"I see the Lake'" As if trumpets were announcing the arrival of the king, one of us in the car would shout the words as we took that rollercoaster ride on Route 157 from Altamont I'm not sure who started the game, but every year, usually the first weekend in June after school ended, my siblings and I would strain our necks peering over our father' s shoulder from the back seat of the car to get the first glimpse of water as we approached Warner’s Lake. There were no prizes. No one would ever remember who won the year before. Later that day, we would forget who even won earlier in the day. It didn't matter, the Lake was spotted. The summer had begun. We had arrived at the Lake.
You have to understand. The Lake itself didn't just hold the magic for us growing up-it was the whole idea of being there. We lived far enough away that we seldom got out to the Lake until summer had begun. There were no such things as quick visits to the lake in the fall or spring, or even winter. This was also when we got to be around the rest of the family—aunts, uncles, and cousins—for an extended amount of time. For the rest of the year, we only saw them on the occasional holiday—Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. Now, we had over two months of swimming, hiking, bike-riding, camping ... all at the Lake. Since 1958 I have come up to the Lake for swimming, hiking, camping ... and spending time with my family. Although I don't spend the whole summer there anymore, those activities still await me when I arrive. Each summer, moving out to the Lake with my family, there was a period of adjustment. During my first ten years of living out there my family occupied a tall (tall for a boy of ten), cottage-red, rickety building called Hillside. It was carved into a hill in a small niche cut out of the wooded area surrounding the Lake on the northwest side. It always seemed old and ready to collapse, but I don’t think we cared much or even noticed much. Every night, we were lulled to sleep by the croaking of the bullfrogs that I swore lived exclusively at our end of the Lake ... specifically, right out under our window singing their "Gal-lump, gal-lump, gal-lump" song. Being tucked into the hill, with the woods right behind it, we became very accustomed to the many daddy long-legged spiders crawling around Hillside. They were harmless to us. We just picked them up by the long legs and threw them out the door.
Speaking of adjustments to the sights and sounds of Warner’s Lake, the adjusting always included the summer camp at the other end of the wooded west side of the lake. Every summer (for the duration of the camp's operation), we would hear a recording of Reveille in the morning and a recording of Taps about dusk each night from a series of loudspeakers at the camp. Throughout the day, various announcements would come through the speakers. I'm sure there were scheduled times that the loudspeaker would come to life and blare a bad trumpet recording to welcome the new day to all of the campers, but we never took note of any regularity. After the first week or two out at the Lake, the loudspeaker's announcements were all but invisible to us. As to the inhabitants of the camp, we never really saw any of them up-close. They were like a museum exhibit or an ant farm. We watched from a distance these little ants wandering around the shore, jumping into the water, getting into their red canoes, or diving off of their red docks. All faceless and all unknown to us—-did the same kids come each year as we did?
Swimming in the Lake was routine for us. Every day, with the exception of rainy days, we would head to the beach—provided we could cajole a parent to watch us while we swam. We called it the beach even though it was nothing like a Cape Cod outing. No Cape Cod beach ever saw the sand, dirt, and clay that were at our beach. It didn't matter to us. We couldn't dig giant holes in the sand, but we could make clay pots that would sit on the dock and harden overnight... pots that we would never use or even care about the next day. If you were at Cape Cod all summer, you would return with nothing but a good time. If you spent the summer at the Lake, you would return with not only a good time but orange-tinted toenails to prove how good of a time you had. After a summer of swimming, the soil at the bottom of the Lake always left your toenails with a little color—not quite a tan, but a golden look to them. It never bothered us ... it was all part of the Lake. After swimming all morning, we would head home for lunch and then impatiently await the requisite 30 minutes after eating before heading back to the beach for more swimming.
Our neighbors around the Lake always provided a sense of mystery or wonderment. They weren't neighbors as much as they were places, organizations, entities. We always looked at the other end of the Lake and wondered what was there. We had been told of a place called O'Hanlon's—a public beach with food and drink. Being at the other end of the Lake, we certainly saw ants smaller than the ones at the summer camp—never faces, just ants—splashing in the water. We also knew about the existence of a dam, but from our vantage point at the north end of the lake, we certainly didn't see where it could possibly be. Where were they hiding it? To us, the south end was a bit of a mystery. Why was it deeper at that end of the Lake? Why was the water rougher at that end of the Lake? How did you even get to the houses at that end of the Lake?
One neighbor that had no shroud of mystery was Zwickelbaur's—the German restaurant, snack bar, and public beach. In plain view at the northeast corner of the Lake, you could stand on the shore and hear the laughing, splashing, shouting, and playing coming from the crowded, sandy (always wondered how their beach could be so beach-like), active Zwickelbaur beach. We would row a boat or water ski past all this activity gazing at it like another museum exhibit. At night, the beach would be vacant while the sound of music would come from inside the restaurant.
