Hooray! It’s summer! Time to go to Wolf Lake

This Halloween short story was written by Michael Staton.

This feature story was written by Michael Staton.

A recent Facebook post of a cousin resurrected a treasure trove of memories, most from my childhood.

As I read Don Kurtz’s words, I couldn’t help but think back to idyllic days spent splashing in Wolf Lake. Other thoughts as well: Sitting on the living room couch with Mom and listening to her reminisce about her teenage years and visits with a favorite uncle, Kenny Kurtz, and his wife Pauline.

Don wrote: “Our mother Pauline is not doing well. She did not wake up yesterday and is sleeping comfortably. We expect her to pass in a few days. At 97 years old, she has been wanting and ready to go. She has certainly lived a full life.”

Just a day later, Don gave us an update: “Mom walked into Heaven at 3 a.m. this morning, Thursday, October 1. She passed very easily. What a blessing.”

My cousin John Snyder floats on an inner tube while under the watchful eye of his mother Juanita and grandmother Ethel. The time period is circa late 1950s.

My cousin John Snyder floats on an inner tube while under the watchful eye of his mother Juanita and grandmother Ethel. The time period is circa late 1950s.

Soon after, the family historian and genealogist, John Snyder, posted a few words along with a wedding photo of Pauline and Kenny. “The last of a generation passed away today, my Great-Aunt Pauline Smucker Kurtz, age 97. We enjoyed many family visits to see her family on Wolf Lake in Muskegon, Michigan. She was a beautiful and loving woman whose smile lit up the room. What a heavenly reunion today. Here is a wedding photo from May 18, 1940, to her first husband Kenneth Kurtz. My uncle Russell Snyder is the best man.”

My Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny tie the knot more than 70 years ago. Pauline passed away earlier this month, the last of a special generation I looked up to through the decades.

My Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny tie the knot more than 70 years ago. Pauline passed away earlier this month, the last of a special generation I looked up to through the decades.

Aunt Pauline outlived three husbands, Kenny, his brother Clarence Kurtz and George Dulaney. It was Kenny she was thinking about when she wrote a letter to me shortly after my Mom’s death in November 2003. She shared her memories of her last hours with Kenny, who passed away in the early 1950s, a cancer victim. Earlier, I’d told her about a remarkable occurrence that took place in my Mom’s bedroom just days before her death.

Mom had ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. By the end of her life, she’d lost the ability to move most of her muscles including her voice chords. So when I found her not watching me as I spoke to her but gazing at a far wall, I couldn’t just ask her, “What are you looking at, Mom?” Thankfully, she could still shake and nod her head, so I could ask her questions and get a yes or no by how she moved her head.

I love this photo of my mom during her high school years. She loved visiting her Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny Kurtz.

I love this photo of my mom during her high school years. She loved visiting her Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny Kurtz.

I learned there was someone in the room with us, a loved one who’d come from Heaven to comfort her. I ticked off the names of loved ones. At the name Kenny, she nodded “yes.” And so I told that story to Aunt Pauline.

All my life I heard how an angel had come to Kenny’s bedside at the moment of his death to fly his soul to Heaven. In her letter, Aunt Pauline clarified some of the details, “The late evening of Kenny’s death, Clarence Kurtz was sitting at his bedside when Kenny drew his last breath. Clarence said he heard the rustling of wings and it was angels that carried him home.”

I don’t think Aunt Pauline was surprised that Kenny came to Mom’s bedside. Like Mom, he’d gone through a slow and painful death. “It means so much to me that he visited Jackie those last few weeks before her death. I have shared this with my family and friends. How it has brought the reality of Heaven to us!”

When Pauline married Kenny, she joined the Kurtz clan of Wayne County, Ohio. Kenny was one of thirteen children born to David Elmer and Icie Belle Kurtz. My Grandmother Mid was one of Kenny’s older sisters as was my Aunt Ethel, John Snyder’s grandmother. A great tragedy befell the Kurtz family in the summer of 1920. Icie Belle and David Elmer died within weeks of each other. Later, in the winter of 1920, a daughter – Helen – would also die. Grandma Mid was just twelve at the time, Kenny a toddler, and Aunt Ethel a married woman with a child of her own, Russell, who would someday become Kenny’s best man at his wedding.

Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny with their four children -- David, Don, Tom and Becky -- in 1952. Kenny died young, a victim of cancer.

Aunt Pauline and Uncle Kenny with their four children — David, Don, Tom and Becky — in 1952. Kenny died young, a victim of cancer.

