School got out sometime toward the end of June, and it was at this time each year that my family and I went off to Warner’s Lake for the summer. My father, Vall Pulliam was transferred many times during my childhood, so we never stayed in one place long enough to get a real sense of permanency. But no matter how far our travels took us, or what town he happened to work in, Warner’s Lake was always home base.
My father would hook the flat-bed trailer to the back of the family’s station wagon, and with the help of my older brothers, he would load up all of the family’s necessities for the next two months; the lawnmower and bikes, of course were included. My mother, Judy Pulliam would spend her time prearranging flower boxes, which were also added to the pile; they would later put the finishing touch on our Warner’s Lake camp that was located on the dead end of Strevell Lane. A place where my days as a child were filled with fun and activities.
The details of my youngest years are vague, but memories of being carefree and out of harm’s way ring out loud and clear in my mind. When I was old enough, my brothers and I would meet up with our cousins and friends every morning by the small plank bridge that crosses the inlet to the lake. Hours would pass by like seconds as we rode bikes on the dirt road, made forts in the woods, and caught frogs in the creek. As I grew older, my days were filled with many of the same activities, but we were always coming up with a new game to play or a new way of doing things.
My Great Uncle Van, or Jacob Vanderbilt Straub to those who did not know him as the cool-pop-giving man that he was to us kids, one year provided my cousins, brothers, and I with a small motor boat. We took countless rides around the lake, (counter clockwise of course) and after that, water-skiing occupied most of our time. When on dry land we organized many games. It seemed like we had croquet tournaments all the time, and steal the bacon ( using Strevell Lane as the boundaries) was a favorite; we also played volleyball, and penny poker. Each summer there was a new game or trend that we focused on. If one kid had a certain kind of hat, then chances were all the others would follow suit. This trend might not have been a trend the surrounding communities or the rest of the world chose to acknowledge, but it was inevitably the trend on Strevell Lane. Most of the time, the more bazaar the trend, the more fun it was. For example, one year we got our hands on some tacky promotional tuxedo jackets and wore them while we played croquet. That was the uniform of the game that summer. But games were not all that there was to do.
The residents of Strevell Lane would often throw parties (mostly on Labor Day weekend) with the theme, “come not as you are, come as bazaar. Unless you are bazaar, then come as you are.” This brought out the imagination of both the young and the old. We didn’t need much to celebrate. Even the smallest of reasons, a birthday perhaps, or extra ice cream in someone’s freezer would spur a gathering. One year all that was needed was the re-planking of the bridge to hear someone say, “Let’s have a party right here on the bridge.” For years after that we did a “Bridge party” just to have a gathering of family and friends.
A few of the large poplar trees on Strevell Lane had been hit by lightning, or had been taken down manually so that the wind would not do it for us. The landscape was now left with a littering of stumps at least three feet around. Alan (Doc) Rockmore started to have fires every Saturday night to eliminate these unwanted lawn ornaments, and when one was done he would move on to another. Everyone from most of the camps on the lane would bring their lawn chairs and refreshments close to the flaming area. We would sit and socialize until all hours of the night, with Marshmellows on sticks and children running around with flashlights until their parents pulled the plug on their fun. The walk home from the nights activities was always very peaceful, not a streetlight in sight, just the fireflies and the crickets chirping to serenade the way. Sometimes I would walk up and down the lane until I saw a shooting star, then I knew that it was time to go in for the night. We still have a fire every Saturday night, but not for the same reasons anymore. The stumps no longer exist under all the ash, but the tradition lives on.
Another evening activity was held Sunday nights after dinner; Sunday night softball and everyone both old and young participated. We would split into two teams and play until the sun went down over the mountain on the west side of the lake. The batting order was arranged according to age so the little ones would start us off. In the outfield the smaller players would have an adult spotter, this way the injuries were kept to a minimum. You knew you were one of the big guys if you were shown no mercy and got tagged out at first base. The little guys got a free ticket around the bases, this kept them coming back for more. The best feeling was when you caught a pop fly hit by someone that was older than you; it gave you bragging rights and a huge grin on your face for the rest of the night. In 1980, the rock band Journey
came to Warner’s Lake and played softball with some of our better players. I was the pitcher and felt honored to be the only girl to play in the game.
Camping out was another experience that all of the kids had. Sometimes in the Woods but mostly in a remote part of the big field by the lake. The day of the campout was always spent preparing for the night’s event. The tent and all the camping gear was set up in the perfect location decided on by the group. Then there was the bike ride down to the local store to get the provisions. Chips, candy and soda, enough for a week was purchased just for one night. As we settled down in our tents, we would eat, drink and tell scary stories of the “Gowngers” who roam the woods around the lake. The older kids would tell us that the “Gowngers” were horrible, fierce; creatures that would drag you back to their lair and eat you limb by limb. The only defense against the “Gowngers” was to construct a “Gownger stick”. This stick was about a foot long with another pointed stick attached to one end at an angle, like a hatchet. But the angle had to be just right at 47 and one half degrees or something ridiculous like that otherwise it wouldn’t work and you were out of luck. Having a “Gownger stick” and hitting the monster was not enough. You had to hit them on the back of the neck just below the brain in a very precise location; this was the only way to kill a “Gownger”. During the overnight campout it was inevitable that the older kids would show up in attempts to scare us. They would throw crabapples and howl like a “Gownger”. The next morning the older kids would deny all the antics of the previous night and blame it all on a horrible, fierce, beast…..The “Gownger”.
