Amazing Journey: 2.1

Family...The One True Constant


There once was note

Pure and easy

Playing so free, like a breath rippling by 

~ The Who


Please don’t feel that my young life was a frustrating nightmare, completely scared by those miserable locker-room bullies at Lance. Not by a long shot.

Beginning in the summer of 1970, if the sun was shining on a Saturday morning you could count on one thing – the Vagnoni families were headed west on highway C to the “cottage” located on the shore of scenic Camp Lake, Wisconsin.

Because of our heritage, the “cottage” was more commonly referred to as La Casa Da Lago, which roughly translated to “the house on the lake.” It was perfect for our weekend family getaways.

As romantic as the name La Casa Da Lago might sound, the cottage was in reality a beat-up monstrosity in dire need of much repair. The 2-story structure was built into the side of a huge hill and featured 4 bedrooms and a spooky attic.

As far as it being a getaway, it was actually less than 20 miles away and on a good day you could make it out there in about 30 minutes. That is, unless you were riding out there with Uncle David in his infamous AMC Marlin. Then you would be there in 15 minutes and would have heard at least fifty different songs played at a very loud volume on his car stereo. It was great.

On any given weekend, the headcount would typically be twenty. The only time the number fluctuated was when one of us kids could talk the folks into letting us bring a friend along.

Or if any members of the Allegretto, Curi, Maccari, Ficcadenti, Ventura or Pulera families happened to pay a visit. You get the picture; there were usually a considerable number of people of Italian descent visiting western Kenosha County on weekends during the summer.

The routine was the same each weekend at the cottage. Everyone arrived before noon and us kids knew was expected – we had to perform hard manual labor before we could even think about having fun. Hard manual labor meant picking up sticks.

Now picking up sticks may not seem too terribly taxing. That is until you consider the lawn at the bottom of the massive hill was at least 40 yards wide. Plus, there were dozens of enormous trees on the property with all but a couple of them located at the top of the hill.

Oh, did I mention that the hill was extremely steep? If my memory serves me correctly, it was at about a 45° angle. By the time we finished picking up all of the sticks we were walking like goats.

In case you were wondering what our folks were doing while us kids were slaving away, they too were busy. Our mothers were inside cooking, washing dishes or sewing.

I’m not really sure. I do know that our fathers were mowing the lawn – on a riding mower. They didn’t trust us on it yet, which was probably wise on their part. Eventually we finished picking up all of the sticks and the lawn was pristine.

After the lawn mower was put away it was time to play. Out came the Duke. The Duke was an orangish football that had a small bulge the size of a golf ball on one side. We jokingly referred to it as the pregnant football.

We didn’t mind, it was a football and playing with it was better than picking up sticks. At least we were able to have a little fun.

At that age, having fun was a good thing. Plus, I am blessed to be part of the Vagnoni family. The Vagnoni cousins are closer than most brothers and sisters are. I am not exaggerating. It was almost scary.

The only drawback was that when we were bad, we not only worried about what Mom or Dad would do to us, but also what our Aunts and Uncles would do as well. But for the most part, when the Vagnoni cousins were at the cottage, we were going to have fun. This was especially true when we got to go swimming.

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Vagnoni family togetherness at the cottage was never more evident than during swimming trips to Sandy’s Resort. Sandy’s was located on the other side of Camp Lake and it usually required several vehicles to get there, or sometimes only one vehicle.

That would be my folks’ station wagon. Remarkably, there would be a total of eleven of us in that station wagon, counting Mom and Auntie Janet. Besides driving, their main responsibility was keeping the unruly mob in check.

And we were a mob, no question about it. At that time our rowdy throng consisted of my brothers Mike and Joey, sister Teri, cousins John Dean, Susie, Mark, Danny, Annie and myself.

Over time, the Vagnoni cousin total would increase when Uncle David and Aunt Bonnie added four lovely daughters – Melissa, Melinda, Michelle and Mallory.

I’m not sure what was more fun, the hair-raising trip to Sandy’s or the actual swimming. Once we got to the beach you could count on something that would include violence with the possibility of injury. One such activity was a game we invented called Creamola. It featured a yellow, plastic football that had holes in it. I you would call it a wiffle football.

Anyway, the game started by tossing the wiffle football into the air in between all of the participants. When the football first hit the water it would float, but as it filled with water it would begin to sink. As the plastic football slowly disappeared beneath the surface, the person nearest it became the object of the other competitors’ aggression.

That’s right, the rest of us would attack the poor schmuck that had the misfortune of being too close to the sinking football. There was never a case of one of us drowning.

The mayhem would continue until the football was completely submerged. At that point we would get off of our victim, toss the football in the air and start another round of the raucous game.

Another way we had fun at Sandy’s Resort was our version of aquatic king of the hill. For some unknown reason there was an old, rusty 55-gallon drum sunken in the water just beyond the sand bar.

You could see the top twelve inches of the drum above the water. It had once been white but now was mostly a brown color from all of the corrosion. Around the top edge there were many jagged edges where the metal had totally eroded.

You get the picture. It was ideal for kids to climb onto and then try to stay there while other kids took turns at smashing into it while trying to knock them off. Don’t worry we all had our tetanus shots. The Vagnoni cousins knew how to have fun.

Growing up, I was very comfortable being around my cousins at the cottage. After all, I was second in the pecking order behind my cousin John Dean with brother Mike right behind me. My young life was pretty good when I was at the cottage at Camp Lake.