In the years ahead, the young ones were shuffled from relative to relative, some to older brothers and sisters, some to aunts and uncles. For example, Grandma Mid lived for a time with an aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, but grew homesick. Aunt Ethel took her under wing, and my grandma lived in the house on South Fourth Street in Rittman that would someday become her house. Uncle Raymond and Aunt Ethel sold the house to Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid when they moved to the upstairs apartment above their downtown bakery.

Aunt Pauline wrote about those days when Grandpa, Grandma, my mom Jackie and Uncle Denny lived in the Fourth Street house. “After Kenny and I were married, we spent almost every Sunday afternoon and evening with Mid, Frog, Jackie and Denny. I always felt so ‘at home’ with them. Mid always made supper for us and made us feel welcome. Looking back I wonder if she and Frog got tired of us. We just showed up and felt so welcomed.”

The death of Icie Belle and David Elmer could have torn the Kurtz family apart. Instead, the sisters and brothers grew closer. Family visitors were always welcomed – at my grandparent’s house, at Uncle Clarence’s place on Wolf Lake.

Pictured is Kenny Kurtz with his sister Ethel's children, Russell and Harold. Russell was Kenny's best man at his wedding.

Pictured is Kenny Kurtz with his sister Ethel’s children, Russell and Harold. Russell was Kenny’s best man at his wedding.

Remembering those scary days in the 1920s when the younger Kurtz kids were shuffled from family member to family member, Uncle Clarence decided to raise another family. He married Pauline and looked after Kenny’s kids, Dave, 12; Don, 9; Tom, 3, and Becky, 2. Dave telephoned me several years ago, wanted to share memories of Rittman. He praised Uncle Clarence for his generosity. There’s a wonderful photo of my Mom’s brother Denny and Dave floating on inner tubes in Wolf Lake. They don’t look very old… no more than twelve, maybe younger. One of Dave’s favorite childhood memories: riding his bike on the streets of Rittman alongside Denny.

Kurtz clan photos range from the early 20th century well into the modern age. First, John Snyder’s father Harold collected the photos from family scrapbooks. Later, John assumed the mantle and has posted many of the photos on social media sites like Facebook. John’s grandfather, a baker, married his grandmother in 1915. The Snyder family were not only bakers, they also owned a photography business. Unsurprisingly, the Kurtz clan collection teems with photos of Icie Belle and David Elmer’s children. With this piece I’m including photos of Uncle Kenny and Grandma Mid when they were children, the originals nearly 100 years old.

My Grandma Mid and her sisters Nellie and Hazel loved sitting on the back porch of Uncle Clarence's Wolf Lake, Michigan, home. In the '50s and '60s, relatives loved to vacation at Wolf Lake. I couldn't wait for summer and trips to Wolf Lake.

My Grandma Mid and her sisters Nellie and Hazel loved sitting on the back porch of Uncle Clarence’s Wolf Lake, Michigan, home. In the ’50s and ’60s, relatives loved to vacation at Wolf Lake. I couldn’t wait for summer and trips to Wolf Lake.

By the 1940s and 1950s folks were using Brownie cameras and taking photos of themselves and their children at play. For the Kurtz clan, when it came time for vacation, more often than not the children of Icie Belle and David Elmer packed up their mates and children in their cars and headed for Wolf Lake. They knew they’d always get a hearty welcome and sweet smiles from Aunt Pauline and Uncle Clarence. During the day, the adult vacationers would sit side by side in lawn chairs on the back deck and watch the kids swim in Wolf Lake. At night there would be cookouts and Bible scripture reading.

I’ve a mishmash of memories of our times at Wolf Lake. There’s a photo, dated 1956, of Kurtz clan members at Wolf Lake. Like many of the photos snapped over the years at the Wolf Lake house, they’re gathered together like a school class photo. There’s a boy on a tricycle at the forefront. He looks like me. Yet I’ve no memory of a 1956 visit. Later ones, yes. I would have been four at the time, and the boy on the tricycle looks about four. Not until a year later would the Staton family move from Wadsworth, Ohio, to San Bernardino, California. During this time of my life, I loved the Mickey Mouse Club, especially the “Spin & Marty” serial, and wanted a doll for Christmas, a gift wish that upset my father or so I’ve been told. By the way, I did get that doll as well as a school desk. I was probably too timid to go into the water, which may be why I have no recollection of that Wolf Lake vacation.

