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By Bill Mead
Columnist Emeritus 

That Lost Island summer

The Overall Picture


Today, We Honor The Overall Man Classic Bill Mead

Reprinted with permission.

Last week for no particular reason I thought about my Lost Island summer, reaching back nearly 50 years and a couple of thousand miles. Old men so that a lot, I’m finding out.

Lost Island Lake is in northern Iowa. It isn’t very big, perhaps two square miles, but it looms large in my memory because it is where Dad and I reached a turning point in the way we felt about each other. Under straw hats, we discovered that we would always be different people but we would always be good friends nevertheless.

My Lost Island summer was in 1942, just before I started high school. Up to that time, Dad and I were barely more than strangers. We weren’t hostile; there was just a barrier between us that neither of us wanted or understood.

I was eight years old when Mom and Dad took me into their home as an orphan. Mom and I hit it off from the start, becoming closer than most blood relatives. Perhaps that made it harder for Dad, being such a quiet man. Mom and I could jabber incessantly about anything while Dad and I just weren’t able to share small talk easily. Then came that Lost Island summer.

I can’t remember why we started going there. It lasted only one summer.

That Lost Island summer will always stay with me because it was the first occasion when Dad and I spent any extended time together, just the two of us.

On the magic weekends, our routine was the same. Dad and I would take a rented rowboat to the middle of the lake and anchor it with an oil can filled with concrete. Then we would break out our tackle, which consisted of cane poles with corks on the line. When the bullhead grabbed the hook the cork would go “ploop” and we would haul out a fish. Needless to say, it was not a strenuous activity; hardly even sporting. It left a lot of time to talk, which we did, self-consciously at first and then with growing ease.

Fishing was good that year at Lost Island. When we rowed back to shore at sunset, Dad and I would trade yarns with other fishermen, the two of us enjoying the unaccustomed male comradeship.

By the time we went home from our last fishing trip in September and laid the poles across the rafters in the garage, ready for the next Lost Island summer that never came, Dad and I had narrowed the gap between us to where we didn’t think about it anymore. He was still awkward in expressing his feelings to me and I continued to direct most of my chatter at Mom, but that was okay. I knew by then that Dad loved me far more than he was able to say. I think our time on the lake had satisfied him that I was filled with good-natured blarney rather than parental disrespect. At any rate, we both knew we were over the hump. We had become just two guys who liked each other.

As that long-ago summer ended, we had no way of knowing that we had said goodbye to many things. Pearl Harbor came a few weeks later and Lost Island became just one more pleasant memory to savor during the coming years. Dad’s business consumed his attention throughout World War II and by the time it ended, we were in California.

Many years ago we buried Dad on a mountainside in Southern California, far from the old boats and bullheads. But memories of the Lost Island summer keep crowding out thoughts of his landlocked resting place. When I think of him, which seems to happen more often these days, I see a gentle man and a stringbean son lounging over cool water on a mellow summer afternoon, building a bridge that lasted 40 more years.

If you don’t know Bill: Bill Mead was the longtime publisher of the Tehachapi News, along with Betty Mead, his wife and partner of more than 50 years. Known for his keen wit, which could be gentle or scathing or somewhere in between but was often self-deprecatory, Bill’s writing won him a wide following among News readers. His column “The Overall Picture” ran in the News for more than 25 years, and in 1999 he published a collection of his columns in a volume entitled The Napa Valley Outhouse War. His book is currently available for sale at the Tehachapi Museum for $10.

Bill had a remarkable mind and because of his intelligence, humor and appearance he was regarded by many as Tehachapi’s Mark Twain. As Betty used to remind him, he was “older than the oldest Model A Ford” and his wealth of life experiences and rural upbringing allowed him to bring a thoroughly American, 20th century perspective to his reflections and musings on the everyday. Bill passed away in 2008 but his writing lives on.

[Publisher’s note: I read Bill’s articles during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s and I am grateful to share them now with our you. I hope you enjoy this touch of nostalgia as much as I do.]


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