~By Katie Blais
A bulk of my childhood summers were spent at the Swedish Social Club … a men’s club that my grandfather and dad belonged to … it was this huge old building on a lake that turned into a playground for my brother and my cousins and me on those hot summer days. It was a three story building that members could even rent for $100 a week during the summer weeks … the “bedroom” was the top floor … basically a large attic filled with about 30 beds… when I was really young there was no shower so we would take baths late at night in the lake …I can still smell the ivory soap and lake water like it was yesterday. There was a soda machine that actually dispensed the soda in glass bottles; a bar in the basement that my cousin Sarah and I would sneak into and play restaurant until we were found and yelled at by our moms; and a locker room that housed everyone’s floats and life vests and masked the old school pin up pictures hanging behind on the exposed beams. There was even an outhouse … which we would dare each other to stand in when we got bored swimming, or canoeing, or trying to catch fish. The food was always picnicking food: pb&j sandwiches, cheez its, plums, and blueberries from the wild blueberry bushes that were all over the pine grove where the long red picnic tables lived. Sitting on the dock in the middle of the lake and the scores of other memories that happened there are some of my favorites and I find my mind going back to them whenever I need a little bit of comfort.
One of the biggest “events” that happened at the SSC was their annual chicken BBQ … the first Sunday of August was always BBQ Sunday … it was the big fundraising event for the club and people from all over the area would buy tickets for a day of boating, swimming (always being a bit of an elitist, I never swam during BBQ Sunday, what usually felt like a private beach for us “regulars” got filled up with too many strange looking rat kids swimming in jeans or ill fitting bathing suits), and of course the best and cheapest grilled chicken meal.
Preparation would always start at the beginning of the summer, with my mom and grandmother grumbling that my dad and grandfather were again in charge of getting the food or selling tickets. The big day my dad and grandfather would get up early to start cooking, and also start drinking. At the back of the club there was a huge cinder block structure with a tin roof … the floor would be filled with charcoal and fired up before about 200 halved chickens were laid out on top of the coals all secure in large wire racks. All day the guys would spray the chicken with a mystery concoction (which my dad will still not reveal ) while drinking lots, I mean lots of cheap canned beer. Next to the “pit” as it was called was a large large pot where the corn was cooked … it was always my grandfathers job to watch the corn … and to drink copious amounts of alcohol … which we loved because the more he drank, the looser his regularly tight wallet would become … I think one time he gave us 20 bucks!
Inside the house was more reserved, the ladies would be assembling the salads: a garden salad and potato salad … I always enjoyed being outside with my dad and grandfather being silly and drinking orange soda in the sun but somehow I always got roped into being inside, sprinkling paprika on the potato salad or squirting the tiniest amount of watered down French dressing on top of lettuce and celery. There was always a yard sale, a raffle, and amazing people watching … the characters that came out of the wood work on this day could fill a novel! But when the food was finally done, when the men were pretty plastered, and the women were thoroughly annoyed at their husbands for being half in the bag, a bell would ring and everyone would line up … say a prayer (this was a very religious event of course, hee hee) and get eating … after lunch, large watermelons were cut and Swedish coffee and fruit punch were served. We would head home after the sun had set over the lake, sun burnt and tired, and for the following week our fridge at home would be filled with leftover potato salad and chicken.
I haven’t been to a chicken bbq in years and many of the members and the characters that added so much to the day have since passed, but sitting at our picnic table in the pine grove, clad in bathing suits and shorts eating that crispy greasy chicken and sweet buttery corn and laughing overlooking the lake is a memory so clear and so cherished that I like to revisit it regularly.