Recalling the joy of smelt-dipping

It doesn’t take much of a nudge to make the DVR in my brain slip into triple-rewind and bring back some amazingly clear pictures of stuff that happened when I was a kid. For example, in the process of looking for some information about something (I can’t even remember now what it was; how’s that for a memory problem?), I saw a church ad for a spring “smelt fry” somewhere in the Upper Peninsula.

Wow! A smelt fry! Have you ever been to a smelt fry? Or have you ever gone dipping smelt?


Recalling Oconto Falls of past Memorial Days

We’ve just gone through the Memorial Day weekend. When I was a kid, it was called “Decoration Day,” but that weekend was one of the highlights of the year in my little hometown.

In addition to the “regular” Memorial Day observance – the serious cemetery commemorations for the soldiers who had died in war, the parade and, at least for a couple of years, the airplane flying low over the river and dropping a floral cross – there was a carnival at the grounds near the football field.

The Meverden family, long-time Oconto Falls residents, ran Meverden Amusements, a carnival company, and they traveled all over, but one of their big weekends obviously was the hometown celebration for Memorial Day. It was kind of their kickoff to the summer carnival season, a test run for all the rides.


On lunches, free and otherwise

When did “all you can eat” become “all you care to eat”? And is there a difference?

The idea of buffets has caught on big time. You pay once, serve yourself, and help yourself to as much as you can eat – or “as much as you care to eat” – in a single meal. Sorry, no doggy bags at the buffet!

I wonder where the idea of such feasts started. When I was a kid, I often heard my mom talk about “smorgasbords,” but we didn’t go out to eat very often, so I never saw such a thing until I was much older – out of college probably. I looked it up and found out that the smörgåsbord (which literally means table of sandwiches) is a traditional form of buffet in Sweden.


Professionals, friends prove therapeutic value of humor

Mark Twain wrote: “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

He also wrote: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Many years ago — I don’t remember how long, 30 years, maybe — I read an article about a famous author (Norman Cousins, perhaps?) who was dying of cancer. The point of his article had to do with the healing power of laughter.

His treatment of choice was to laugh. He gathered a collection of Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Marx Brothers films and spent hours every day watching them and laughing at their silliness. He was convinced of the efficacy of humor as medicine. It didn’t cure his cancer, but it made him feel better, I think.


Here I go, belly-aching again

A couple of my favorite beefs about stuff.

I know I’ve written about this topic a number of times in the past, but it sometimes irks me when I see what preposterous salaries some people make for what to me seem like not very important jobs. I’ve complained a number of times about the ridiculous paychecks that athletes get.

Would it surprise you to know that the two most highly paid athletes in the world are soccer players? Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi make $88 million and $81.4 million, respectively. Lebron James makes $77 million, but only $23 million is salary; the rest is endorsements. Ronaldo makes $56 million in salary; the rest is endorsements. Messi’s salary is $53 million; $28 million is product endorsements.

Who do you think is the highest paid NFL quarterback? Aaron Rodgers? Tom Brady? Can Newton? Eli Manning? Nope. Joe Flacco.


I always drank my Ovaltine

My friend Gary and I were talking a while ago about how much we liked Ovaltine.

I haven’t had it in years, but Gary said he has it all the time, and he’s introduced it to his grandchildren as a flavoring for milk shakes. He said you really have to look hard for Ovaltine in stores. I confess I haven’t tried to find it in many years.

Milk flavorings are certainly not new. When I was a kid, growing up on a dairy farm on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls, I obviously drank a lot of milk – unpasteurized and unhomogenized, I must say, what people call “raw milk,” I suppose.

I have to say that I never really liked milk “plain.” So my mom always had Ovaltine, or Nestle’s Quik, or Hershey’s syrup to flavor it for me. I loved chocolate – still do – so all three were great with me. But my favorite was Ovaltine. I liked it hot or cold. I haven’t had it for 40 years, I suppose, but I can still remember Ovaltine’s very distinctive taste.


When Dad played the piano

I don’t remember where it came from or when we got it, but there was a beat-up old piano in the basement of our “new” house on the farm on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls. (You may recall some of my earlier tales about life in the old log house; the “new” house was built in 1946 or 1947.)

Anyway, backed up against the root cellar and 6 feet away from the washing machine was this old out-of-tune upright piano. Nobody played piano or took piano lessons in our family, so I don’t know why it was there. But sometimes Dad would sit down there on an old backless kitchen chair and plunk away on that old piano with one finger until he’d find a melody, and then he’d play it joyfully over and over. He had quite a repertoire of one-finger songs that he could entertain himself with.

I should point out that Dad had no sort of musical training, but he had a great “ear” and he had an uncanny sense of melody. This “ear” manifested itself in other ways, too.


Literacy council appreciates everyone’s support

To the editor:

Our news is often full of frightening events occurring locally and around the world. However, every so often, we are reminded of the good will others generate just by being kind and charitable.

One such example is our nonprofit literacy council’s “Are You Smarter Than an Oconto Falls Fifth-Grader?” fundraiser, which was held April 10 in the Oconto Falls High School Performing Arts Center. Marinette and Oconto Counties Literacy Council could not have had this event without the support, work and assistance from so many.

We were thrilled to have again the fifth-grade students from Oconto Falls Elementary, St. Anthony’s and Abrams Elementary schools. Their enthusiasm and support of each other was commendable.


‘Washing Day’ at the VanHaren household

It’s funny how memory works. I woke up one day about a week or so ago thinking about how Mom used to do the laundry before the REA extended electrical lines into our neighborhood on Konitzer Road.

But I never really got involved in that chore except for hauling water from the well, so I asked my sister Joyce what she remembered. And boy was her memory precise. So I asked her to write it down.

So here’s Joyce’s story. Thanks, Sis.

Washing Day

Hauling water. The well was up by the barn. Dad carried the first two pails when he came in from the morning milking and poured them into the reservoir on the old cook stove and filled the copper boiler on top of the stove to begin heating. Then Roger and I would make a few trips with a pail between us.

My first job was to wipe down the steel wire clotheslines to remove the rust and bird poop and hang out the bag of wooden clothes pins.


‘Just a boy and his dog’

I spent a lot of time with my dad when I was growing up. We did chores together – milking, feeding, cleaning out the barn, making wood, harvesting crops, etc. He taught me many useful skills that were helpful in my adult life. And I was able to pass some of those skills on to my sons in our summer painting business.

Dad had a great sense of humor and an ability to tell a story that I always admired. He also had for making monotonous jobs easier by singing. He loved “The Red River Valley” and several other old favorites, but I think his No. 1 song was a tear-jerker called “Old Shep.”

“When I was a lad and Old Shep was a pup, Over hills and meadows we’d stray. Just a boy and his dog, we were both best of friends; We grew up together that way.”


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