The car places the photo sometime in the 1920s or the early 1930s. It's Uncle Clarence, his wife Fern and their kids. Fern died young. Later, in the early 1950s, Clarence married Pauline after his brother Kenny passed away.

The car places the photo sometime in the 1920s or the early 1930s. It’s Uncle Clarence, his wife Fern and their kids. Fern died young. Later, in the early 1950s, Clarence married Pauline after his brother Kenny passed away.

In later years, though, I loved wading out into the water near Uncle Clarence’s dock. But I couldn’t swim, so I never put my head under the water and wouldn’t go out much past my waist. I’m embarrassed… I wasn’t much of a risk-taker as a 7 year old. It wasn’t until the summer of 1964 that I took swimming lessons at the Corona, California, municipal pool and leaped off the high deep into the deepest portion of the water.

I’m remembering certain sensory memories. Walking down the small hill to the water, sand caressing my bare feet. Feeling the touch of the lake’s muddy bottom and the tickle of water weeds poking between toes. Lying in a strange bed in the dark listening to thunder and the wind howling, like fists beating against the room’s window. Watching Tom light firecrackers and then holding my hands over my ears as they burst. Listening to Becky play the theme from the movie Exodus on the piano. Watching Star Trek at one of Clarence’s adult sons’ houses; even remember the episode, a time travel story involving the launch of a Saturn V moon rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.

While the kids swam, the adults would sit in lawn chairs on the back porch at the Wolf Lake house and catch up on gossip.

While the kids swam, the adults would sit in lawn chairs on the back porch at the Wolf Lake house and catch up on gossip.

Clarence’s dock or pier plays a prominent role in many of the photos. Over and over again you’ll find the moms and grandmas sitting on the dock, their feet dangling in the water, while the kids pose in the shallows. That popular shot must have been a requirement during all Wolf Lake vacations. Each one I look at always brings a smile to my face, especially the ones whose dangling feet belong to my mother, Grandma Mid and Aunt Ethel.

So many of us who were young during those vacations at Wolf Lake in the 1950s and 1960s can remember our parents and grandparents saying what a loving hostess Aunt Pauline was during those halcyon days. Always, we heard about her sweet smile and sunny disposition. While we showered her and Uncle Clarence with love, they returned it tenfold by opening their home and hearts to us. Aunt Pauline’s letter to me makes clear just how much she loved my Mom. “Jackie always kept in touch with me at Christmas. One year George and I stopped at Beverly. We had been to the Bob Evans Farm in Southern Ohio. We got to see where Jackie lived and some of her family. She was at the library, but soon came home. We had a nice visit. Jackie looked happy and pretty.”

It's the gang having fun at Wolf Lake. Writing on the photo says 1956. I have no memory of it, but the boy on the bicycle looks amazingly like me. I believe Uncle Clarence has his arm draped over the shoulder of my mom; she looks so young. Next to them is my Grandmother Mid.

It’s the gang having fun at Wolf Lake. Writing on the photo says 1956. I have no memory of it, but the boy on the bicycle looks amazingly like me. I believe Uncle Clarence has his arm draped over the shoulder of my mom; she looks so young. Next to them is my Grandmother Mid.

The Wolf Lake vacations will forever be linked to the emotional closeness of Icie Belle and David Elmer’s children and their children and grandchildren. They persevered over heart-wrenching tragedy. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how lucky I was to be born into this family. And Aunt Pauline was a big reason I came to that realization.

# # #

Hey, I’m an author. Two fantasy books published – The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin. A third one is 95 percent complete. Just need one more review of the last chapter from a longtime reviewer and I can make the final edits to that chapter. Hopefully, you’ll soon see Assassins’ Lair in print. Thinking about purchasing the novels? You’ll find them on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites as well as the website of Wings ePress (wingsepress.com).

Advertisements
This entry was posted in unique. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Hooray! It’s summer! Time to go to Wolf Lake

  1. Nancy Jardine says:

    You’re so lucky to have such a lot of rich family memories, Mike. It makes great reading- and especially so when you produce these lovely family photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary says:

    Wonderful written treasure of your loving family memories. You truly are an author, as good as Louie L”amour ;who was a master at making you feel that you were actually living in his .story. I shall have to watch for your books. I came to Wolf Lake when I was in the first grade, and spent many hours at Wolf Lake during the fifties, and on to now. Still live on Hilton Park Rd., and enjoy the lake today. Thanks for the memories, sure hope your family knows how lucky they are that you have given them a wonderful family history.

