Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lake Eliza

“We’re Going to Lake Eliza”

Today’s the day we move to lake Eliza dad says with a smile on his face. He’s the only one happy about it, though. Mom really hates the place, and said it’s just like that stupid West Virginia where dad grew up. I’ve never seen mom so mad about anything, before. Every time me and my brother or sister ask her about it she doesn’t even answer our questions and just says something like. “There’s no street lights, even, and everybody’s got a mean dog on a leash outside their house. Who would ever want to live out there? She keeps talking about the place to her sisters on the phone and her and dad fight about it a lot. I’ve never been there yet, but I don’t want to go. I want to stay here in Dolton, Illinois. I don’t want to go to Indiana. All they’ve got there is corn and farmers. I’ve always wanted a motorcycle, though, and dad said we could get one there. Mom won’t let us have one, though. No, I don’t want to go. Uncle Dickey doesn’t want to go either. He’s wondering if he’ll be able to go junking there. I sure hope so, I love to go junking with dickey picking up scrap metals and finding all kinds of cool stuff in the garbage. I’ll we’ll be able to get out there is old farm parts and stuff like that. I don’t want to leave the city.

While sitting on the toilet, I remember all the good times I had in this house—sliding in the basement in our underwear whenever it flooded; Hiding there also, whenever a tornado would come, tornado, does the Lake Eliza place have a basement? Where will I go in the Spring? Mom always lets me sleep in the basement during tornado season. I sure hope this place has a basement! Dad knocks on the door.

“Junior, you in there? Hurry up, the bus’ leaving in ten minutes and your ass better be on it!”

“OK, dad, I’ll be out in a minute”

I don’t want to leave this place.

All of pile into dad’s truck, me and my brother Ron sit in the back jump seats and mom, dad, and litter sister Nellie sit up front. Dickey doesn’t want to come and stays in the basement workshop playing his guitar. Dad says I can stay with him there just today as we will move out tomorrow. I don’t know why but I want to go with them and see what this place is like. Lake Eliza. Dad said the house we’re going to rent if next to the lake and we can go fishing there. He said there’s a lodge too, and everyone camps at lake Eliza in the summer.

Dad drives away and honks at our neighbor’s the Strams. I’ll be glad to leave those two people. That Mr. Stram always yells at us kids. We pass Panazzo Foods on the corner. Boy, I’ll miss that place. I don’t know how many Mad Magazines I’ve bought at that place. I’ll never forget all the money I found outside of that store. People would always drop their money around there and it would blow into the grass next to the store. Dad drives to the highway and I almost forget about the Hostess Day Old Bread store on the left. What am I going to do for money? I always take the old pies out of the garbage and sell them to the mothers in the neighborhood. I guess they’re a day old when they get to the store and a few days old when they go into the garbage. The mothers never say anything to me, though, and they like that I only charge them ten cents a pie. How will I ever make money like that in lake Eliza? Make money, that reminds me, what about all the Mattel toys I get out of the garbage every Thursday on garbage day? I don’t who the guy is that lives there, but he throws out hundreds of Mattel toys every week. He puts notes all over um talking about why something broke. They’re good toy, some of um are just missing a few parts that you can take off of others in the pile to fix. I make a lot of money selling those toys. I know I’ll never find anything like that in lake Eliza. Dad gets on the highway and hits the gas hard. Goodbye Dolton, you were a good town to me. I’ll sure miss you and our house.

As soon as we pass over the Indiana border things are really different. The roads aren’t as good and the streetlights are dim. There’s also a bunch of signs for the casinos and also lots of cigarette billboards. Hey, look at that over there—“Krazy Kaplan’s Fireworks, Largest firework store in the United State” Boy, I’m starting to love Indiana already, I love fireworks. Dad says we can buy um here, but can’t shoot um off. He says that it’s only legal to buy fireworks in Indiana, but not shoot um off. I don’t care, it’s not legal in Illinois either, and I shot off lots of um there. At least here I can buy um. When we pass the sign I see a lot of smoke far away. There’s also hundreds of huge rusty building with lots of clouds of smoke. As we get closer I can’t figure out what they are so I ask dad.

“Hey day, what’s all that smoke over there?”

“Those are all the steel mills. Indiana has a lot of steel mills. We’re gonna go by there. When we get closer to the steel mills the air gets really thick and hard to breath. It’s got a real warm and wet feel to it and it smells like someone cooking breakfast. It kind of smells like bacon frying.

“Hey day, what’s that smell?”

“That’s coke. The mills are burning coke. They use it to make steel.

