When Yankee’s editor-in-chief, Jud Hale, decided it was time to sell Liberty Street, the family lake house, his three sons came together to share their special memories of the place.
Part I: by Daniel Hale (middle son)
I remember well the awesome feeling of freedom being the captain of a boat without a parent. I was twelve. It wasn’t until the end of that first summer, in 1972, that I actually had the arm strength to start the motor and I wasn’t allowed to take the boat out on my own without being able to start it. Seemed unfair, as my Dad could start the thing with one pull and it wasn’t until my Dad saw that I could get it started, that he said, “Sure, you can go out on your own now.” I didn’t get too far out into the lake that first time before the motor died. Slight panic set in, as I wasn’t really sure I had any arm strength left after practically pulling my arm off just getting it started at the dock. Rescue number one by Dad.
I also learned the responsibilities of boating by not checking to see how much gas there was before taking off in the boat. Showing off my newfound freedom to a friend and wanting to get to the rope swing on Rattlesnake Island seemed so much more important that checking the gas level. Rescue number two.
One summer I needed to get back to my summer boarding house in Wolfeboro. My parents didn’t want me coming across the lake too much in bad weather. This particular night, I left for Wolfeboro after dark and my parents heard the boat sputtering as it rounded our point. I thought nothing of it. Once I got to the “broads” of the lake with no turning back and my lights starting to flicker, the engine on the boat completely died. I was 16, floating in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee, in the dark with a fairly strong northwest wind. I had checked everything and it just wouldn’t start…soon even the battery died, so now I didn’t have any safety lights. I only had a flashlight, but it, too, was getting dim. I decided to save the batteries in the flashlight in case a boat was flying along and couldn’t see me. I was tired, cold, scared, and alone. I figured it would take hours to finally drift onto shore. Suddenly, a boat did come toward me quickly. I waved the dimming flashlight, so the boat wouldn’t run me over. It wasn’t going to run me over…because it was my Dad. Rescue number three.
Dad had three rescues on me before I finally got a chance to pay one back. Living on the northwest point of an island gives you the opportunity to see and prepare for incoming storms. We had just tied most of the boats down, put dock furniture away, and brought in the drying towels, when a south gale blew across the lake, bringing white caps and a strong wind. We loved being safe inside and I think Dad was maybe having a glass of wine (maybe two). Suddenly, our canvas canoe blew off the dock and into the lake. My Dad ran out in front of me as we both headed down to the dock. For some reason, Dad drifted off the walkway shedding articles of clothing and his watch and jumped into the lake to swim after the canoe. (I think the wine was kicking in.) I, not being the greatest swimmer, decided to go out there by boat. As I pulled the boat around the point, I could see Dad was struggling to catch the canoe as it was being blown just as fast as he was swimming. Three rescues for Dad and one big one for his middle son.
Other memories include family birthdays, plane rides over the lake, scuba diving lessons at the sunken Lady of the Lake in Glenn Dale Cover, going to the Sand Bar to swim/fish, learning to waterski, barefoot ski, tubing, nighttime rides back from Weirs Beach following the moonbeam off the lake, fishing, cliff jumping, island hiking and sailing (both Sailfish and Windsurfer). We even waterskied at night once (full moon) but don’t tell the boat patrol. Anything you could think of in a boat or pulling behind a boat, we would try or do.
I also have great memories of working at Sandy Point, a restaurant in Alton Bay. Being able to take the boat to work with Ronnie Corning, a friend/neighbor on Sleepers. The great memory of Ronnie, who worked in the kitchen, coming into the game room, where I worked and saying, “Hey, Dan. Come check this out.” Ronnie had slipped on the back stairs carrying 6 huge jugs of salad dressing. He was covered in it, and what a mess.
I remember watching Dad throw a padlock into the lake, thinking it was the old broken one…it was the new one.
Also, getting to the Mt. Washington for a family birthday party just a little too late and watching it sail away without me.
