As a regular reader of this blog knows, this blog is about significant influences in my life. That means not just people, but special places to me. One of the first real special places I remember is Grand Lake. My grandparents, Carl and Ruth Grewe, bought a “lake place” on Grand Lake in Rockville, Minnesota. Grand Lake was probably less than a half-hour drive from their home in St. Cloud. Until my family found “The Timbers,” Grand Lake was where we spend our summers. There may have been a bit more to it than just buying The Timbers, but more on that (and The Timbers) in a future blog.
I have so memories about Grand Lake that it is hard to know where to start. It is there that I have most of the very few memories I have of my Grandpa Grewe. He died when I was eight years old, so it feels like we didn’t have too much time together. Memories of him at Grand Lake include taking boat rides with him in a small rowboat; Grandpa trying to fix the outboard motor; floating in a large barrel-half as Grandpa waded through the water with me; Grandpa smoking cheap cigars; and Grandpa’s birthday party shortly before he died. Ironically, the last time I visited Grand Lake was when I took my own grandson, Austin, to the lake.
There was so much more than Grandpa Grewe at Grand Lake. There was Grandma, Aunt Gail, Uncle Chuck, cousins Joey and Amy Rising (Aunt Gail’s kids). Aunt Shari and my Grewe cousins were not yet around in those early days. Mom went with us more often than Dad, but often it was just Pam and I spending time with Grandma and Grandpa. Frequent visitors included my Great Aunt Signe, her husband Milo Jahoda, Great Grandma Selma Kallin, and other extended Grewe and Kallin relatives.
Grandpa Carl Grewe was first-generation German and Grandma Ruth Grewe was first-generation Swedish. Great Grandma Kallin arrived by boat from Sweden when she was just a teenager. I just remember her as a tiny old lady. She lived with Signe and Milo (actually, I think they may have moved into HER house) in St. Cloud. Mom’s family consisted of her older sister Gail and her “baby” brother Carl. Because my dad’s only sibling lived in San Francisco and his parents moved back to Charleston, S.C. when we were still relatively young, we were much closer to the Grewe clan than the Graysons.
I remember so many activities at Grand Lake. Most of the time, we (like most Minnesotans) just referred to it as “the lake.” We played many games on the substantial side yard. Joe, Amy, Pam and I regularly explored the “neighborhood,” swam, fished, got lost in the nearby corn field, and just ran around together like many young kids did. Nobody watched us. We could be gone for hours without anyone worrying about where we were or what we were doing. My favorite activities were fishing (especially with Grandma), rowing the boat across the lake, walking around the lake with cousins, and just swinging on the old porch swing. Another memorable activity for me at the lake was reading comic books. I found several boxes of Uncle Chuck’s old comic books. They kept me entertained for hours!
Many significant activities took place at the lake. Every summer birthday seemed to take place at the lake. I also vaguely remember Uncle Chuck’s engagement party, some sort of bachelor party, and Joe and I staying at the lake on the weekend of Chuck and Shari’s wedding. Parties were common and always involved food. Just about any meal was a treat. In August and September we always got freshly picked corn on the cob from the farm at nearby Pearl Lake. We fired up the giant and majestic granite fireplace grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. Grandma was a wonderful cook and everything tasted good. The front porch was where us kids ate. There were tables that pulled up along the front wall and we simply grabbed a chair and feasted. The only problem was if someone kicked the wooden support legs of the “table,” it caused the entire table to drop!
The outdoor granite fireplace grill was not the the only piece of granite surrounding the lake. Built into the grill was a large slab of granite that served as the front of the chimney. It was engraved with the inscription, “Grewe Grand Vista.” At the drive-up entrance to the house was a foot stone etched with “Grewe” and another nearby had the scripture Golden Rule carved into the stone, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The other memorable granite pieces included various granite scraps interspersed along the sidewalk from the house to the lake. One of the last stones before the lake was a “mistake” tombstone of a woman that had a crack through it. It might of been rather eerie to some, built it was just another stepping stone to us.
The reason for all the granite was because Grandpa Grewe was in the granite business. Grandpa and his brothers owned a firm in St. Cloud called the Grewe Granite Company. Grandpa sold the business shortly after I was born, but there were always granite pieces around the lake, at Grandma’s house in St. Cloud, and in my homes growing up. Even today, I have a granite table that my grandfather made and one of the two granite bird baths that my grandfather had made.
The lake house was nothing special. The last time I was there, it didn’t look all that different than it did when I was young. It consists of a fairly large wood frame with wood siding. It has been painted various colors over the years. The most distinguishing feature is the huge screened porch that extended across the front of the house and extended halfway along each side of the house. Everything inside is rudimentary and, except for the bathroom, hot water heater, and modern oven, it remains the same today. There is still an antique gas oven and wood burning stove in the kitchen. When we were kids, all the meals were prepared using those now-rudimentary appliances. I think it wasn’t until Gail and her family lived there about half of the year that the bathroom and modern oven were added. Before that, we had to head outside to the outhouse to use the bathroom. Fortunately, it was a two-seater!
The great room of the house had a huge fireplace. Except for the wood burning stove in the kitchen, it was the only source of heat in the spring and fall months. There was a dining room between the kitchen and great room. Three bedrooms ran along the sides of the house (only two after the bathroom went in). Grandma and Grandpa had the “good” bedroom – the only one with a decent bed. The kids slept on beds along the sides of the porch. They were only thin and old mattresses on top of springs, but we LOVED sleeping outside every night. Only if it rained really hard was this a problem. Otherwise, we slept like babies, mostly underneath the stars. Even now, I love sleeping whenever I can hear rain outside my window.
I was lucky to have spent so many good times at Grand Lake, both as a kid, and occasionally later with my kids. Uncle Chuck still owns the place today, which is how I was able to experience this with Austin.
Our frequent visits to the lake ended shortly after my grandpa’s death. That led to one of the experiences at Grand Lake that I will never forget. I think it took place shortly after Grandpa’s funeral. Joe and I were sleeping in one of the side bedrooms when we were suddenly awakened by an explosive argument between Grandma, Gail, and Chuck. I don’t remember the details, but it was mostly between Grandma and Aunt Gail. I think it was about the handling of Grandpa’s estate. Gail thought she would be the executor, but it was actually my dad, who was a lawyer.
The argument was traumatic for me. I remember peeking out of the room to see Grandma with tears pouring down her face. Both she and Gail were screaming loudly. I think Chuck was part of it at the beginning, but must have left. I’d never really seen my Grandmother sad and angry before. Little did I know then, but this caused a rift between my family and Gail. We saw much less of our cousins after that. We still saw cousins and still got to the lake on occasion, but it was never the same. Shortly thereafter, we started going to The Timbers instead of Grand Lake. We loved The Timbers, but losing Grand Lake was bittersweet. Grand Lake became Gail’s territory and we always felt like interlopers. Even so, Grand Lake holds a very special place in my heart.
At Grand Lake, I learned the true value of family. It was there that so many of my memories of my Grewe/Rising family were formed. It was there that I last saw my Grandpa Grewe. It was there that I last saw my cousin Kris. It was there that my only cares in the world were wrapped around my sister Pam and my cousins Joe and Amy. It was there that I learned my love of Minnesota sweet corn. It was there that I learned to fish and swim. It was there that I celebrated so many family celebrations and it was there that I saw my grandmother cry. Grand Lake was this and so much more to me. I wish every kid could have that experience. I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful opportunity.