Dad points to the Chicago Skyway bridge and a little bit later we’re on it flying high above a bunch of chemical factories and steel mills. There’s also a lot of churches, houses, and other buildings. Mom looks out of her window down at all of this and then turns back to the road and says something.

“I can’t believe anyone would live down there near all those chemical factories. That’s why I’m glad me and your dad left Lansing, Illinois. So many of the women there died of Cancer. Probably because of all those eggplant farms there. Now, here we go again, moving out to all these chemical factories, and steel mills.”

The building and houses look real nice and high class. A lot of them are brick and are very important looking. They look expensive and don’t fit down there. I wonder why they were build? It’s so dirty down there, I bet the people who live down there are real tough. There’s a lot of churches down there too.

On our whole drive we are surrounded by big semi trucks hauling lots of machines and parts. Hundreds of trucks. Some of the stuff they are carrying is huge, as big as a car. Some of the parts are clean and painted and others are real rough and rusty. I wonder what all these machines and parts are for? When we get off of the Skyway I see a bunch of Chicago Red Hot hotdog restaurants all over the place. There’s also a lot of places that sell beer and cigarettes at low prices. I just watched the Walton’s on TV and they talked about all the worldly pleasures like “the drink” and stuff like that. I’m sure they would call this place the work of the Devil. I’m glad when dad pulls into one of the Red Hot places and we all get out to get a hotdog and French fries.

Dad says that this Red hot place is real good because they use poppy seeds on their buns, and wrap the fries up in the same wrapper as the hotdog. My brother puts mustard on his and dad gets real mad.

“Boy, what’s wrong with you? You don’t put ketchup on a Chicago Red hot. Only mustard! Pickles, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and mustard, you never put ketchup on it. Boy, I’ll tell you what…you ruined that hotdog!

Ron doesn’t listen to a thing dad says and starts eating his Red hot with ketchup. Dad hates it when we mess up our food. He really hates it when I order a Burger King Whopper with only ketchup and mustard. He says that I should just order a hamburger. He says the whole reason you order a Whopper is for the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onion. My sister Nellie doesn’t care about anything on hers and just eats the hotdog by itself. It’s kind of fun to see here dip it in a bunch of mustard and then get it all over her clothes and face.

“Hey dad, why are we moving to lake Eliza?”

“It’s a nice place, they got a lake out there. It’s safer too. It’s in the country.”

“Can we go fishing there?”

“You can go fishing any damn time you want to. The lake is just across the street from the house we’re going to rent.”

“That cool!”

“You kids hurry up and eat your Red hots, we got to meet the landlord at the house at noon.”

We all jump back into the truck and all drive out of town. As we leave the town there’s a big billboard with a family on it. It says something strange that I can’t understand.

“Sulfuric Acid reclamation. A part of our community.”

“Hey dad, what’s Sulfuric Acid?”

“They use it in car batteries”

“Is it bad?”

“It is if you get it on your skin, will burn a big old hole”


We pass a bunch more steel mills and then things start to look different. We’re near Valparaiso, Indiana and instead of seeing a bunch of apartments and factories, I can see lots of cornfields. Some places I can see factories and cornfields. No matter where we go I can still see lots of signs for discount cigarettes, casinos, and fireworks. When we get closer to lake Eliza, I can see nothing but houses with big yards, farms, and lots of corn for miles around.

Dad says that any minute now, we’ll see Lake Eliza.

“There it is, over there. You see all of the people ice fishing in the little houses?”

“What are they doing?”

“They’re ice fishing”

Ice fishing, wow, I’ve heard about that, but never saw it in my life. It looks pretty cool. When we get closer to the lake, I see a big sign with a leprechaun on it. He’s jumping up into the air and kicking his heels. He’s got a pot of gold in one hand and a drink in the other. The sign says.

“Welcome to Lake Eliza Resort”

The sign says that they got pony rides, and a bunch of other stuff to do, but what I want to see is the big waterslide. The sign says it’s the largest slide in northwest Indiana. Maybe this place won’t be so bad after all. Dad swerves to miss a big pothole in the road and our car slides a little bit and me and my brother and sister bump into each other. There it is, dad says. There’s Fish Lake Road, we take that down to the lake to get to our house. Fish Lake Road, what kind of name is that for a road? Dad turns onto the gravel road and zig zags all over to keep from hitting all the potholes. The truck bounces up and down and you can hear gravel hitting the wheel wells. You can also hear the gravel being crunched by the tires. Every now and then a rock hits the hubcap and makes a ding sound. Mom is really mad about the roads and everything else about this place. Her voice sounds really strange and low. She’s been drinking a little, but I don’t think its just the beer, she’s really mad. Her voice doesn’t change, it just stays in the same tone, I guess. It’s almost sounds like someone in a scary movie.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to live out here? Just looks like a bunch of hillbillies to me. Look at this stupid gravel road, they don’t even have money to fix the potholes. And look around, these people don’t even have streetlights. How you supposed to see at night? Why you want to live our here, Darrell? You like this place cause it reminds you of that hillbilly place, West Virginia. “

