Memorial Day at Lake Bracken


by Terry Hogan


Memorial Day is about to be here.  Now that I’m no longer a young lad and no longer live at Lake Bracken, it doesn’t quite give me the thrill it once did.  Putting my “old guy” hat on, it is time to tell how it used to be…a long time ago.


A long time ago, Memorial Day was the unofficial official first day of summer.  The Lake Bracken Club House would open its doors to all members.  Kids, suffering through another school year, could smell the scent of freedom in the spring air.  Soon it would the end of school. It would be the start of swimming, the Sunday night outdoor movies, boats on the lake and kids from town prowling the clubhouse for something to do.  Sounds would stir silence and move it elsewhere.  The sound of ping pong tables in use  would tick away the minutes. A jukebox playing would seek center stage. And the occasional piece played with varying levels of skill on the old piano would provide brief proof that some of the piano lessons “stuck”.


Summer at Lake Bracken was kicked off by Memorial Day.  Summer meant freedom.  It meant girls on the beach. Summer meant girls in swimming suits rather than winter wools. Summer meant boats and boat racing. 


Before I was old enough to get “a real job”, I worked for “The Club” doing everything from picking up trash, mowing grass, cleaning the clubhouse first thing every day, laying sod and occasionally a fun job.  One of the fun jobs was driving the ski boat.  I taught numerous kids to ski, without ever skiing myself.


One of my fellow young co-workers had the nickname “Boobs”.  It was an evolved name that started as “Bo Bo”, the short cartoon bear that appeared on the Saturday morning TV show, Yogi Bear.  Boobs went on to greatness, becoming a “mover and shaker” at the Lake Bracken Country Club.  His real name will remain unrevealed, except for those who knew him back when.    


I learned a couple of interesting facts by performing the early morning tasks of cleaning the clubhouse. A handy fact – if you kicked the jukebox on the lower left front side, it would give you free music.  I also probably learned a useless fact - the women’s rest room was also much messier than the men’s.  To this day, I don’t understand, but I know it is true.


On occasion, one of my jobs was to stand along the road that led to the clubhouse.  A temporary stop sign would halt the cars. My job was to ask to see membership cards.  This was really only done on Sundays and holidays.  Most of the time it was easy work. But sometimes it wasn’t.  I recall one gruff old guy (probably in his 50’s…you know, really old).  He didn’t have a membership card.  He lectured me that he had lived at Bracken for 20 years.  Meanwhile the line of cars was getting longer.  Finally, I asked him if he knew me.  No, he said, he didn’t.  Well, I said, I have lived at Bracken my entire life (16 years). I made him do a U-turn and leave. I suppose that is what happens when you give a kid a little power.  As I recall, Don Wright, the club manager, heard about it the next week.


I had a small group of friends that all used to hang out together during the summers.  I have lost track of most of them.  They are still 18 years old in my mind’s eye. I have kept in touch with my best friend from those days, Al.  Al also lived at the lake.


Al recently emailed me a recollection that he thought was humorous. It may have occurred on Memorial Day, but it probably didn’t.  We were driving home from Galesburg one night and had just entered the club grounds.  I hit the brakes and turned the car so the headlights shown on the golf course.  On the course was an opossum.  We decided we’d chase the opossum, surround him, and get him to “play opossum”.  It was a clear and concise concept, but it lacked implementation details. 


Contrary to our assumptions, opossums (or at least this one) could run fast across the short grass of the golf course.  We chased him here.  We chased him there. But by being young, fit, and stupid, we finally wore him down.  He stopped.  We moved in.  We moved in closer.  We moved in even closer. At each step, we expected the opossum to fall over and play dead.


The opossum apparently hadn’t read the manual.  He didn’t fall over and play did.  He didn’t even lie down and look like he might venture a nap.


Instead, he made a hissing noise that sounded like it came from the depths of hell.


Al and I looked at each other. We walked back to the car. We got in the car. And we drove home.  Another one of life’s lessons learned.


And that’s the way it was.

May 21, 2009