A few years ago I had occasion to spend a long weekend at a Minnesota lake with some of my childhood friends and a new friend too. It reminded me a bit of when we used to go up to this lake in Wisconsin with all the neighborhood families (Tricarico’s, Rouses, Sieferts, Weils, us) and we would meet the Carlson family up there. Mrs. Carlson had what seemed like a dozen kids and was raising them on her own after the untimely death of her husband years before.
My dad thought it would be a great idea to get one of those “pop up” campers when Keith and I were in Jr. High. I think he thought we would use it all the time, go camping on weekends, take these great fishing trips and the like. I recall exactly 2 times when we took it out of the driveway and one of them was to take it up to the lake to hang with the Carlson family and all the other neighborhood families.
It was a summer weekend. Keith and I were each allowed to bring a friend on this trip, so I invited Karen Green. She wasn’t much of a “camper”, but she was game to go. Karen came to our house on a Friday afternoon, we packed up the car and headed out. We picked up Keiths friend and got as far as the high school when there was a loud KACHUNK! and SCCCRRRAAAAPPPEEEEEE! My dad pulled over to investigate. Evidently he hadn’t locked the hitch down on the ball, so we had hit a bump, the hitch popped right off and we had dragged the trailer by the chain along about 100 yards.
After about an hour delay, we got back on the road and headed north. When we arrived, all the rest of the families had already been there much of the week. The Rouses and Weils had cottages next to each other, the Tricaricos had the super-cool A-Frame house they got every year (I LOVED that place!), the Carlsons had their cabin and we being only along for the weekend had our pop up camper.
There was a lot of wandering around the lake, going from house to house, playing in the water and general camp ground fun to be had for the kids while we were there. The parents were usually split during the day with the men off fishing and the women huddled around a picnic table gossiping and playing cards. On this particular weekend visit, all the kids we were over at the Weil’s cabin waiting for dinner to be fixed. Some of the ladies had been consuming adult beverages…..which is important to the rest of the story.
From previous stories, you may have learned that these ladies, when they all get together, get loud, laugh, giggle and basically forget about anything else that is going on (sounds familiar!). They get wrapped up in whatever the subject of the day is. Margaret went into the kitchen to start the oven in preparation for dinner and came back out to the table, got a bit distracted and when she went back in to check on the oven (cigarette in hand) and opened the oven door, it caused a fireball. Turns out the oven was gas and the pilot was not lit causing a gas fume buildup.
It was 1975. Polyester was new and very popular. Margaret always had a great tan and to show that off, she was wearing a pair of white polyester pants with the seam down the front and was wearing sandals. Poor Margaret’s pants melted right to her legs from the fireball. We heard the boom outside and before we could get inside, Margaret was out of the house grabbing ice. Us kids were all scared, but on the plus side the melted portion of the pants peeled right off. After the initial shock, lots of ice on her legs and even more ice in the cocktail glass, and the weekend was saved. Lord knows, it could have been so much worse.
That was the last weekend we went up to the lake camp in Wisconsin. I don’t think it had anything to do with the accident, but more that Keith and I were getting older, he was really good at baseball which means no open weekends and we ended up getting rid of the camper the next spring. I
In a parallel universe, and about 40 years later; while my girlfriends and I were all together in Minnesota on the lake, at a cabin, there was a similar incident. On our last night, while roasting marshmallows after a day on the lake and a visit to a bar to play the meat raffle, a small fire started on the lower deck. The fire was put out quickly, but it reminded me a bit of the oven fire on the lake in Wisconsin all those years before.