Every season of the year comes clothed in memories of seasons past and summer's memories often involve family vacations. Maybe you were one of those lucky kids who flew to Orlando or Anaheim for a vacation - but the closest I ever got to spending summer with a large mouse was in the Wisconsin Dells.
Love 'em, hate 'em, the Wisconsin Dells and adjoining Lake Delton are part of the childhood lore of many a Chicagoan. (I suspect many a Wisconsinite, too, but on the other hand, maybe they escaped to Michigan...) In my case, it's even a part of my pre-history - my parents, now married 51 years, honeymooned in the Dells. Like death and taxes, a summer trip to the Dells was inevitable in our household. A Dells vacation meant swimming in Lake Delton all day, building sand castles, eating bologna sandwiches and drinking Fresca on the beach.
At night, freshly scrubbed, we headed into town. The downtown area of the Dells is to a small child what Vegas must be for the addicted gambler: where shall I spend my money tonight? Miniature golf? Skee-ball? Arcade games? Roller coasters and go-karts? Toys and t-shirts and faux Native American paraphernalia of every kind? As much as I adored those lazy days on the beach, the warm nights in the Dells were magical to me. Families would spread out on the park benches and sidewalks in a state of Dairy Queen-induced bliss. More families packed the rustic restaurants and taverns, throwing peanut shells on the floor and often listening to a local strum his guitar while singing pop songs. Very late in the evening, my siblings and I would return to the beach, giggling and goofing around under a starry sky reflected in the calm lake water.
That was, oh, 20 or 30 years ago. Believe it or not, my family still makes a pilgrimage to the Dells almost every summer, although I won't be joining them this year. The giant mice are still there, clutching enormous wedges of cheese. There is now a towering Trojan horse on the main motorway, but the entire downtown area still smells like fudge and leather moccasins - and sometimes beer and onions. As the years roll by, I find more and more people whose summer vacation memories, like mine, are full of a funny mix of sand, water, fresh air, rock formations and a heaping dose of carnival kitsch. Judging from the surge of new construction in the Dells and Lake Delton areas, the trend shows no signs of stopping. It's a short drive, it's relatively inexpensive, and if you're bored in the Dells, well, there's probably no hope for you. :)
How about you? Did you spend your childhood vacations in the Wisconsin Dells? Have a funny or poignant story to share? Post it here! Did you visit the Dells this summer? How was it?
Do you, like me, miss the cinnamon rolls at the old Patio restaurant?
Please write in and share your experiences - we'd love to hear from you.