Mom keeps talking about West Virginia and how dad wants to live out here cause it reminds him of it. I think she’s right the way dad is acting and when she sees this is true she starts to tease him in a bad way making fun of him.

“Yeah, this reminds you of your hillbilly roots, now doesn’t it”

“Shut up, god dammit”

“Yes, yes it does. Look over there”

Mom points to an old white house on the right that’s missing some of the aluminum siding and has garbage all over the yard. It’s kind of a small house and only has a couple of windows in front and a couple on the side. You can tell which room is in the house cause you can see a bottle of dish soap in one window and a bottle of shampoo and shaving cream in the other window. There’s an old guy on the porch smoking a cigarette and talking to himself. He’s wearing nice clothes like suit pants and good shoes but they are dirty and look kind of old.

“That guy over there looks like one of your relatives from West Virginia. Hey! Pull over! Let’s ask him if he’s related to you!”

“Now listen, god dammit…”

“Mom starts laughing a lot and keeps pointing at things that remind her of West Virginia. Dad gets real mad and speeds up a little bit, bouncing us all around inside the truck. On the other side of the road I can see a bunch of tents and camping trailers and more gravel roads. This place also has a lot of trees. Dad says they’re Locust trees. It’s Spring, so there’s no leaves on um yet, and they look like a bunch of veins. I mean, they look like the veins in a human brain. The branches squiggle around and are thick at the beginning and get really thin at the end. They’re everywhere around here. Dad drives a little bit more and on the right we can see the lake again. It’s pretty big and is surrounded by more of the Locust trees and a few big weeping willows. There’s a bunch of little boats on the lake too. The billboard said you can rent them here. Hey, there’s the huge water slide! Wow, it really is big. In front of all of these things is a big building that is above the lake on a hill. There’s a big sign on the front that says: “Welcome to Lake Eliza, home of Indiana’s largest water slide”

“There’s the lodge. I’ve got to go over there to meet the landlord. You kids stay in the truck and I’ll be right back out.”

Dad pulls into the big gravel parking lot that’s filled with a lot of cars. Everywhere you can see people walking around with towels over their backs and carrying beach balls and other stuff. Everybody has wet hair and a lot of the guys aren’t wearing shirts. There’s also a lot of girls in bikinis. A lot of the guys are barefoot and you can see them walk across the gravel jerking up and down to keep the rocks from hurting their feet. Dad parks the truck and gets out, before shutting the door he tells mom not to start any trouble.

A strange guy walks up to the truck and stands outside of my mom’s window and just looks around. He’s thin and a little short and looks like he hasn’t had a bath in a long time. He reminds me of my Aunt’s husband, a real know it all troublemaker. Like one of the guys you see on TV who rolls his cigarettes up in his shirt sleeve. I bet this place has a lot of guys like this. Mom’s smoking a cigarette and avoids looking at the guy. In a low voice she says.

“I wonder what this goon wants?”

The guy just keeps standing there and after a little bit he turns toward the window, and knocks. Mom looks at the guy for a second and then rolls it down.

“How you doing, I was wondering if I could bum one of those cigarettes from you”

“Well, I guess so.”

Mom reaches into her jacket pocket and gets out her cigarettes and gives the man one.

“Have you got a light, too?”

Mom doesn’t’ have any matches, so she pushes in the car’s lighter button and seems to take forever to warm up. Mom’s really uncomfortable with this guy, but he really seems at home.

“These your kids?”


“What you all doing out here at ‘beautiful’ Lake Eliza?”

“Oh, I guess we’re going to rent a house out here”

“Where at?”

“Oh, I don’t know, my husband is in there now meeting with the landlord.”

“Landlord? Probably old Maurice. Maurice Fitzgerald.

“I don’t know’

The cigarette light button pops out and the guy reminds mom to take it out. She reaches over and takes it out. It’s are real red hot cherry color and smells bad. Mom tries to give the guy the lighter, but instead of grabbing it he quickly puts the cigarette up to his lips wanting her to light it for him. I don’t know who this guy is, but I got a feeling there’s more like him here and I don’t like that. The guy takes a puff and mom quickly puts the light back into the socket. She’s really upset with this guy and starts to roll up her window.

