Memories of Manitou

I’m sitting in the grassy tranquility of Manitou Park, and as the river gently winds and flows past me, childhood memories come to the surface. This beloved park has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

As a child, my dad and older brothers would let me tag along to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon fishing on the banks of the river in Manitou Park. The rhythm of the lines cast upon the water would capture my imagination, mesmerizing this carefree little girl for hours on end.

As I grew older, Manitou became a cool hang-out for all the pre-teen girls on my block. In the spirit of Robin Hood, we would each pillage our homes, forging for anything edible that we could use for a picnic. We longed to be all grown-up, so if we were lucky enough to score some hotdogs or hamburger meat that we could cook ourselves, that made our day. And don’t forget the cheese! No respectable Wisconsite plans a picnic without it. We would shout with glee over all the ‘treasures’ we pirated, and then pedal our bikes to Manitou, with our backpacks heavy-laden with booty. After we ate until we couldn’t anymore, we would lie by the river, letting our minds wander off to the usual things young girls dream of, while we watched the billowing clouds roll by.

I remember one particular Saturday afternoon; we picked the wild white flowers in the fields, tied hundreds of them together in a chain, and carried them up to the train trestle in a funeral-like procession. We hung them from the trestle, and then quickly scurried back down to the bottom, hoping a train would come and carry our hopes and dreams off into the future. We waited for hours, but the train never came.

As I entered my teenage years, I still found myself sitting at Manitou Park in quiet contemplation. One night in particular stands out in my memory. It was the night before my first day of school at Lincoln High. I had spent the last carefree day of summer with Mark, my future husband, and his best friend Ron. We headed home late that night, feeling anxious about the unknown of being tossed into a group of other angst-filled teenagers, to make our way into a very uncertain future.

We weren’t quite ready to call it a day, so Mark pulled his rusty old pickup truck into Manitou, and the three of us sat quietly, side by side, contemplating life as the big, bright moon stoically streamed its light onto the rippling river, reminding us that this night was but a flicker in the grand scheme of life.

The mystery of Manitou still draws me close today. I have passed the torch of Manitowoc’s old romantic park on to my children and grandchildren. They must make memories of their own here. I can only share the legacy of this little piece of paradise that was handed down from the Indians who, in their reverence for this park, named it after this historic city, given the name of ‘Manitowoc’ which means “Home of the Great Spirit.”