Runyan Lake — Second Paradise
By Carmen Schultz
Next to my home in Fenton, my favorite place was my grand parents home at Runyan Lake. Runyan Lake was named from a family who owned much of the property in that area and still had a large farm there. The lake was about three miles outside of Fenton and there couldn’t have been a more beautiful or more fun place in this world. My Grandfather, (Guy Andrew Lyons) worked in Detroit, about 2 hours from Runyan Lake and so spent much time away. This meant we had my Grandmother, (Josephine Agnes Krajenke Lyons) all to ourselves and what a grandmother she was. She was a fantastic person-always looking for ways to make our days full of love and enchantment. She couldn’t read or write but the things she could pack into a day to make us happy was outstanding. I would bring my reader and speller to her house and teach her how to write when I was eight or nine. She was so proud when she wrote a letter to my mother in Fenton and we mailed it together. She didn’t know how to swim herself but taught every one of the grandchildren how. Gram would tie a rope around our waist and throw us off the end of the dock. She’d keep that rope just tight enough to keep us from going under and we’d paddle our hearts out trying to keep a float. Each child knew how to swim like a fish.
Runyan Lake had two islands we called the little and the big islands. When my Grandparents moved there they were good sized islands but as the years went by the water kept washing them away until finally by the time the grandchildren came along, little island was only sand three or four inches under the water and the big island was about half mile big though covered with trees. The challenges to all us kids, was to be able to swim out to the little island by ourselves. It was, maybe a half mile from shore, and finally as young teens to be able to swim across the lake to the big island. We’d have picnics at the big island several times a year. Gram would row us all over and set up a fire so we could roast our foot long hot dogs and marshmallows. The final challenge was to swim Runyan Lake’s length. Jerry was the first to do this and so was a hero to the rest of us.
Grandpa had built a long dock with a platform at the end and two benches facing each other. This is where gram and I did our most secret talking or where she’d tell us stories about when she was little. The cottage was made of rock and was quite a nice home. There were two huge bedrooms; in our bedroom there was two double beds and two dressers. We had big windows throughout the house and our bedroom window faced VilleMontes cottage so we could be out and running the moment we saw movement over there that meant they were up and we could start our day of fun. Otherwise we’d go swimming early and wait till the VilleMontes woke up. Bud and I were early risers up by six or seven and Dale and Jerry enjoyed their sleep and usually didn’t get up until eight or nine. Those were two and three long hours for us.
Our bathroom was off the garage (so when we came in with wet bathing suits which was always, we’d not get the house messy.) The kitchen was also large and always full of great smells from grandma’s good stuff to eat. The dinning room was for special occasions and when the adults would play cards, which was several times a week. My grandma, grandpa and the Odells, or my grand parents and my mom and dad would play cards there. The whole front of the house was a screened porch that made up a family room and setting room. You could smell the honey suckle flowers that hung over the arbor and there were bushes of little pink flowers that when grandpa would open up the flowers would make boats with a lady in the center. There was a big beautiful willow tree in the front yard with its graceful branches. Those graceful branches would really sting if you did something wrong and grandma used one to switch you. Our families had been together for several generations, first the Odells and the Lyons were best friends, than their kids (my mom and Jerry and Dales Mom who had married Paul VilleMonte) and finally Jerry, Dale, Bud and I.
Jerry and Dales cousin Duane would come out to the lake a couple weeks out of the year and that is how I met him. I was about 11 and he was 14. He was older than all of us and treated me pretty special. Jerry, Duane and I would go boating in the evening and sing our hearts out. I really enjoyed when Duane came to the lake as he was such a funny person and we had such a good time together. He was always telling me jokes or singing silly songs that I just loved. He was quite a letter writer and so was I so we corresponded when he had to go back to Detroit. It was nice knowing that I was remembered after summer vacation was over. We continued writing each other when he went into the service and my family had moved back to Texas. He came to visit me in Texas and later we married. This united the VilleMontes, (Duane’s mother was Dolores VilleMonte before she married Bernard Schultz) with the Lyons (my mother was Francis Mary Lyons Castillo). The families, who had been life long friends for generations were now blood relations.
There was a small lake off Runyan Lake we called Turtle Lake. When our parents were all teens, they dug a small passage through from Runyan to Turtle Lake and you could (with much pushing and poling) get a narrow boat though. Most the time one of the boys, usually Jerry, would have to get out into the water and push the boat. This wouldn’t have been too bad except that who ever got into the water there could most certainly come out with blood-suckers attached to him. You notice I said HIM. There was no way you were going to get me into that channel. Turtle Lake was covered with lily pads and full of turtles and frogs. It was dark with trees overhanging and since not many people were up to braving getting through-IT WAS OURS ALONE. This was a secret place.
Grandma really had a green thumb and anything she touched grew beautifully. Coming up the long drive way you could admire the large garden she took care of all by herself. She raised everything the family would need to eat. There were black berry bushes at the end of the garden-strawberries that made the best desserts, melons both water melon and mush melon, vegetables and tomatoes, enough not only for the family but for canning catsup and neighbors to enjoy. There was a little patch to one side of the garden where she would bury her food garbage and coffee grounds. This was called our worm garden and we always had worms for fishing. There was a crab tree in the back yard. The apples were little and bitter but they were great for throwing when you had crab apple wars.
Bud, Jerry, Dale and I were the best of friends and seldom did anything unless it was together. We were, swimming, boating or fishing and on occasion would take journeys the other side of the road to our rope swing that was tied to a huge tree. Its limb hung way over a deep gorge. It was frightening which made it all the more tempting to chance swinging out on it, until one day the parents found out about it and that was the end of our rope swing. We’d climb up a long narrow (dangerous) path that led to Runyan’s pasture. Getting though the pasture was another challenge as there was a huge mean bull out there that loved chasing us. We had to be pretty fast to get to the other side and over the fence. After that it was a short jog to where there was a deep grassy incline that we could roll down. Than it was back up the hill, running through the pasture, climbing down the long narrow (dangerous) path and over the road to grandmothers’ house again.
This was Runyan Lake and what a wonderful memory my grandparents gave their grandchildren.
(Dave’s Notes: In 2001 I asked the family elders to write a little article on their memories of Runyan Lake in the 40s. This is the 2001 submission of my mothers.)