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Of Stetsonville sirens and summer afternoons on the lake

Each of us are shaped and molded by the people, places, things and ideas that we experience in our lives. We, in turn, leave a legacy, whether intentional or not to those we come into contact with and in the actions we take.

The Star News has reached out to community members to take a few minutes and write a letter to those people, places, things and ideas that influenced them in some way.

Whether it is a loved one who has long since passed on or to the weeds that they battle in their lawn each summer, the letters reflect the people and places of our communities.

This week Jeff Mueller of Medford shares a letter to his aunt and uncle and with it childhood memories.

—Brian Wilson, News Editor

Dear Uncle Ray and Aunt Arlene –

I thought I might drop a line to you to share some memories with you and let you know how much the two of you meant to my family and me. It’s been quite a few years since you’ve been gone. We all really miss the two of you.

These days, each time I pass through Stetsonville east on County Road A, I always find myself looking south down Lincoln Street and checking out your old home place. The place still holds such a warm spot in my heart. The wonderful memories of the Easters celebrated there with the entire Brunner family. You were fabulous hosts. Those were truly treasured times getting together with all the aunts, uncles and cousins all under that one roof.

After a wonderful meal, we kids would scramble upstairs to play board games. When we were young, the most popular game was Mouse Trap. It seemed we never quite managed to get that Rube Goldberg type contraption together following the rules of play that were provided. We’d just forego the tedious process of following the game rules and just attempt to put the gizmo together. Always hoping beyond hope that we had the right size rubber bands and steely to make the whole thing work and, in the end, trap that mouse. As we grew older, the upstairs entertainment turned to card playing. Uncle Ray and Aunt Arlene, you will be pleased to know, for the most part, it was nickel poker.

Once in a while, there were a few quarters in the pot. That is when things got nerve-racking. My goodness, you could get a bottle of soda for a quarter! The older cousins were always eager to teach us the different variations of poker games. It was odd that even with all their helpfulness, they somehow, always managed to make off with our money. Ah, the high price of education.

As kids, we saw a lot of things in and around your place that we found intriguing. Not so much that they were highly unusual, it was just that we didn’t have them at our house. Your house had a finished basement with an office space and a small wood stove. You had a garage with a beer fridge. The garage also had an attached screened porch to drink the beer in. How convenient is that? The attached screen porch was a must have. Uncle Ray, everyone knew how much you hated mosquitoes. But of all the neat stuff at your place, the coolest of the cool was the fire siren button located in your entryway for the fire hall located next door.

To us kids, the fact that our aunt and uncle’s house had the button for control of the Stetsonville fire siren was awesome. Of course this was well before electronic programming of any sort, so you two would be responsible for sounding the siren at noon and nine o’clock. Each day, twice a day, right on schedule one of you would push the button and the fire siren would wail away loud as could be. If at any time, your home phone rang with a continuous ring it was the signal that there was a fire reported.

The siren needed to be sounded so the volunteer fire department could respond. I remember one very special noon time, after much pleading on my part, Uncle Ray let me push the button for the siren.

For a minute or two that day, I felt like the most important person in Stetsonville!

Of course, the other place we shared a lot of time was the Brunner family cottage on Hull’s Lake. Named “Whispering Pines” by my Grandma Brunner, the cottage holds countless memories for me. Many of the fondest memories of time spent there as a youngster, include the two of you. In some of the earliest of my recollections, the cottage did not have electrical power running to it, so things were a whole lot different than they are now. We had lighting in the cottage using propane ceiling lamps with the old fabric mantels. We carried our water into the cottage from the well and hand pump outside, and of course, we used the very reliable two-hole outhouse. As kids we would cover ourselves with bug dope, take the leaky wooden row boats out on the lake as the sun was going down, and harass the local crappie population. We would often fish till the sun was down, then we’d row back towards the cottage. On our way, we could hear you two and Mom and Dad playing horseshoes. The sound of the horseshoes clanging off each other and Uncle Ray’s infectious booming laugh could be heard echoing all around the small, still lake. Often times, the late night horseshoe games would be finished up in the headlights of the vehicles. Once power was brought into the cottage, one of the highest priorities was to get spotlights built for the horseshoe pits!

Very few of the grown-ups would join us in the swimming hole at the cottage. You two, however, were the exceptions. I remember several times you two donning suits and joining us for a dip. We were always amazed that Uncle Ray was able to float on his back the way he did. As hard as we tried, none of us kids could match the way he floated around, toes and belly out of the water, relaxed as could be.

Uncle Ray, I’m sure you were well aware that during those times you joined us swimming, we kids were stealing glances at the scars your body carried as a result of the German machine gun fire you took in World War II. We had heard the stories of your heroics during that day in battle. For your bravery that day, you were awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. Of course, we were told by our parents, and in no uncertain terms, do not ask Uncle Ray about the war. Out of obedience to our parents and respect for you, we never did. One of my most enduring memories of you, Uncle Ray, was your burning and unwavering patriotism. As long as I can remember, you flew the American flag and so many of your home’s decorations conveyed a patriotic theme. You also taught us all about American flags, including, of course, that the American flag flown at Whispering Pines must be taken down at sunset, must never hit the ground and before it is put away for the night it must be folded in proper fashion. Thank you for being such a great example of how to be a patriot. You will be pleased to know that your sense of patriotism is being carried on by the family members to this day, through everything from the American flag still being flown over the cottage at Whispering Pines to the ultimate selflessness of military service.

Aunt Arlene, one of my earliest memories of you was you casting a spoon off the dock at Whispering Pines, hoping to hook into one of those legendary Hull’s Lake northern pike. Because there were not a whole lot of women big game fishers back then and as an aspiring big game fisher myself, I thought that to be very impressive. The passion you and my Mom had for Whispering Pines was demonstrated to us over and over. Just one small example was how you and Mom would head out to the cottage with me and a couple of my brothers in tow. The idea was to stay for just the day, but sometimes, just as the sun starting to head for the western horizon, you two would get notions of staying for the night. Getting to the nearest phone to get the “OK” from the husbands (seems kind of funny now) meant rowing the leaky wooden boat across the lake to the bar. You and Mom would head off in the boat while my brothers and I would wait eagerly back at the cottage, hoping and praying that you and Mom would report back that we were staying the night. An “OK” on that one meant more to us than any snow day out of school! It was due in large part to those types of memories that, ten years ago this fall, Karen and I jumped at the opportunity to purchase our own place on Hull’s Lake. It’s just a modest little place snuggled in along the string of cottages on the lake’s north shore. We love it, and I think you guys would love it too.

In closing, I just wanted to thank both of you for the love and friendship you shared with all of us, but mostly my Mom and Dad. I know Mom and Dad always enjoyed spending time with you, but I can tell you with near certainty that the time the four of you spent snow-birding in the southwest through the years were some of the happiest times of their lives. They absolutely loved it. After spending 25 years braving the cold and nasty Wisconsin winters as a letter carrier, Dad was way more than ready to get away from Wisconsin’s coldest months and spend those days in the warmer weather of the southwest. We were always so envious of the four of you. You guys were spending those months taking it easy in the warm southwest and then in March arrive back here, tanned and beautiful while we were pale, recovering from frostbite and just hoping to see our first robin.

Hope you two know how much we love you and miss you. I hope that all the horseshoes you pitch up there land as ringers.

Much love- Jeff If you would like to be part of “Letters to . . .” contact Brian Wilson at [email protected] or call 715-748-2626.

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