The Long Lake Journal: A Father and Son Memoir

by Chris Zantow


   The book you are about to read exists mainly for one reason the fact that I kept a journal throughout the summers I owned a cottage next to the Wisconsin River. After my wife and I took a "Writing Your Story" workshop taught by noted Wisconsin author, Jerry Apps, in January, 2017, I decided to locate my Long Lake Journal to see if there was a story beyond what I originally recorded. Jerry Apps is a huge advocate for keeping a journal, and I'm certainly glad I did, even though it was just meant to be a simple record of events at the time.

   When I finished typing the journal into an electronic copy on my computer, I realized several details were missing from my entries. There is more than meets the eye to a line such as "Dad caught only Crappies on Saturday while I picked up only Bluegills." All of the entries in the journal were short stories that I felt needed to be told in complete form. Of course, I didn't put everything that happened in the journal, but what I did get down helped me recall other moments from that special time period.

   The Long Lake Journal is more than a collection of fishing tales. It's the story of the change of seasons; of wet and cool spring giving way to long hot summer days, only to be replaced by crisp fall. I can't say anything about winter as we never spent a moment at the cottage between November and March!

   This is also the account of two men enjoying land, sky, and water. It's how an unfinished cottage turns into something special as a destination for relaxation and adventure. It's the story of all the things that go hand-in-hand with outdoor lifestyles good conversations, inside jokes, amazing food, cold beverages, baseball, fishing, boating, grilling, newspapers, funny mishaps, and fulfilling successes.

   But above all else, this story is about something that we sometimes don't see until life reaches an end, and that's the unspoken bond between father and son. While the mother tends to be the one who nurtures a son, it's the father that is more likely to introduce play and role modeling. Often as toddlers, boys gain an increased attachment to their father. This attachment made it even harder for me to witness Dad's health issues that led to his death, but I forced myself to move on and begin anew.

   Countless articles have been written about the link between fathers and sons. Psychologists have dedicated their careers toward helping troubled and at-risk youth, often in treatment due to the effects of an unhealthy father-son relationship.

   I consider myself fortunate because the time where I thought my Dad was an old out-of-touch square was brief, and happened in my late teens. It was a period of rebellion that thankfully ended before my Dad had his first stroke when I was 22 years old. The connection we both thought we had lost, returned anew. We didn't have to work very hard at it either because we had a natural rapport.

   That rapport and bond had its beginnings in my early childhood. I looked up to pretty much everything Dad did. I wanted to be like him, so I sat on Sundays waiting for him to pass me the pieces of the newspaper he had already read. I followed him around like a puppy and crossed my fingers he'd want to play catch. When he talked, I listened and did my best to imitate his speech patterns and catch phrases. We'd watch comedy programs on television and repeat back the one-liners together. Our laughter was often so loud that my Mom would come in from the next room and ask what was going on.

   Even though we had a bond, Dad was not an "I love you kind of guy" (as he'd put it). But he certainly did a good job letting his family know that we mattered. He was close to my other two brothers for reasons different than why we were close. Without always directly saying it, we knew he was proud of us and wanted us to be happy. In return we tried to do our best in his eyes. I, for one, was probably more disappointed than Dad when I let him down. I knew that all he wanted for his sons was for them to have a better, smoother ride through life than he had.

   Through all the twists and turns of time, we were finally able to spend a few glorious years enjoying the great outdoors together. Dad was slowing down, but never lost his love of nature, laughter, and family. I also was slowing down, but for different reasons. Changes in my job led me toward stopping to smell the roses more frequently, so the timing couldn't have been more opportune for the adventures we shared.

   Our escapades didn't always turn out perfectly, and that was alright. Perfection wasn't the point. Relaxing and having fun was what we were in search of and that's something everyone can relate to.

It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.
Friedrich Schiller

   With that, I give you the Long Lake Journal.

Chapter One Cane Poles and Fishing Holes

   "Dammit! L-l-l-listen. I fish there."

   The latest stroke left Dad unable to express himself properly, although his use of expletives remained intact. I knew he meant fished in past tense, but none of us could figure out the location he referred to. Our family spent the next half hour asking Dad about various bodies of water and if he was alone or if I'd tagged along. He mostly kept repeating the same few words until lunch broke up our attempt at conversation.


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