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family, 60's

Copyright – Playboy

September marked the passing of a cultural icon. Love him, or despise him, Hugh Hefner almost single handedly changed American society…and the lives of many adolescent boys! His passing sparked the memory of my first encounter with his magazine.

I grew up in a small town. It was the 1960’s. Watch a rerun of “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and you get a pretty good idea of life in the 60’s in small town USA. Innocent. Simple.

I don’t think those pre-teen years could have been more stereotypical. My siblings and I walked to school and back every day. At school, I had a close group of friends. We’d been together since Kindergarten. One of the most vivid memories is of my best friend, Jeff and I bent over a transistor radio during recess as the Tigers won the ‘68 World Series, the Tigers themselves could not have been more excited as we celebrated by raising our arms above our heads, and racing across the playground, screaming with joy at the top of our lungs! Most of the memories have faded over the years, but the names and faces have not.

Every day after school, I delivered papers. All the paperboys (and girls) would gather at the newspaper office. We would spend a half hour or so folding our papers before loading them on our bikes and heading out to various parts of town. My route was several blocks south of our house. A lot of my friends lived along my path. I would buzz down the street on my bright yellow Stingray bike tossing papers toward front doors.

Baseball pretty much was IT. Yeah, there was football and basketball, but those were to merely pass the time until baseball. I played Little League baseball. My dad was usually my coach. However, most of our playing was sandlot ball…or water tower ball as we call it now. There was a small grassy area next to one of the town’s water towers. We spent days cleaning it up, hauling away trash (thanks to one of the dads for driving the pickup), and marking base paths. We spent hours and hours playing ball. Not enough kids to have teams?…home run derby was the game of choice.

Other than baseball, we spent the majority of the rest of the time playing some variation of “good guys/bad guys”. This could be Batman and Robin against the evil villains, Green Hornet and Kato, cops and robbers like Adam-12, or Combat. Our neighborhood was our “battlefield”. Our block was mostly residential. It was cut into four sections by two intersecting alleys. In the northwest quadrant was our house and the church where my dad preached. The northeast and southeast were all houses. The southwest quadrant, had an small apartment building, a Citgo gas station, a small, single story office building, and an insurance company. This quadrant was further dissected by a couple of “shortcuts” between the buildings. GREAT hiding places for bad guys and good guys alike! In fact our “Batcave” sat at the intersection of these shortcuts in a small outbuilding that held, of all things, the trash dumpsters for the office building.

It was during one of these neighborhood adventures that Roddy, one of the younger kids from down the street, and I found ourselves in need of a hideout. Not being incredibly creative, we chose the outbuilding. Inside, were two large cardboard boxes about the size of an oven. After checking to be sure they weren’t filled with trash that was “too disgusting”, we jumped in to hide. Within seconds, Roddy exclaimed, “Jeff, look at this!” In his hands was pristine issue of…PLAYBOY! Me, being older and wiser, after all, I was 10 and Roddy was just 7, I snagged the magazine from his hands. Within moments, we were staring at the Centerfold of Miss July 1968!

“Roddy,” I asked incredulously, “where did you find this?”

“Right here! Look, here is another one!”

Sure enough. We had discovered the motherload! The oven box was filled about a third full of dozens and dozens of the magazine! For a young kid who had just seen his first Playbook only seconds ago, this was a discovery of a lifetime! Holy Airbrush, Batman, this was an incredible find!

About that time my younger brother, Joel and his friend, Dale (also from down the street), showed up. For about the next 20 minutes, we dug through the magazines, each one of us in turn holding up another beauty! “Hey, look at her, she’s tough!” (For some reason “tough” was slang for “hot”) Trust me, we were not reading the articles!

Soon it dawned on us that we could not leave our goldmine where it was…we had to move it…but to where. Leaving Roddy to stand guard, the three of us began to scour the neighborhood for a good hiding place. Down the alley just past our house was a row of garages. A friend of my parents owned them and he used them to store antiques for his business. Mr. Carson rarely ventured into those garages. We tried the first door, locked. We tried the second door, locked. We got to the fifth door and the door opened. We lifted the door about two feet and peered inside. It was dark and musty…a perfect place! Our treasure would be safe here until we found a more permanent location.

We spent the next hour carefully moving armload after armload. We had to use all our skill and cunning to avoid discovery. We are on a mission! All those years of playing Good Guys/Bad Guys was really paying off. We took our last load, but before we closed the door, I snagged one of the magazines to hide in a hollow branch of the tree in the back yard. One can never be too careful.

As dinner time approached and we all needed to head home, we took the most solemn oath of all…the pinky swear…we would not breathe a word about our historic discovery. We planned to meet the next day to find a more suitable hiding place.

