Pank Aches Swimming and Kisting on the 4th

Rants from the Relic -

In the 50s and 60s in Ely on Independence Day there’d be organized contests with meaningful prizes in Whiteside Park for us kids. I can still see Joe Folio shinnying up a greased pole to claim the 20 dollar note (or was it a 100?) at the top. Joe cleverly covered his hands, pants legs, and chest with sand to provide the winning friction. The finale to that incident, his arriving home and sneaking his garb into the hamper, has never been revealed. Glenn Lindroos and I won the three-legged race prize -- but we cheated. We practiced for weeks before and secured our legs together with two straps, one at our ankles and the other just above our knees. With this Olympic gear and training we developed a coordinated lope that was unbeatable. Too bad college athletic departments didn’t award scholarships for three-legged racing.
Of course in those days there was a large parade in Ely. And there still is -- a tradition that I hope continues.
Many families, maybe most it seemed, had a cabin on one of the nearby lakes and all of them went to theirs on the Fourth. Mom packed a wicker basket, a sheetmetal cooler, and a jug of water for the endless nine-mile trek to Sha-Wa-Nok On-the-Rocks, in Dad’s 53 Chevy. That familiar drive was neatly divided into three three-mile legs. Ely to the Rock Crusher, Rock Crusher to Breezeway, Breezeway to SWNOTR. My interest in the squares of the integers probably came from that three x three pattern.
We made that drive dozens of times each season. But the Fourth of July trip was extra special. It was the opening of the swimming season -- per our family’s expert on things Burntsidey.
Swimming in Burntside has been a confrontation between one’s mettle and the indifferent cold water since the last glacier receded. We kids were always too reckless and impatient to wait for The Lake to warm to an even tolerable temperature. But Dad, a high-school swimming record holder in his youth knew and often warned that Burntside is never warm enough to swim in -- until The Fourth of July. So on the Fourth, we finally got to see Dad join us on the tiny beach, wade in up to his ancient trunks, and boldly lunge forward into a smooth breaststroke straight out past Toimi Ahola’s amphibious jeep, the unmarked reef, and off over the horizon. Summer had officially arrived for Dad.
But in preparation for our family’s 4th traditions, I was assigned a most delightful, yet mentally straining task. It began with retrieving last year’s dusty 24 empty pop bottles from the basement, carrying them in their faded wooden case up to my wagon and hauling them the four blocks to that magic little building with the driveway on its west side and whirring, whirling machines inside. The Ely Bottling Works was to be my workplace for the next hour. Owner-operator Charlie checked in my returns and led me to the inventory warehouse, an area just a little larger than a cloakhall at Lincoln Elementary, set me up with an empty case and left me to make my picks. Oh my. Twenty-four slots to be filled with 8-ounce thick glass bottles to be selected from it seemed 47 flavors available. There were two kinds of lemon pop, one clear like 7up and the other a bright yellow. Need two of each. Black cherry soda was always good -- better get six. Mom liked strawberry -- four. Dad was not particular about pop but everyone likes root beer, so four. Running out of room but Kist cream soda was the best so I take five. Nuts, only one slot left. I haven’t left enough room for grape, orange, cola, lime, raspberry. But what to cut back on to make room?
When the one-man negotiation was finally completed, I paid Charlie the dollar-twenty for the case of pop and trundled back home already regretting some of the choices I had just made
In the dressing room of Dad’s sauna today, five decades later, hangs a round mirror with a set of cartoon lips and this challenging question: “Did you get Kist today?”
Be safe. And I hope you did.

Doug Luthanen grew up in Ely and graduated from Memorial High School in 1967. He wrote a weekly viewpoint column for the Northwest Arkansas Times for four years and is an occasional contributor to The Ely Echo.