G.C. Rosenquist will be signing copies of his new book, Terrific Tales of Lake County Illinois, at This Old Book (138 Center St., Grayslake, IL) on Saturday, April 29, from 1 – 3 pm. The book contains 33 stories about growing up in Lake County, Illinois, in the 1970s. I had the privilege of writing the book’s introduction. And here it it:
Funny. Sad. Outrageous. Dark. What were they thinking? The stories in Thirty-three Terrific Tales of Lake County are all this and more. They tell of the adventures and (mostly) misadventures of four young boys living in Round Lake, Illinois, in the 1970s: Charlie, Bill, Doc, and Crazy George. All I’ll say about the boys is that Charlie is the narrator of these sometimes-outrageous stories. I’ll leave the pleasure of discovering who these boys are to you, the reader. I don’t want my comments to tilt your view of them one-way or the other, although “crazy” might give you a hint about George’s character.
Childhood memories are often fragile things. Some survive only as snapshots, single pictures of events long past. Many are seemingly lost forever like those gray-black memory orbs tossed into the memory dump by the Forgetters in Disney’s Inside Out. Other memories, like those Charlie captures in Tales, remain as fresh as yesterday because of their importance and emotional impact.
As I read Tales, I began to remember some of my own stories growing up; stories I hadn’t thought about for years. Charlie’s memories were helping me retrieve some of my discarded memory orbs. Perhaps, reading these entertaining stories will do the same for you.
One of my favorite stories in this book is The Swamp Next Door.
When Charlie and his family moved to Round Lake from Chicago, his parents bought a house near a swamp. Most adults would worry about decaying vegetation, vast clouds of disease-bearing mosquitoes, and the likely existence of venomous snakes. Charlie and his friends, however, viewed the swamp as a place of mystery and adventure, an unknown territory to explore.
I grew up in Highland Park where my place of adventure was not a swamp, but the steep-sided heavily wooded ravine behind my house. Imagination ran wild in my ravine as it did in Charlie’s swamp. And it had the added bonus of being adult-free.
After a Saturday matinee at the Alcyon Theater, my friends and I would race for the ravine to act out the plot of the movie we had just seen. If it was something like Killer Ape, Jungle Man-eaters, or Safari Drums, the ravine transformed into the most dangerous jungle in all of darkest Africa; and the stream that flowed along its bottom became the mighty Congo of man-eating crocodiles, the mysterious Nile of the mummy who walked, or the treacherous Amazon of cannibal headhunters. Ah, those were the days!
I wonder if parents today would let their kids play in swamps and ravines. Probably not. I probably wouldn’t let my grandkids play there either, unless, they invited me to join them. Sometimes I think being a kid was more fun in the “I remember when” days.
Here are some other favorites; don’t worry, no real spoilers here.
– One of the best is The Mick, a heart-breaking reminder that not all childhood memories are happy ones.
– The Amazing, Astounding & Awesome Monkey Woman where a dollar buys you more than you can imagine.
– The Drive-in and Lakehurst are set in two former landmarks of Lake County. The stories are really about persistence and obsession.
– Gwunkies is for anyone who has ever been forced to clean his or her plate. My Gwunkies was kale soup. I still shudder.
– Bats is both sweet and sad.
I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.
While you may never have walked on stilts 18 feet tall, or dealt with a demon cat, or plotted revenge against a chicken farmer, or been terrified by an awesome monkey woman, these stories of Charlie, Doc, Bill, and Crazy George may awaken in you, as they did in me, some forgotten stories of your own. Perhaps you’ll be tempted to write your own book, one that captures your important memories, your history.
But for now, let’s return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, before technology took over childhood, when four boys thought all things were possible, believed that consequences were an adult concern, and acted as if they were invincible.
And that reminds me of the time when I…but that’s a story for my own book.