Dreams really do come true. Keep dreaming!
This past April I visited the Twin Cities and had the absolute pleasure of joining my two favorite newlyweds for the best fish and chips of my life at a place called Tin Fish, a seasonal place open from late April to sometime in October, right on the shore of Lake Calhoun. That same weekend, we stood in long lines to order fish tacos at Sea Salt Eatery, another April through October dining location, beautifully situated in the park at Minnehaha Falls. They did not disappoint. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about those fish tacos or the fish and chips. I’m hoping to make both of these dining experiences a new summer tradition.
When I was young there were certain restaurants or favorite places that were seasonal or only opened for a few months out of the year. We always knew summer had arrived as soon as we saw their shutters or doors were open for business. In fact, there were all kinds of smells and sounds and wonders that belonged only to summer, and from the moment school ended in late May or early June all the way through August or early September when a new school year began, we happily belonged to summer too.
One of those places was on the way home from my grandparents’ farm. On most Sundays we’d visit our grandparents, and as we headed home, just as our car made its final turn before leaving the town of Owen, there was a root beer stand. Now it was there all year long, but in summer it was open. If it had a name, I don’t know it, because we just called it the root beer stand. We’d pull up and my dad would roll down his window, leaving just enough room to allow the carhop to hook a tray on the outside of it. Once my dad had given her our order, she’d proceed to make several trips back and forth to our car with mugs of root beer. The mugs were made of thick glass and came in only two sizes: regular and baby. The assorted frosty mugs would be carefully passed to anxious waiting hands until everyone in the car had their age appropriate mugs of cold and foamy root beer. I mostly remember drinking my root beer from one of the baby mugs. I thought it was the perfect size. Sometimes we’d get ice cream cones instead of root beer, but on most visits and always to our delight, our dad would also get a jug or gallon of root beer to take home.
Every June the carnival came to our town for a long and festive weekend that was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, of which my dad was a member. Sometime before that weekend, a huge spool of tickets would appear on Dad’s office desk, and every year the tickets were a different color. I remember the excitement of seeing those tickets and the anticipation of the fun that each one of them contained. Back then, a single ticket was all you needed to ride any ride. The tickets would be doled out to us kids over the course of the weekend and when they were gone, they were gone. My favorite rides were the Tilt a Whirl and the Roundup. As soon as the carnival crew pulled into town, the two blocks adjacent to Main Street would be closed off and they’d immediately start setting up their most popular rides and game tents and food stands or trailers. The rides beckoned and the games always seemed rigged, although it didn’t stop people from still playing and trying to win. But it was the food stands that seemed to come all ready equipped with aromas that started teasing every child and adult for miles around.
I must have been around 10 years old the first time I discovered a carnival corn dog. I had started babysitting that year, which would explain how I had spending money in the first place. I’m also guessing the money had probably been burning a hole in my pocket, so from the moment I saw someone walking with a corn dog, it was clear I had to have one. It was a small carnival and I quickly found the corn dog stand. I watched in amazement as a hot dog on a long wooden stick was dipped in some corn meal batter and then fried in hot oil right before my very own eyes. This may have been the first precursor to the cooking shows I would come to love as an adult, only I didn’t know it at the time. What I do know is that from first site to first bite, I loved corn dogs. I can still remember thinking I had never tasted anything in the world like it. And to this very day, if a corn dog isn’t freshly made right before my very eyes, I’m not even tempted.
Now sometime in July or August, as soon as the sweet corn was ripe and ready for picking, a teenaged girl would ride her bike into town from a farm several miles north of where we lived. Strapped to the back of her bike were two metal baskets that straddled both sides of the back tire. Loaded in the baskets were several dozen ears of freshly picked sweet corn (probably picked minutes before she had got on her bike or maybe right as she was leaving her family’s farm). I’m not sure if she had any other customers in town, because I’m pretty sure after she stopped at our house, my mother would have bought almost everything she had with her. It was one of our family’s favorite summer meals. We happily sat on the porch steps or on the lawn shucking those ears of corn to keep the mess outside, anticipating the sweet and heavenly taste of corn on the cob for supper, and nothing else. We didn’t need anything else, except maybe a little butter and salt, and plenty of napkins.
Sometimes we collected lightning bugs or fireflies, putting them in quart-sized canning or mayonnaise jars with nail-sized holes punched through the lid, and just a sprinkling of grass at the bottom of the jar. I remember always being mesmerized by their gentle whisper-like dance as they played peek-a-boo in the yard, with their little lights softly glowing on and off. They weren’t always so easy to catch, but they always seemed magical to me.
But when it came to June bugs, I wasn’t at all mesmerized. As a young child and throughout the time I grew up and lived in Central Wisconsin, I remember knowing that I needed to move out of that area someday or at least avoid it during the month of June. I hated and still hate June bugs. Generally as soon as I saw them starting to dive bomb the outside light at night, I knew it was time to go inside. They must be in the same genetic family as dinosaurs, for their size and for the loud and somewhat horrifying crunching sound they make when they are stepped on. Seriously, it is not a sound or barefoot experience you will soon, if ever forget. Maybe, just maybe that is why I live in Southeastern Wisconsin and why I love the company that makes all things RAID.
Of course after hours of playing outside, we got plenty of sun burn and more than our share of mosquito bites; often going to bed with mom-applied patches of pink Calamine Lotion all over our bodies. To me, even with the Calamine Lotion and no matter how I tried to not pay attention to the itching, it was all I could think about. I couldn’t help scratching until I had huge welt-sized bite marks all over my body.
We also didn’t have air conditioning and I can remember scorching hot summer nights with the windows wide open and nothing coming through the screens but more sticky sweltering heat. We’d lay on top of the sheets praying for some type of breeze…anything…even flipping our pillows over again and again hoping for a patch of coolness to put against our faces. Since we all shared a bed with another sibling, there was a no touching rule, at least there was with my sister and me. Even accidental touching in our sleep was strictly forbidden.
Our sheets were washed weekly and during the summer they’d be hung out on the clothesline to dry. Before crawling into bed, our mother always instructed us to be sure our teeth were brushed and our feet were scrubbed clean, something her own father had always insisted on too. To this day, there is nothing quite like crawling into a bed with the smell of summer outdoors, and yes my teeth are always brushed and my feet are always clean. The fresh sheet smell is flooded with memories of a time when life seemed simpler and I always felt safe, even though we seldom locked our doors. After jam-packed days of summer fun and eating corn on the cob for supper or watermelon with seeds for dessert, and with no school to wake up for, every day seemed like a perfect day. Oh to have one of those days back, if only just one. Now, I wouldn’t want the mosquito bites or the sun burn, and I definitely wouldn’t want the June bugs. But what I wouldn’t give to have my parents sleeping downstairs and all my siblings in beds or rooms only feet away – now that would be a perfect day.