If you drove by the Hofbrau during a nice, sunny day, over on the left-hand side of the building, near the beach, you would spot a small booth that contained an older, grey Germanic-looking man. That would be Karl Zwickelbaur. He and his wife Hilda ran the place. He managed the beach and Hilda managed the cooking staff in the restaurant. Their place was the source of employment on the Lake for many teens and college kids looking for summer jobs. I did a stint as a life guard on the beach a few times, but I must have been out of my mind when Karl offered me a job parking cars in the field across the road from the restaurant. During the peak weekends in the summer, he used the field across the road to park the cars of the many patrons coming to swim in the Lake. He hired me to direct the traffic over there in the field and line up the cars. I suspect that whoever did it before me (if there was anyone) probably fled to Canada to avoid doing it again. It was a horrible task. It was incredibly hot with no shelter ... and, as it turned out, I wasn't really necessary. Karl, in his booth, had a clear view of the parking area. Also in his booth, he had a sound system with a microphone that he used as a public address system on the beach and in the parking lot. As I would start directing someone where to park their car, blaring across the road in a thick German accent, I would hear, "No. Closer. Closer. Eet needs to be closer to zee udder car. Zee green one. Over dere. Ya, dat's better. Now, ve're parkink ze cars!" I kept wondering why I was even there if Karl was going to direct everything from his booth. I must have been out of my mind. No doubt about it.
Tucked away on the east side of the Lake, there was another public beach and snack bar. I do remember it referred to as Pangburn's and I may have been inside the restaurant portion of it, however, my recollections of it are sketchy. I had heard my parents and their contemporaries refer to it as their "hangout"—my word for it, not theirs. Of course, I always pictured Pangburn's as the equivalent of Arnold's from the TV show "Happy Days." This is where my parents, aunts and uncles, and their friends would go to have a burger and shake and ... of course .. . hang out. As I said, my recollections are sketchy, but I would swear that when Pangburn's was in operation, anyone could pull up to their dock and fill up the gas tank of their motorboat. Was this possible? They do it in "On Golden Pond", so why not Warner's Lake? This may all be my imagination. Maybe I wanted it to be that way. After all, as far as I was concerned, everything you needed was there at Warner's Lake. I may have been mistaken, because I certainly remember making trips with a grownup to Ted Quay's Garage so that Ted could fill up our gas can for the motorboat.
And so, it was Pangburn's . .. until Willard Osterhout bought it... and then it became Osterhout's—the venue of my first real summer job. During the summer, with only three businesses on the Lake and a couple restaurants in East Berne, the opportunities for employment were limited. For a 12 year old boy, the opportunities were even more limited. To this day, I don't know whether my father was blackmailing Willard or Willard had hit his head and was delirious, but he hired my brother (a year younger) and me to clean his restaurant and public bathrooms. My brother and I would alternate days, so every other morning, at 7am, I would ride my bike over to Osterhout's for my morning work. Willard was patient and instructive to this 12-year-old. He showed me the trashcans that I had to empty, the floors that I had to sweep, and the correct way to mop the floor. Every other morning, I would put the chairs up on the table, sweep and mop the floor, and empty the trashcan behind the counter. After that, I would head for the public restrooms for sweeping, mopping, and trashcan emptying ... a solid day's work for this pre-teen. Did I tell you that Willard was patient and instructive? By the time I was finished with my duties, Willard would come around to check in with me. Every so often, he would ask me if I was all finished sweeping and mopping. Of course, I would reply yes with the confidence of a master craftsman. In response, Willard would walk me out to a bathroom and lift up the small wastebasket next to the toilet revealing a dollar bill. "When you sweep a floor, don't just sweep around things, you have to move them. If you had moved this basket, you would have found yourself a dollar bill." Naturally, the next time I cleaned the bathrooms, I would sneak a peek under the trash baskets ... Of course, I wouldn't find any treasure, but the floor under that basket got swept. Willard would pull this trick on me at various times. At one point, the large trash can behind the counter was covering a $5 bill (I want to believe it was $20, and it may have, but my memory says that it was $5). Did I ever get that bill? Did I ever find any other hidden money under something I should have swept under? Well... no. The lesson that Willard was trying to teach me slowly wore off after each incident. It wasn't until years later that it sunk in. To this day, when I sweep, I move everything and sweep under everything . . . still haven't found any money though. That was pretty much the extent of the commercialism around the Lake, although in nearby East Berne, a few businesses were so closely related to the Lake, we always considered them as a Lake extension. There was Duke's, a more direct relation to the "Happy Days" Arnold's than even Pangburn's. It had tables and chairs, a counter with stools, a jukebox, and most of all... ice cream. There was the Rest Seeker's Inn. We rarely heard anyone refer to it as such. It was usually called Benny's after the owner. I never went there to eat... I suspect that it was a little more expensive and fancier than suited a family with five children. If Mom and Dad splurged on us for dinner, we went to Irving's ... or at least that's what we always heard the Maple Inn referred to ... naturally, named after the guy who ran it. It wasn't until years later that we referred to it as the Maple Inn when Joe Golden took it over. It was there that I climbed up the ladder of employment from dishwashing in the kitchen, to painting the outside of the building, finally to helping Joe's wife, Gail, cook in the restaurant.
Many of the businesses have changed hands or have even closed, but the Lake still remains the same for me. The fish still come up to the surface in the early morning to snap up any low-flying bugs. The crickets at night will still sing the same song ... in chorus with the gal-lump, gal-lump of the bullfrogs. The minnows will still scurry away as you step into the cool, refreshing Lake water. The seaweed that you would pull out of the Lake, plop onto your head, and use for a wig still sits peacefully at the bottom of the Lake bed. It all really hasn't changed. I haven't had much success getting my kids to play the game. However, as I take that rollercoaster ride and come over the last hill, I do murmur to myself, "I see the Lake!"