Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Pete OkonskiMy family lived in Green Bay until about 1967 in a little two-bedroom rental at 819 South Roosevelt Street. (Happily, the house is still there.) How I still recall that useless piece of trivia is one of those mysteries of memory that no one will ever explain to me so that it makes sense.

Although it’s not so hard when there are plenty of photos like this one in our photo album. This is my brother Pete. He can’t be more than three years old in this photo, but that little guy had some legs on him. We grew up in that legendary time when parents sent their kids outside to play all day long without worrying about whether or not they’d be snatched off the street by a deviant or a cannibal or a human trafficker. I used to run up and down and all around the block for hours without raising an eyebrow, as long as I ran straight home when I heard my mom calling. If I couldn’t hear my mom calling because I was too far away, or in someone else’s house, one of the other kids would and the word would quickly be relayed to me. That’s how it worked.

Pete was a special kind of wanderer, though. Mom would send him out in the yard to play and five minutes later he was nowhere to be seen. An hour later he might be as far away as Saint Paul, Minnesota. The kid could move fast, and he stayed gone long after word was out on the street that his mother was calling him. Even back then, that worried my mom. After the second or third time she had to mount a search party to find the little booger, she started labelling him to make him easier to find.

They used to sell denim patches with a sticky backing that you could melt over the torn knees of kids’ jeans with an iron. Mom would cut them into quarters and write Pete’s name and address on them with an indelible marker, then iron them onto his jackets, his shirts, and his pants. She used to joke that she ironed them on his underwear just to make sure. I thought she used to write our phone number on them, too, but it’s clearly missing from the label in this photo.

the wanderer | 2:23 pm CST
Category: O'Folks, Pete, story time
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Friday, August 8th, 2014

Mom & Pete on the toboggan runFor a couple years, my family lived in Marquette, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It snows there fourteen months out of the year, so everybody knew how to catch fish by cutting a hole in the ice, and every family owned at least one toboggan. I just love that word. I could say it all day. Toboggan toboggan toboggan. Toboggan. So much fun.

We had a toboggan. Here’s a photo of it. I believe that’s my brother Pete in front with a great big smile on his face and my mother in back, holding the wings of toboggan in her vise-like grip to keep Pete safely tucked under its curled-back staves.

If memory serves, the photo was taken somewhere near Ishpeming. I think it might have been on a hill where there were several ski jumps. This isn’t one of them. It’s even crazier than a ski jump. That track that the toboggan is running down is a sheet of ice polished smooth by the passage of hundreds of toboggans that went before. There are two wooden rails on either side, as you can see, to keep the toboggan going straight down the hill, and a good thing, too, because the toboggan and all its passengers are going about a hundred twenty miles per hour by the time they get halfway down.

The way this gizmo worked was, you took your toboggan into that little hut in the background and threw it onto a table between a couple of short fences, which you can just barely see outlined against the window in the back of the hut. Then you climbed aboard the toboggan, and once everyone had a death grip on it, a guy in the hut would lift up one end of the table, which tipped over like a teeter-totter until the low end clacked into the groove at the bottom of the open door. The short fences on the table kept your toboggan lined up perfectly with the icy track outside. As the table was now at a thirty-degree angle and there was nothing to hold the toboggan back, it and everyone on board went VOOM! out the door of the hut and screaming down the chute at terrifying speeds.

When you finally came to at stop, somewhere near Wausau, you picked up the toboggan and carried it in-line back to the top of the hill to do it again, cackling with glee.

toboggan | 8:37 pm CST
Category: Mom, O'Folks, Pete, random idiocy, story time
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