“Well, we’ll be seeing you.”

The guy’s not finished talking to mom and quickly talks her into keeping the window down so they can talk. He tries to be nice and gets mom to keep the window down.

“What’s you name?”


“How you doing Glenna, I’m Cliff”

Mom blushes a little and warms up to the guy.

“Oh, hi Cliff”

“Who are these kids back there?”

“Well, that’s Junior, my oldest and that Ronnie, and this is Nellie the youngest”

“How you kids doing”

This guy is sick. We don’t even know him but he acts like we’re his family, or something. I don’t like this place already.

“You guys are probably going to move in down there at the Schoonover house. I’m across that little god damned bridge at the end or the road you’re on. Well, I got to get going. Thanks for the cigarette.”

Mom says goodbye to the guy and before he leaves pokes his head next to the backseat window and waves goodbye to me and my brother and sister.

“Goodbye, kids”

I don’t like the guy and he scares my little brother and sister. He walks off and down the hill. As he disappears over the hill, the happy voice of an older man echos across the campground. The sound is coming from a real big PA speaker on top of the lodge’s roof.

“Welcome to Lake Eliza Resort, home of Indiana’s largest water slide! Lake Eliza is clean in every respect and we hope you’ll visit us again soon.

“Clean in every respect?” I doubt it!

Dad comes out of the lodge followed by an old man with white hair. He points at our truck and then jogs over to us. He gets in and we follow the old man’s car down the hill to the house we’re going to rent.

“Who’s that guy, dad?”

“He’s the landlord.”

We head down the hill into a deep valley toward one of the small channels that’s connected to the lake. Our house is just across the gravel road from the channel. We’re pretty close to the lake so at least I can go fishing every day. The guy in front of us bounces in his seat whenever his car hits one of the potholes in the road. Dad tries his best to keep from hitting the potholes, but one time he makes a mistake and our truck bottoms out slamming our butts into the seat. The road curves around to the right and down the hill. Dad points to the house in the distance.

“There’s our house’

What? No, way. It’s so small. Mom’s right, it looks like West Virginia here. There’s no basement! Where’s everybody going to sleep? Where’s Dickey going to stay?

When we get near the house, there’s a big mud puddle across the whole road. The old man in front of us drives over to the left of the puddle and his car tilts a little to the right as he drives across it. In the middle of the puddle, he turns right a little to keep from bottoming out his car into the water. Dad follows the guy closely so we don’t bottom out our car in the water. Mom keeps going on about this place being full of hillbillies. And my little brother and sister talk to each other about the lake. We pass a couple of stupid looking kids on bikes who wonder who we are and what we are doing here. A little bit later, dad and the old man stop in front of the house. Everyone gets out to see the place that dad has found for us to live in. it’s small and has white aluminum siding. It’s just a house with windows and there’s nothing fancy about it. It only has four sides and simple pointed roof. The door is in the middle of one of the walls and there’s rounded concrete stairs in front. Some of the windows are busted, but the old man said that he would fix them by the end of today. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom and a big back yard that bumps up into a steep hill.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"The Christmas Gift" by Darrell Kirk

It was Christmas Eve of 1979. I sit there at the kitchen counter with my girlfriend, her parents, brother and sister. Everyone was excited, especially for me, the poor boy who wanted so much, but had so little. They all knew what I wanted for Christmas that year-one of the new calculator watches from Casio! It’s all I talked about and I had given every hint in the world that I wanted one. As we finished dinner, and started to open gifts, mine, the most important was held for last.

As my girlfriend, opened her gift, a “Space Invaders” type handheld digital game I got at Sears, I spied a box about the size of a “Casio” watch box under the tree. I knew the exact dimensions of that box as I had spent months looking at it at the local K-Mart thru the glass display counter. My heart skipped a beat as I knew my dreams had been answered. I was about to burst, waiting for my turn to open my gift as my girlfriend’s mother opened her gift from me-a solid brass candle holder that weighed over 5 pounds that I had made in machine shop class. Amid all of this, a well-dressed drunk man walks in the front door announcing his arrival. Adding to my anticipation for my turn to open my gift, we realize the man is at the wrong house as we direct him to the neighbor’s house next door. Finally, it’s my turn.

