senior class member.

"This is a great place to grow up," he told them and added that what they learn here in school and in the community will benefit them the rest of their lives -- if they let it. What he said seems to have been heard, at least by class leaders like Katie Slindee and Cassandra Stroeing. Their valedictory and salutatory addresses were filled with the same optimism Beck and Anderson had.

Today that optimism is still to be found. Look at the boats heading this way every weekend. You put a couple thousand or more into a boat and motor and add the necessary gear ("Yes, dear, but I really need a new ________ and Father's Day is coming up next week and you could call it my gift from you...") Look at the guys and occasionally a wife or feminine companion, shopping for minnows or leeches at Timberline Sports and the optimism is overflowing. You can get somewhat the same feeling from fisherman at the end of the day at The Pond or Hillcrest, only their optimism may not be the only thing overflowing.

"It's a political law. Like physics. When a federal agency gets into something the number of tax paid people at work multiplies itself by five, the number of hours it takes to get it done multiplies by ten and the chances of a successful conclusion must be divided by three." That's Navaho tribal policeman Jim Chee as quoted by author Tony Hillerman in The Wailing Wind. Can't recall it ever being better said.

Similarly, things don't seem to improve when the feds turn a department into an autonomous agency, either. Those housing agencies like Fannie Mae have been pretty costly for taxpayers, but somehow the postal service seems worse maybe because it's closer to our everyday life. Look at all the changes locally, some brought on by retirements which in turn were often brought on by changes dictated well up the ladder. Still, when in the space of a few short years you go from Mary to Debbie to Kerrie to who knows who'll be next -- you wonder. At least the Night Mayor hasn't changed.

The picking will start before long, probably the last week in June or maybe a week later. Strawberries, of course, and in this case at the Mistic Berry Farm in Nebish. The restaurant will open at the same time according to the recorded message when you call their phone. Conveniently for those anxious to find out, Frank and Diana have it listed as Mistic Berry Farm.

When we moved back "home" in 2001, we were still getting settled when Joyce Langord called to ask if we were going to go for strawberries. Her husband, Wes, was still living at that time and subsequently he brought us several boxes of berries and filled us in on some of the details: how people could take a wagon ride out to where the picking was best, how you could buy berries already picked if you wanted, how you could feast on great strawberry Belgian waffles in the restaurant and how "everybody knows about it."

"When I was a boy" or "If memory serves me" are two ways of starting another jaunt into the long ago. And it was long ago, when the summer schedule would include numerous trips to the homes, usually of a relative, to pick strawberries at two cents a box, which Uncle Howard paid if we were picking for him or that dad would pay if we were picking for our own family. Same price for raspberries, but I think we had smaller boxes for them.

Blueberries, cranberries and chokecherries all made good jam and jelly. Plums and crab apples and then peaches from the store downtown. Glennis could probably make a whole "way back when" piece about all this including how everyone was careful to smooth out the paper the peaches were wrapped in. But that's another story.

A lot of the common names from then are still with us today. I think particularly of Kerr jars and rings, Certo and Sure-Jell pectin and others still found on grocer's shelves. A good thing, too, as I've found out in the last couple of years when at different times one or the other of our daughters has pitched in to help make jam or jelly.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Surprising how quickly some of this comes back when My Favorite Reader reminds me or the daughter of what to do next with the frequent "Don't let that boil over or you'll have to help clean the stove."