When I was a kid, those first few hours after school let out for the year were like a portal to a new world. Life was in color again. Thoughts raced through my head about the next three carefree adventurous months. My parents had other ideas.
Their idea of summer centered on the family vacation, and for my aunts, uncles, everyone, that meant heading to Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York. Three solid weeks of “a-hunting and a-fishing and a-spettin’ and a-cussin’.’” Okay, not those last two. That was the cast of “Deliverance” at the campsite next door, but you get the picture. All of the trips were unbearable, but two traumatized me for life.
I’d had enough of camping when I was in Boy Scouts. In fact, I quit the Scouts because the meetings were on Thursday and I wanted to see the second night of “Batman” on TV. I had a chance to tell that to Adam West years later and he said, “Oh! You traded your uniform for mine! Autographs are $25.”
In July 1969, I sat in a boat with my father and uncle while they fished for the elusive muskie. You need a steel rod and a six foot steel leader because they’ll dive under the boat to snap the line. The minimum size for a keeper is three feet. People will fish their whole life trying to get one, and this day the old man pulled one in.
When you get a muskie into the boat, you have to beat it to death. It has a bone skull and rows of razor teeth. My father gave the fish a few cracks with a souvenir Indians bat and sat back with a beer to reflect. When he tried to take the lure out of its mouth, the fish attacked and bit him pretty badly. I asked myself, “Why am I here?”
I wanted to get home so I could see the Apollo 11 landing that night. My uncle asked, “Why would you want to see that? We didn’t start having bad weather until they started shooting holes in the sky with those rockets.” Great guy, but he just didn’t get it.
The second trip scarred me. My cousins’ family had a little camper, and my uncle would drop off my aunt at Topsy’s Boat Livery in April and pick her up in October. He’d stop up every now and then to say hello.
My parents forced me to take this trip one summer when I had a girlfriend back home that everyone was after and I was incommunicado for three weeks. My aunt had an 8-track player with two tapes, “Charlie Pride’s Greatest Hits” and “Big Brother and the Holding Company,” which she played 18 hours a day.
My family had two St. Bernards, male and female, and it was the dreaded “slobber season.” The female was in heat, The male howled along with the 8-tracks. I refused to sleep in a two-room tent with six people and a dog, so I spent three weeks in the station wagon — with the other dog.
Keep your camping. I didn’t go fishing for another 40 years, until the artist Derek Hess and I were doing “catch and release” in Lake Erie behind the Rock Hall. That was fun, but you don’t want to keep anything you catch there. Carp are nasty fish, too.
Boomer Trivia: Last issue I mentioned that when “The Adventures of Superman” premiered in 1952, they didn’t put a lot of money into costumes. In the very first TV episode, we see the costumes of two other superheroes borrowed from the old movie serials. Jor-El is wearing Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon costume, and about a minute later one of the governing council is seen wearing Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel suit.
Back to Lake Chautauqua and TV. In the 1950s the lake was mentioned a number of times on a popular show. What series and why?
We’ll have the answer next issue.
Mike Olszewski is a veteran award-winning radio, TV and print journalist best known for his time on the legendary WMMS-FM. He and his wife, Janice, wrote “Cleveland Radio Tales” and “Cleveland TV Tales.” Mike is president of the Siegel & Shuster Society that’s promoting Cleveland as the hometown of Superman’s creators. Contact him at [email protected].