Today, we’re asked to “Tell us about the lake you used to swim in when you were a kid.”
Every kid who grew up in the city of Chicago (well, most of them, anyway) know that the place to swim was Lake Michigan.
When it got hot in Chicago, there was really nothing better than having the largest lake entirely contained in a single country (so saith Wikipedia) as your swimming hole. Temperatures in Chicago were always taken at three places: Midway Airport on the Southwest Side, O’Hare Airport on the Northwest Side, and at the lake. The temperature by the lake was always 5-10 degrees cooler than at the airports. (Remember, I’m an American, so those are Fahrenheits and not centigrades or Celsiuses.)
There are lots of beaches along the lake shore, from the Wisconsin border to the Port of Chicago. Pollution didn’t seem to be much of a problem, at least where we were. The water was clean for the most part, although you found the occasional dead alewife floating on the surface, and there were times when you would find the jagged edge of a broken bottle, thrown in by a drunk teenager, with your foot. I cut my toe on one once.
The most popular beach in Chicago is Oak Street Beach, close to the curve of Lake Shore Drive, where it becomes Michigan Avenue. In the 30 years I lived in Chicago, I never went there. Every time I’d see a picture of that beach, it was always crowded. Besides, we had Albion Beach, later Hartigan Park, close by. When Walkie and Hicks (my grandparents) lived on Loyola Avenue, you were practically in the park when you walked out the back door, and it was a short walk to the water.
When I was a toddler, breaking in my first pair of shoes, my godmother, Fabulous Auntie Jill, took me for a walk down to the beach. As we were walking along, she stopped to talk to a friend of hers. I kept walking, right into the lake, before she caught up with me. So much for my new shoes.
I was never much of a swimmer, really, and that was the beauty of the beach: even if you didn’t swim, you could play in the water. You had to go quite a ways offshore before it got really deep, and most of the water was waist-high. Maybe that’s just as far as I ever went.
I can’t talk about lakes without some mention of Lake Delavan, in the southern part of Wisconsin. We used to go there every summer when I was in grammar school and rent a cottage in Assembly Park on the northern shore of the lake. We went swimming practically every day, except for the day (and there was always that one day, sometimes two) when it rained. There was a centrally-located swimming area and beach that was surrounded by piers, keeping it safe from fishermen and speedboaters. On a hot day, there’d be hundreds of kids in the lake, diving off the piers or the diving board. Even when it was a little cool out, you could count on it being pretty crowded.
Across the lake was Lake Lawn Lodge, where Dad used to golf. In 1964 or 1965, there were rumors that The Beatles were staying there, resting up during a tour. Turns out, the rumors were true.