I thought I’d spend a good part of the summer telling lake stories in my column — those mythical or adventurous or timeless stories that others share with me. It’s a way to celebrate this beautiful piece of real estate we live by, which is especially alluring right now in springtime.
All lakes have their stories — of summer reveries and winter mysteries and timeless myths. Generations have stood by the break walls and looked out across the same shores. There have been Native Americans and famous people and relatives long gone that have made this place a part of their lives — hoped for a glorious summer or a calm winter or simply a good day of fishing like we do.
Sharing these stories keeps our hilly home alive.
The first story here comes from my own collective memory of a summer day decades ago, when I was a young teen visiting our cottage across the lake and first had my boating license.
It was a time when Sheldon Hall in Point Stockholm was an empty place. A caretaker that we called “Frog Man” came by to mow the lawn and chase us away from the barn in back that had become our summer meeting place.
My family’s cottage was close to Sheldon Hall and while we were most certainly trespassing, we meant no harm to that storied place. The land around that big green and white mansion with its boat house and guest houses was filled with wildflowers and Queen Anne’s lace. There were big trees to hide behind, and acres of green grass to run through and on summer days it seemed like an alluring playground to the kids in the neighborhood.
It was a different time then — when kids were just kids looking for caterpillars and a good place to fish. Frog Man (so named by us because of his scratchy voice, but he was most obviously a good man who cared about the property and didn’t really see our occasional presence as a vital threat) often scolded us when he saw us skipping across the lawn, and he never pretended to make peace with us.
“Gosh darn kids,” he’d mumble under his breath.
Sometimes we’d sit in the old barn way behind the mansion and tell stories. One story that came up the summer I’m writing about was about a naked man who was fabled to be traipsing around the canal at the end of the lake.
According to one of the oldest (and cutest) boys in our little pack, the man had been spotted many times along the shore, and in the summer, he actually lived there, it was said, like some kind of ancient man foraging for food in the shallows.
We called him “Neanderthal Man” in our stories and we wondered endlessly about him in that barn.
Does he ever get cold? Where does he live in the winter? Does he own any clothes? Is he like Big Foot?
My girlfriends and I used to take my family’s little boat to the end of the lake and down that canal to dock and go to Arby’s for lunch. Summer meant freedom back then, and because helicopter parents hadn’t been invented yet, my brothers and I, thankfully, were free to create our own summer days.
One afternoon on the way down the canal to get our roast beef sandwich, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a naked man in the water, bending over to pick up something as if to examine it, like he’d found an interesting specimen.
At first, we couldn’t believe it. Neanderthal man was a myth, you see, a subject of barn fodder and the fact that he really existed was more than our young minds could take in.
I slowed the boat down for a moment so I could validate what we were seeing. We looked at him and he stood up and looked at us and in that moment a lot of information was exchanged.
He seemed to be telling us that he meant no harm to us, and we seemed to be telling him that we couldn’t believe our eyes.
With no prior knowledge that nudists existed or that some people shun clothing when they can, we were convinced that he really was a Big Foot, magically left over from an earlier time in earth’s history.
We floored the engine back down the canal so fast we got stopped by the Sheriff’s boat on the way out.
We told that story over and over again in the barn that summer — real life celebrities now because we’d validated a lake story; it was no longer a myth.
We were proof that summer was some glorious mystery — the lake’s fabled beauty, the allure of old places, and the secret stories it all revealed to us sometimes.