Thursday, March 3, 2011

Boyhood Dreams

Boating on the Menominee, Pig Island in the background (VAL photo, ca. 1949)

Dear George,

The shores of the Menominee River were lined with second and third growth evergreen and hardwood forests when we were growing up (as they are today). During the summer before seventh grade Jimmy Jorgenson and I rowed across the river to Pig Island and gathered up a batch of dried out tree trunks which we dragged home behind the boat. We cut the logs to a uniform length and strapped them together to make a raft, then fashioned large poles so we could navigate our way down river to Brewery Park and back.

Frank S., Dave L., & Jim J. at Riverside Country Club (1953)

Living in a small town and its rural environs, we frequently suffered from childhood boredom, and Jimmy and I decided we were meant for bigger things. I was reading Huckleberry Finn, and I told him about Huck and Jim’s adventures rafting on the Mississippi. Jimmy figured out from his family’s World Atlas that we could travel by raft all the way from the mouth of the Menominee River around the edge of Green Bay, down the Lake Michigan shore to Chicago, then over to the Illinois River, and from there to the Mississippi and all the way to New Orleans. We talked about that fantastic journey for weeks on end and began dreaming of how we could make it happen. We knew our parents would never permit it, but, like Huck, we were prepared to run away if necessary. However, we’d need a much more substantial raft than our roped-together Pig Island version. Jimmy knew a few things about construction, and he drew up a blueprint for a sturdy 8 x 10’ raft made of cut lumber and oil drums with a sheltered sleeping hut and a sail. He estimated it would cost $150.

We thought and thought some more. I can’t remember who, but one of us came up with a brilliant idea. Once we’d hashed over the details, we went downtown to the offices of the Menominee Herald-Leader. My parents were friends with the newspaper’s editor, Jean Worth, and I felt confident that he would help us. We told the receptionist that we’d come to see Mr. Worth, and, though she raised an eyebrow, she asked us to take a seat.

Five minutes later we were ushered into the editor’s office. Jean Worth was very cordial and asked why we’d come to see him. We told him about our idea of rafting from Menominee to New Orleans, and he seemed impressed with the grandness of that idea. Then we explained our need for money to build our raft and finance our trip. Jean paused for a moment and invited the managing editor to join us since this might be shaping up as a newsworthy story. Then we explained our plan. We’d decided to hold a citywide contest which we hoped the Herald-Leader would sponsor and publicize. It would be a liar’s contest, and the entrant who composed the best lie, as judged by Jimmy and myself, would be awarded a prize of $75. There would, of course, be an entry fee of $5. We felt confident that the contest would generate enough citywide interest that we would be able to pay out the winner’s prize and still make at least $200 in profits to finance our trip.

Jean Worth

Jean Worth thought it over and offered his reactions. First, he told us about the Burlington (Wisc.) Liars’ Club which held an annual event very much like our proposed contest. He went to his files and got out a couple of examples of winning lies from Burlington. We’d never even heard of the Burlington Liars’ Club, but it seemed to prove that we were on the right track. Then he said that the Herald-Leader would be more inclined to sponsor such an event if the proceeds went to a worthy charity rather than to private profit for ourselves. He suggested the St. Joseph-Lloyd Hospital or clothing for poor children. We were taken aback, of course, since that would derail the basic purpose of our plan. In an effort to compromise, we offered to donate at least ten percent of our proceeds to charity. Jean said he’d need to think it over, and he suggested that, in the meantime, we compose a couple of lies that would give him a better sense of what we wanted to do.

Jimmy and I went back to my Uncle Kent’s drugstore, got some paper and pencils, and sat down at the lunch counter to compose our lies. Though I don’t remember the exact content, Jimmy got his done quickly, and it was a short one paragraph story, similar to the Burlington examples that we’d seen. It was clever and funny. I was more obsessive and wrote a page-long story that was filled with preposterous adventures in the deepest heart of Africa.

We took our products back to the Herald-Leader and were once again led into the editor’s office. Jean Worth read over our stories. He said they were very good, though he thought Jimmy’s was more suitable for such a contest, while mine was a little too elaborate. He explained the advantages of conciseness in one’s writing, then asked if he could keep our stories for a while, and said he’d be back in touch.

We didn’t hear anything for several days. Then, at the dinner table one evening, my parents showed me a copy of the Herald-Leader’s editorial page. There, believe it or not, was a detailed account of Jimmy’s and my visit to the newspaper office and our idea about holding a liars’ contest. It was a very warm and flattering account and included the verbatim stories that Jimmy and I had written (our very first publications). The editorial wound up, unfortunately, with an explanation of why the Herald-Leader couldn’t legitimately sponsor our contest, but it did say something like the future of Menominee was in good hands if we were representative of the upcoming generation.

Eventually Jimmy and I forgot about our Mississippi River idea and moved on to more practical ventures. We were excited though about having been featured in the newspaper. I decided that, when I grew up, I’d like to be a newspaper writer, maybe even for the Herald-Leader.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (3-5): Dear David, This has to be your very best story yet. I had no idea, really, that you and your boyhood friends were so incredibly adventurous. As a child, I always viewed you as sort of shy and somewhat inscrutable, busy building forts out of birch tree limbs in the trees off the driveway. Tin pans and twine.

What I didn't know about was your social life and your world with other boy adventurers (except for the Boy Scouts which never seemed particularly thrilling ... perhaps this was because the Girl Scouts mainly ordered hats, pins and rings from catalogues and learned how to properly set a table). The encounters with Jean Worth ring so true as to how life was lived in Menominee. A precious account. Hope all is well on your front. Love, Sis

-Kiera O (3-5): How absolutely wonderful...i think we were the luckiest of all children to grow up where we did.

-Jennifer M (3-3): I love this story. I grew up near the Zumbro river as well as a creek that fed into it. The river was too dangerous near our house to play in or near it, but the creek was the site of homemade rafts (we used empty plastic mild jugs) and imaginary adventures. However, I was a less ambitious child that you were- I never sought funding for a river trip to New Orleans!

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