George D. Schultz’
Memories of Runyan Lake
Some of the happiest days of my childhood were spent at Runyan Lake. My grand-parents – Paul and Kate VilleMonte – took me out to their lake cottage there from the time I was five or six years old. The first few years – till about 1938 or 1939 – there was no electricity. It was not till the early-forties that the cottage had inside plumbing.
Still, I loved it! Could not figure out why Grandma and Grandpa didn’t live out there – despite the lack of electricity and/or plumbing! Of course, it would’ve meant Grandpa would have to have driven 105 miles a day – just to go to work. About half of the route was dirt-road and the cars were Neanderthal – but, it still would’ve made sense to me!
We’d get out to the cottage late of a Friday evening – having had to go, first, in to Fenton, three miles to the north, where Carmen lived. Grandpa would pick up a 50-pound block of ice for the icebox. Although there wasn’t much to do, Friday night, it was neat – just sitting there, talking, with my grandparents. The kerosene lamps added a soft, warm, exceptionally-charming, touch – although I didn’t realize any of this at the time.
Saturday was my day! Was able to play with some of my friends. Beverly Burke lived two doors away. Or go down to Grandma and Grandpa O’Dell’s cottage – if Jerry and Dale were out that weekend. Grandpa VilleMonte most usually took me fishing, on Saturday! I think I spent most of my Saturday afternoons in the rowboat with Grandpa.
Sundays were less than thrilling – mainly because we had to go to church. St. John’s Catholic Church, in Fenton, was – so the legend goes – literally built by the farmers in the area. It was constructed of stone. The Mass began at 10:15 AM – and never finished before noon. Carmen loved Father Tighe, the pastor. But, he was so slow! He looked like actor Louis Stone – who played Mickey Rooney’s father in the Andy Hardy flicks.
We never got back to the cottage before 12:30 PM. Grandma would whomp up a huge breakfast. When we finished eating, I only had a couple hours left to play. About three o’clock, Grandma would start to pack for the trip back to Detroit. The saddest times of my life, I’d always thought, were when we’d leave the cottage.
The VilleMontes and O’Dells, I think, bought their lots at Runyan Lake at about the same time – the mid-twenties. From what I understand Grandma and Grandpa Lyons bought their lot during that same period. The Lyons’ cottage was two doors away from Grandma and Grandpa O’Dell’s. Grandma and Grandpa O’Dell were Aunt Genevieve’s parents.
There were five VilleMonte siblings. They bought five lots – side by each – at Runyan Lake. They all built cottages on their lots. Or had them built.
The southern-most lot was bought by Uncle Frank and Aunt Susie. I don’t know who was the VilleMonte. I think it was Uncle Frank. They didn’t have children – none that I ever knew of, anyway. Their cottage was down off the hill – close by the lake.
The next lot – to the north – was bought by my grandparents. Grandpa VilleMonte built his cottage himself – up on the hill.
The third lot was bought by Uncle Charlie and Aunt Ada – my grandfather’s brother. It was always terribly disturbing to me that Grandpa and Uncle Charlie refused to speak to one another – for the last 25 or 30 years of Grandpa’s life – despite the fact that their mother, on her death bed, had asked them to reconcile. Uncle Charlie built his cottage down off the hill – about the same distance from the water as Uncle Frank’s. Up on the hill, though, Uncle Charlie had built a long, unpainted, garage. (The only car that I’d ever seen him drive was a 1941 Chrysler.) The garage was a bit of an eyesore – and was located a couple or three feet outside the dining room/bedroom window of my grand-parents’ cottage. Not much of a view from the window by their bed.
The next lot – up on the hill – was owned by Aunt May. She was, I’m convinced, the VilleMonte. She must have been a widow. If memory serves, her last name was Brundage. I’d only met her three or four times in my life – and was a little kid. At Aunt May’s funeral, I was shocked! I was maybe nine or ten – and all I heard anyone talk about, was all the rotten things she’d done in her life. No one had anything nice to say about her. I was incredulous. I couldn’t imagine anyone being that bad.
The fifth lot – which was closer to the lake (the hill was leveling out, at that point) – was owned by Aunt Beck and Uncle Harry. Aunt Beck, I’m sure, was the VilleMonte. Their last name was Wheeler. When I was a little kid, they sold their cottage – to the Burke family – and moved to a big house (just the two of them) on the dirt road in to New Hudson. It was on the way into and out from Detroit, and Grandma and Grandpa used to stop in and visit with them quite often.
During the war, Mrs. Burke – whose family had bought Aunt Beck’s cottage – had paint-ed her legs. Lots of women did that, during World War II – because nylon stockings were almost impossible to buy. Mrs. Burke was the only woman, with painted legs, I’d ever seen in a bathing suit. Weird! I had a crush on her daughter, Beverly – who looked like Shirley Temple. She was about the same age as Carmen and Jerry. After my grand-parents had sold their cottage (which left me devastated) Jerry had a bit of a “thing” for Beverly. That upset Carmen pretty good.
As stated, I was crushed when Grandma and Grandpa sold their cottage! Fortunately, Uncle Paul would take me out to Grandma O’Dell’s cottage virtually every summer – for a couple weeks. That was where I met Carmen. She and Buddy and Jerry and Dale and I enjoyed the camaraderie! How Aunt Gen ever put up with us, I’ll never know.
When Grandpa O’Dell died – a very young man – Uncle Paul (who’d met Aunt Gen at Runyan Lake) took over the cottage. Jerry and Dale (lucky stiffs) got to spend the summer out there every year! Bud and Carmen lived only three miles away – and were out at Grandma Lyons’ cottage all the time! I don’t think I was ever so jealous in my life!
There’ll never be another place – nor another time – like those days at Runyan Lake
(Dave’s Note: This is in response to my 2001 request of an article of the memories of Runyan Lake in the 40s)