July 4th comes every summer, and if you have been fishing on the north end of the lake that day, you may have witnessed one of our Strevell lane traditions that was started by my Great Aunt Minnow (Mildred Straub). She asked everyone on the lane to meet by the flagpole to stand as straight as soldiers and say the Pledge of Allegiance; some years it was followed by a patriotic song or two. As kids, we would feel embarrassed if there were fishermen too close to shore watching our salute to America. But as adults we still proudly make the pilgrimage to the flagpole every 4th of July with our children. Not only out of respect for our country, but out of respect for our Aunt.
Later on that day we tried to have activities planned for the Strevell Lane locals and for the out of town relatives. Volleyball, kickball, Frisbee golf games or even a challenge to swim the lake; many were up for these challenges to show how fit they were, or just to have a good time.
July 4th evening we would have a pig roast or a covered dish dinner with the entire family, followed by a bonfire at dusk. There always seemed to be sparklers and various fireworks around at that time, but the most memorable fireworks show was in the early 1980’s when Jonathan Coffino made arrangements for a professional fireworks crew to help him give a show that the Lake would never forget. We were told that a police car was parked on the side of the lake just to watch the great spectacle. I think that it was the only year the mosquitoes didn’t bother the fireworks audience.
The Warner’s Lake Improvement Association has hosted many events that our family has enjoyed participating in as well. Family days were always the most fun for me. Balloon and egg tosses, greased watermelons and crazy hat contests with prizes for all the winners. When you entered the pie eating contest, everyone was a winner….the pie itself was an excellent prize! But things do change and the pie has been replaced by gelatin, but it is still just as much fun. We also enjoyed movie nights at the Osterhouts. The blankets would be spread out on the grass in front of the movie screen, and we would eat popcorn while we watched the movie of the week. Popcorn wasn’t the only snack that captivated the children and adults on Strevell Lane. My younger days were filled with memories of Duke’s Dairy Bar.
We were always begging the adults to take us to Duke’s for the ice cream, but as time passed we were trusted to ride our bikes there and back. Ice cream was not the only object of pleasure that Duke’s had to offer; pinball machines soon became a new source of entertainment. Years went by and Duke’s closed, after this there wasn’t a local ice cream shop to go to anymore and our consumption of ice cream drastically decreased until one day many years later when the sound of an ice cream truck passed by Warner’s Lake. My son (Sam Carlson), daughter (Kate Carlson), and two of their cousins (Ryan Rockmore and Heather Bates) sprinted to the top of the lane (without money) in hopes that they could catch the attention of the driver before it passed the small dirt road. They were in luck and persuaded the driver to turn down the road, assuring him that there would be many paying customers at the bottom of the hill. They were right. Children and adults alike dropped what they were doing and pulled out some spare change for a welcome cool ice cream treat. They asked the driver to come down the lane every weekend for the rest of the summer, and he did. For the past few summers we have organized ice cream social parties on Strevell Lane. Everyone was asked to sign up for a different ice cream topping and others would volunteer to supply the rest, fun is always had all.
One of the more relaxing adult activities that I engage in now that I have outgrown my bike and have kids of my own is gardening. I’m not the only person on the lane to dabble in it, and I don’t have it down to a science like some of the others do, but I do enjoy the beauty of the perennials. Each camp on Strevell Lane has a unique garden; perfect in it’s own way. Some are large, some are small, some have annuals and some show off perennials, there is even a vegetable garden at the top of the lane and an award- winning garden on the lane that belongs to Milton and Betsy Bates.
The beauty on the lane has inspired many couples to host their weddings there. I attended my first wedding on Strevell Lane when I was an infant, and twenty-one years later I attended my own wedding there. After I was married many other weddings were held there as well, all with very good success rates. Some of the younger children talk of the time when they will have their weddings at the lake, daydreaming and picking wild flower bouquets in anticipation. I am sure many more weddings will follow.
Like the people who live in them, each camp has matured with the times. They started out very primitive and simple, with only a few flower boxes to spiff them up a bit. Little changes were made at first, like stuffing the cracks in the siding with steel wool to keep the bats out at night, and then adding more outlets in every room became a necessity. Soon the walls were sheet rocked and a large hot water heater was installed, but even with the modernizing of the buildings it was still camp. The screened porches were and still are very important places in the camp, and are used like summer living rooms. On warm days of summer you might find a family eating or socializing on their screened porch. On rainy days a group of kids could be playing cards or a board game there. Or you can always find someone curled up on a glider reading a good book. I am now a mother, who like my parents, packs my husband, children, and all the necessities of summer life up and travels to Strevell Lane every year. I find that raising children at Warner’s Lake has been a relaxing experience fore me. Living on a private dirt road gives the children an open space to ride their bikes and play games in a safe environment, teaching them independence while giving them a sense of freedom as I had in my youth. Since Strevell Lane is shared by many generations of our family, I have more eyes on the lane to help me look after my children; this gives me a feeling of security. If the kids do anything wrong, I will hear about it.
Spending every summer of my life at Warner’s Lake has been one of the most consistent and pleasing parts of living. I have many good and bad memories of the camp’s I have spent time in, but the bad memories fade fast and the good memories will be forever etched in my mind. Little things bring pleasant feelings, like the smell of the camp when you first open the door in the spring. You know from that moment on or at least for the next few months there will be enjoyable times at Warner’s Lake.