I have always been a gadget guy, and still am today. Gadgets really seem to fill a need in me. Lack of love, family, and home really hurt and gadgets helped to pass the time. Of all the gadgets I had ever had, or wanted, a calculator watch was the one I coveted the most! I can’t remember how many times I had visited K-Mart, or Radio Shack to stare at that watch. I also remember the things I would do with that watch once I had obtained it.

My girlfriend’s father, a husky, kind “Millwright” from the Indiana Steel mills, announced that it was my turn to open gifts as he ceremoniously picked up the small box from under the Christmas tree. He then walked over to where I was sitting at the kitchen counter bar and sat down beside me. The excitement in the air was electric as my girlfriend’s family looked on. I was a bit embarrassed with all the attention, but didn’t mind as I knew I would soon have the object of my dreams. Not only did I have to wait such a long time for my gift, but as I exposed the box from it’s wrapping paper my girlfriend’s father gently took the box from me so as emphasize the importance of the gift. I’m taken a little from his action, however am quickly relieved as I read the words, CASIO from the top of the box. As he opened the box to expose the watch, all the excitement I had ever had for that watch had now shifted from me to all the members of the family. Little did I know at that time that this watch was much more than a calculator watch, it was much more and all the family knew it.

Again, we are talking about the very beginning of the 1980’s here. Bad music, bad hair, bell-bottoms, tank tops, etc. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here then watch a couple of movies from the time. Here’s a few suggestions: “Grease”, “Saturday Night Fever”, any movie with Christy Mc Nickel. But, most of all bad music. Especially all the show tune type skits that were a part of most of the movies back then. I make this point about music as it had major consequences with the watch I was about to receive.
My girlfriend’s dad took the watch from its box and exposed its face to me-a beautiful watch, gold band, gold face, digital, much more than the plain calculator watch with plastic band that I had wanted. I thought that this must be a very special calculator watch as it did not have a keypad from which one could enter calculations. I began to imagine how one entered digits into the unit-perhaps the keypad was controlled by the four buttons on each corner of the square body, or maybe the keypad was under the face on the watch on a hinge. Before I could continue my pondering the room fell very quiet as my girlfriend’s father looked at me holding the watch in a strange position with fingers simultaneously placed on 3 of the 4 buttons. He looked at me for a couple of seconds and then said “Watch this” Then he depressed two of the buttons simultaneously and everyone delighted as the small little watch played a tune: (played to the tune of “The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane”) de da de da de da da da da de da de da de da…….. My god I thought, what a bunch of sick people. Not only did I not get the watch I had talked about for so many months, I had received an asinine watch that made a mockery of good technology! Had I not grown up in a family that hid its feeling, I might have asked “why this and not a calculator watch?” But, instead, like many others receiving bad gifts, I too remarked at how great the watch was. “Oh wow, I can use this watch to wake up to school with!” “Man wait till the guys see this!” All the while, however, all I could really think to myself was: “man, what a piece of shit!”

Needless to say, I never used the watch to wake up to school with-I hated school, and the last thing I needed was some dumb ass watch to announce when to wake up for it. I never really told anyone about the watch, especially “the guys”. I do remember using the watch for one purpose-to cause trouble. I was a troublemaker in school before the watch and now with my bitterness was even more so. I would always set-off the watch in study hall or other class of size. Its stupid high pitch was omni directional and hard to locate by the teacher. It really did have a purpose after all and introduced me to the world of high-tech annoyances. When I wasn’t in school causing a disturbance with the watch, I would be at home in the attic blocking “CB Radio” transmissions with it’s extremely high pitch audio. I would hold the watch in one hand and the CB microphone in the other as my fingers went into an east Indian yoga position to push all the buttons at once to get the watch to play and the CB microphone to transmit. After a 10 second transmission of that annoying little song I would sit silent in the attic for my reward: “hey asshole, pffft” “I know where you are , pffft”. “yeah, and I’m gonna put a needle in your coax”, pffft. Still others would be more scientific in their replies: “hey Bill, did you get that guy’s location?pffft.” “well, I’m getting about a 4 out of him on my meter, so he’s around here somewhere, pffft.” Why I did such things with that watch, I’ll never know.

In later years, however, that watch seemed to mean a lot to me. I remember seeing it a couple of years ago in my garage. It still worked! Receiving that watch meant a lot to me. I had wanted nothing more than a simple calculator watch, and instead received something so different, so stupid. I really felt out of control when receiving it and I think it really made me strive in later years to improve my lot in life. I wanted things and at that point knew I could count on no one but myself to get them. I now have all the stuff I’ve ever wanted, well except for maybe a Range Rover, and hate to think about asking anyone for it. Who knows what I might receive….a Volkswagen Beetle?