The next day we met behind our garage as planned. Before we discussed suitable hiding places, we went to gaze at our glorious find. We raised the door on the fifth garage…no magazines. Zippo…zero…zilch…thinking we miscounted the doors, we tried to open the other garages. All of the were locked except the fifth and seventh. No magazines. We were stunned. We’d been robbed! Who were we going to tell? I remembered the lone magazine stuffed in the tree branch. Quickly we ran to the yard and scaled the tree. I reached into the hollow branch…NOTHING. That one was gone as well!

How could this have happened? It didn’t seem possible that Mr. Carson had discovered them, especially since the one in the tree was missing as well. I smelled a rat! Someone had broken our sacred vow! Roddy had no siblings and his mom was a single mom (and honestly, we all thought she should be a centerfold!). I couldn’t imagine even if Roddy had told her that she would have pilfered our contraband, no, she would have called my parents.

I began to interrogate my brother. Had he told our older siblings? He swore not. Besides, I’d been with him all night after all, we did share a room. That left Dale. Dale, who had two older brothers. Dale, who had remained suspiciously quiet after the robbery had been discovered. Dale, who had three sets of eyes now trained on him. Of course, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. After intense interrogation, he finally caved. He had told one of his brothers, but the brother had promised not to tell, he pleaded.

About that time my older brother came walking out of the house. “What’s the matter? Missing something?” The plot thickened! It seems Dale’s older brother had told my brother and sister. They had all had a good laugh as Dale’s brother told his story of stealing our cache of magazines. Not much we could do about it. We couldn’t tell on him. We certainly couldn’t retake our treasure using force, he could whip us all! We could do nothing but accept the fate!

It would be a long time before I found myself in possession of another one of Mr. Hefner’s magazines. Ten-year old preacher’s kids just don’t have many opportunities like the one that was ripped from our grasp! The sixties were drawing to a close. The innocence of those days is long past. I can’t help but wonder, if Hugh Hefner was launching a business today, what societal norm would he help to change?

It was a drive I had made countless times in my life, though it had been a few yefamily, Green Lake, memoriesars since I had visited. For me it had long been hallowed ground. Turning into the entrance brought back the same feeling…the feeling of entering a different place; the feeling of familiarity; the feeling of leaving the hustle and bustle behind (oddly enough, it is the same feeling I now get when I descend into the valley in which we live). This trip was different though, this trip had a purpose. Our family was gathering, my siblings, our kids, my nephews, our kid’s-kids. We were gathering from hundreds of miles away. We were gathering to celebrate my sister’s wedding. We were gathering to scatter my mother’s ashes along the lake shore she loved so.

Green Lake, is a conference area located in Central Wisconsin, located on the shores of Green Lake, near the town of the same name.  It’s official name is Green Lake Conference Center (we knew it as The American Baptist Assembly Grounds), to us, it was just Green Lake. As we drove down the main road, through the dappled sunlight, many of the changes since our last visit several years ago became apparent. Later, as we walked around the grounds, familiar spots seemed like shadows of days gone by.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMy brothers and sister and I grew up here, spending every summer vacation for years with our parents. We didn’t know until many years later the only reason we could even afford to stay at Green Lake was that my dad was actually working at the conferences. We were oblivious! In our younger days, we would spend our mornings (and parts of the afternoon) in the children’s programs, graduating from “door to door” each year. (Think vacation bible school with each age group in a different house, with a different color door). The afternoon’s activities included swimming, hiking, crafts and sports.

Even before we came as children, mom and dad were coming to Green Lake. Recently, I found a wood-burning project dad had made in 1945 while at Green Lake. He would have been 15. I wonder, was he actually at Green Lake when World War II came to an end? Why did they come to these grounds? Because their parents came to these grounds.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, Green Lake was a different place. It was bustling with activity. Hundreds of visitors each week. The front gate was manned by a guard, only allowing in the registered conference attendees, those there to play golf on the championship golf course, employees and a handful of folks that lived on the grounds. As children, it was safe for us to roam across the entire place. At night, our favorite activity was “deer hunting”. This involved piling four kids into a car, keeping them quiet, as my dad drove slowly through the overgrown gravel roads deep in the woods looking for deer. We would keep track each night of how many we spied.family, Green Lake, memories

As we grew older, we were able to explore more and more of the grounds on our own. As the years went by, my older brother and sister got summer jobs, graduated high school and no longer vacationed with us. My younger brother and I continued to anticipate our annual excursions. Together we explored, roamed the grounds, made friends with other kids attending (especially, the cute girls-made it to second base for the first time at the top of one of the water towers on the property!), and wreacked the typical havoc of two teenage boys.

Somewhere during this time, we got word they we adding an additional 9 holes to the golf course. You see the conference center was struggling to make ends meet and the revenue generated by the course was key to keeping it afloat. Not being a golfer at the time, we were devastated! How many acres of our beautiful woods would be devoured by 9 holes of golf? Gone was Quarry Road, gone was Tower Road. All for a stupid game?