    Like

  3. Wranglers says:

    Loved the memories and the photos. You had such a wonderful close family. I did too, bit I’m not sd hood ad you are in translating those memories onto words. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Glad you enjoyed my feature, Cherley. I love all the ‘likes’ and comments I’m getting from Pauline’s children and grandchildren. I wish I could have gotten to know the grandchildren. I went to college, worked my first newspaper jobs in Central Ohio and Central Florida, and didn’t do any reunions and stuff in those days. That was a big mistake, but when we’re young we make lots of mistakes.

      Like

  4. Doris says:

    What a gift to have those memories and others to fill in the gaps. Also what a wonderful family, to have stayed as close as they could during the rough early years. Thank you for sharing. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Yes, the sisters and brothers of my Grandma Mid were special people. As were the men and women who married them. I let one of Pauline’s sons know I had written this tribute to his mom, and the response as been overwhelming. As of 8 p.m. PST, there’s been 228 views of our various posts on this day, of which 170 belong to “Hooray! It’s summer! Time To Go To Wolf Lake.” It’s the most one-day views I’ve ever gotten for one of my Writing Wranglers & Warriors posts.

      Like

  5. Neva Bodin says:

    Lots of messages in your blog today! Proof of the afterlife, proof of how much memories mean, and proof of how much family means. I wonder if kids today will have memories of which game they played on their electronic device while visiting aunts and uncles and grandparents? What a blessing your family is to have you. Enjoyed your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      In regard to games on electronic devices, probably not. Many of those games are solitary. Of course, they are the online RPG games like EverQuest. I can remember playing board games with my sister and Grandma Mid at the Rittman house — games like Parcheesi and Sorry. Those are wonderful memories. We’d play at the kitchen table.

      Like

  6. Joe Stephens says:

    Such a rich family history! They exemplify what family can and should be. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How wonderful to have so many great family memories! I am an only child, and so was my mother. My father’s relatives lived in other states and we didn’t visit often, so most of my memories are just of my parents and I. Vacations were important to dad, and every summer we traveled somewhere away from our little farm in Iowa: Ontario, Canada, Minnesota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Montana, to name a few. And, we went camping and fishing locally often. I treasure those memories with my parents and I truly believe those experiences impacted me into my adulthood. Thanks for sharing your family memories!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mike Staton says:

      You’re making great memories now with your trips up the mountain to your cabin. Those vacations in childhood to the great mountainous states of the West must have put a itch in you to live out here.

      Like

  8. I too am an only child, like Gayle, and like Gayle, so was my mother! My memories were of road trips with my mom and dad, mostly driving up to Sequoia National Park and sometimes all the way up to Canada to visit my mom’s side of the family. We’d stop at Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Park. Unfortunately, I don’t have wonderful photos like you do. You’re very lucky to have these photos and such fond memories. And most of all, you’re very lucky to have such a tight-knit family. Great post, Mike.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks, Sarah. We had one childhood trip to Yosemite back in 1964. One photo of that trip survive (or at least one I scanned from my sister’s photo albums), the family standing at that Sequoia that has the car-size hole in it. I think every family in America has a similar photo.

      Like

  9. Mike Staton says:

    Wanted to say that as of this morning this post on my Aunt Pauline and the idyllic childhood days spent at Wolf Lake has gotten 229 views, the most ever for one of my feature stories. Most of the views are probably by Kurtz-related relatives. I’m so glad I put an alert about the tribute to Aunt Pauline on her son Don’s Facebook timeline.

    Like

  10. katewyland says:

    What wonderful family memories. I was born in MI and remember going to Green Lake on warm summer days. So much nicer to swim in than the cold, rough ocean after we moved to California. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I’ll have to check a map and see how close Green Lake is to Wolf Lake. I know that the branch of the Kurtz family that lived in Michigan loved to ice fish on Lake Wolf in the winter. One son of Pauline, David, still lives in the house on Wolf Lake.

      Like

  11. S J Brown says:

    Such wonderful memories thanks for sharing them.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      I enjoyed writing the piece, especially since it was a tribute to a very wonderful woman. She lived a long, loving life, dying at 97. But regardless of age, we still mourn the new ‘hole’ in our heats. As I get older, I am getting more and more ‘holes’ in my heart.

      Like

  12. Mike Staton says:

    We got to figure out how to get more comments from readers who are not our fellow Writing Wranglers & Warriors. I like to provide a link to our blog posts on Facebook. I got lots of comments from friends and relatives, but they made them on Facebook, not Writing Wranglers & Warriors. Oh, well…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s