Good to be King
By King Harris
“OK kids, get in the car, we’re leaving for the lake!” my mother would cry nearly every August of my childhood.
The kids included me, my sister Ann, and our younger brother Jimmy. The car was usually a station wagon, which the three of us would pile in the back of, and the lake was Lake Tahoe, where my mom’s brother Uncle Tommy had a small place in Glenbrook on the Nevada side.
Getting there wasn’t always fun. As a matter of fact, it could be quite tedious to a kid who had to stay in one place for 10 hours. Freeway construction was under way, and that held up traffic for what seemed like an eternity.
So we mostly traveled on 2-lane roads, which was more interesting because we could at least enjoy the Burma Shave signs along the way. This clever marketing gimmick was comprised of five red and white signs stacked several feet apart so one could read them passing by.
Like: “You can drive/ a mile a minute/ But there is no/ future in it/ Burma Shave.”
Or: “The poorest guy/in the human race can have a/million-dollar face/Burma Shave.”
The signs went up in the late ‘40s and lasted through the ‘60s until the freeway dictated their demise.
We had other activities we could do with coloring books and card games, other activities such as Authors, 20 Questions, and identifying other cars on the road (at least they all looked different in those days).
And because it was always so hot, we couldn’t wait for a Giant Orange Juice stand to appear over the horizon.
“When are we gonna get to Tahoe, Mom?” was I’m sure the most irritating question of the trip, asked at least once every hour, if not more.
When we finally did arrive, we were greeted by all kinds of cousins, aunts and uncles, and the strong smell of pine trees that permeated the region. And the beautiful lake, never too cold for a kid who leaps from the car and runs full steam skipping the shore and diving headlong into the water.
Other than swimming, there was a lot to do in the week of our stay. I remember boating a lot in Tommy’s green canoe, which he still has to this day. When we weren’t water skiing behind the powerboat, we’d go out cruising along the shoreline. There’s nothing like experiencing the lake from a motorboat.
We also collected planks of wood along the shore and built rafts to navigate around all the rocky points. It was in those rocks where you could find huge numbers of crayfish that were easy to catch. All you needed was a long string with a pebble tied to one end, attach piece of bacon, and lower it in the waters. The crayfish scrambled from under the rocks, grabbed the meat with their claws, and were soon delivered to a bucket, once we pulled them out of the lake. I never ate them, I only liked to catch them. Apparently, I wasn’t the only kid who liked the sport.
One summer my sister and I met a distraught mother whose teenage son caught so many crayfish that they filled up all the sinks, bathtubs and toilets in her apartment. Imagine glimpsing that when you’re 8-years old.
Of course the time went by quickly, as it does for all kids, but what a way to spend a summer vacation. We were all quite blessed for the opportunity.
Uncle Tommy, who is well into his 90’s, still visits the place, and when he does, he sleeps at night on the beach under the pines, listening to the waves kissing the shoreline. I wonder what he thinks about every time he sees his green canoe. And when he shuts his eyes at night.