Fast forward a few years, we were now grown, married, and had kids of our own. Being a young financially struggling family, we could not afford to go on vacation. When my parents invited us to join them at Green Lake for a week, we jumped at the chance. Soon, the annual trek was reignited. Each year mom and dad, all the siblings and their families would descend upon the hallowed grounds. At first, we all stayed in the same house. As our families grew, some of us would rent cabins, or stay in the camp grounds, but we would always spend time together throughout the week hiking, running, eating, and playing games.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMom would relish in the game of posing the JT and Brad’s stuffed animals while they were at the Children’s Center. It became quite a game to guess what Mimi had done with them now as we walked back to the cabin. That Pooh had many great adventures: playing board games, washing dishes, grilling out, watching TV, and playing tennis!

During this time, we were to learn some well-kept secrets of parenthood (JT, Brad, Jeff, Ross and Kyle you cannot read this part until YOU visit Green Lake with YOUR children, so just skip to the next paragraph). Secret #1 – Vacationing at a locale with a Children’s Center with lots of activities for kids ROCKS for the parents too! Parental down time! Secret #2 – When hunting for deer, it is not necessary to be as quiet as church mice, but how else are you going to get four kids to stay quiet for an hour?

We also discovered another secret – town! Yes, there was life away from the conference center. Before long, our annual treks had to include a meal or two at the Goose Blind Bar and Grill and Pizza Hut. We also included tours of the Rippin’ Good Cookies factory, the Amish bakeries and the various antique shops in the area. Who knew?!!?

Green Lake announced plans to, once again, expand the Golf Course. We were disappointed to hear more of our dear woodlands would be plowed under, however, since I had taken up the game and Brad was learning to play as well, we were excited (with a tinge of guilt) to play the new nine. Soon, “The Woodlands” would become our favorite of the two courses on the grounds.

By now, life had changed yet again and the annual trek fell by the wayside. Green Lake, always living from “paycheck to paycheck” was experiencing financially tough times. They began family, Green Lake, memoriesto sell more and more lots to private owners. It seems lake front property could garner a very high price! Our parents were now retired and spent three months a year volunteering at the Conference Center. They purchased a modest mobile home and leased a spot in one of the mobile home parks on the property. Carmen and I made it point to drive up to visit, if even for a long weekend, many summers while they were there. For a time, we had a motor home (Clark, that there is an RRRR.V.!) and we would stay “right next door” in the extended lot they had leased.

As mom and dad grew older, they decided to give up the trailer at Green Lake and sell it. During our final trip to visit, we learned the Conference Center was selling off the largest section of woodlands yet to a developer who would be building million dollar homes on the property, even the east gate would be removed to allow the homeowners easier access to the grounds and their homes.

Shadows of days gone by…memories of simpler times…a lifetime (five lifetimes actually) of memories. There are still parts of the grounds that remain. The grand hotel, Roger Williams Inn; Judson Tower standing guard; the boat house with it’s marina and docks; some of the cabins and houses; all can still be found. Call it the world we live in today, call it progress, call it competition for our attention and entertainment, call it what you will. I found myself saddened to walk the grounds and see the shadows. Much of what I remembered is “just ‘living memory’ that sadly no longer exists”.

 

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Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, I AM a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, I would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, I would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.

My favorite thing about celebrating Christmas are the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 40ieth consecutive year). Each year we attend the Christmas Eve service (though Baptists cannot stay up until midnight, so ours is at 11). And each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.

However, of all these traditions, my favorite tradition is making donuts with my mom, it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”.

My fondest memories about my Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines.  Every time without fail when he would come to visit, we would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of us kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in Brown Bobby Doughnut Machinethe back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! (The machines were actually called “Brown Bobbies”) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Bobby).

My great-grandmother has given the machines to him in the late 1920’s. During the Great Depression, my Grandpa would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He needed the extra nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.

On one of his trips to visit us in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, my mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.

Over the next couple of decades it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid 90’s, I was a new manager and wanted to do something special for my team. My mom and I rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes we discovered THE MACHINE! I donned my Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and we plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As we made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. My mom and I began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for almost 25 years, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.

For over 20 Christmases now, we drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. I don the apron and wave my hand over the machine testing the warmth just as he did. We decipher the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories about him that we have told for years.

When my wife Carmen and I were married in 2001, she joined in the tradition. She, my mom, and I would make the donuts. My dad had the difficult job of quality control (sampling the donuts as we made them!).

This year, my mom has been battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and my dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, my dad and I made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told the stories about Brown Bobby DoughnutsGrandpa. At some point, it occurred to me, I was truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making me an “official” Grandpa!

Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. On this Christmas Eve, take pause. Take the time during your traditions to remember. Remember your family, your friends. Remember your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Honor your traditions in “remembrance of them”.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.