And camping out on the floor in front of the fireplace trying to stay warm in the winter.
Part II by Christopher Briggs-Hale (youngest son)
My mother knows when Lake Winnipesaukee has something to teach. She’s always been uniquely tuned in to the subtlest of changes. Something growing in the moss or the way the wind crisscrossed just before a strange gale. So, when she yelled that there was a turkey at the top of a tree, I reacted. I walked out the back door of our kitchen onto the porch. Surrounded by towering white pines that sway massively in the lake breeze, it is an unlikely spot to look for a turkey. But my mother had indeed found a turkey—perched high in the long, thick trunks.
At first, I saw nothing and then, to my disbelief, a turkey was plummeting into the yawning sky between the trees. Wings spread wide, it had made the lunge from the top of one of the trees and was headed, in a steeping descending parabola, over the near vertical embankment at the shore of Sleepers Island. It was rocketing toward the shores of Rattlesnake Island a half-mile away. My mother, ever the empathic one for the plight of any creature in distress yelled, “He’s not going to make it.” The turkey, flapping madly, had made it about halfway to its landing site across the water, but it was clear it was not maintaining altitude. More frantic flapping was doing little to keep this bird above the white-capped waves that were blowing in with the rainy southeasterly wind. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” my mother whispered. A water landing was inevitable.
Of course, when one thinks of waterfowl, the word “landing” is assumed. Ducks land with slightly extended webbed feet, and waterski gracefully to a sliding stop in the water. Turkeys do not possess the same water-friendly equipment. As we were soon to discover, when the turkey makes water landing, it is a large, abrupt splash.
It was time to take action. Running with my son Spencer, then eight years old, we reached our 12-foot aluminum boat named “Pudda,” a name I’d given it 35 years previously, and slid it off the end of the dock, making sure that we had put the bilge plug in. With the 4 hp engine bubbling away, we floored it and carved a slow arc away from the dock through the smooth waters that, on this side of the island, were still in the lee of the wind. Coming around the point, I told Spencer to hold on—the white caps and rollers were as tall as our boat. Spencer squealed with delight.
“Can you see it?” I asked. I honestly thought a turkey would sink like a rock. “Not yet, Dad,” said Spencer. Spray was now pounding off the front of the boat.
When I spied the bird in the distance, just its head and a long slender neck, it was not clear if it was struggling or sinking. Then I saw it: the telltale faint swirls, just behind its neck, of eddies in the water. The bird was moving forward with intention and purpose. “Well, I’ll be,” I thought, “This bird is swimming!”
As we approached, it dawned on me that I had no idea what I was doing. How, exactly, does one rescue a forty pound wild animal with a six foot wingspan? Do I grab it? Where exactly? Will a turkey placidly accept my good deed and acquiesce to my peaceful lifting into the boat? Or will I be pecked into a skeleton as in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film The Birds? The latter seemed more likely.
“Hey, Spence,” I called out. “I think we’re just going to have to ride alongside him and guide him to shore.”
Clearly the bird was not sinking. And it was obvious, now, that it knew where its destination was and how to get there. As it approached the rocks where waves now crashed, we could see its head darting back and forth, searching.
Then, deftly, and with a skill I didn’t know turkeys had, it rode a wave onto a mossy spot between two rocks. There, it rested for about a minute while the water drained from its wings and feathers.
When we returned home, we were greeted by family on the dock, eager to hear the details of our heroism. “Did you save the bird?” “How’d you do it?”
It was difficult to explain that this time, we’d not well understood what was going on. The turkey clearly knew what it was doing and had planned the whole thing. It knew how far it could fly and it knew how far it could swim. Most importantly, it knew something about Rattlesnake Island and that a windy, wavy day was the best way to be lifted gently onto its shores.
Like so many times before, Lake Winnipesaukee chose to share something we couldn’t fully understand. But what a delightful memory.
Part III by J. D. Hale, Jr. (oldest son)
I remember doing two things that first summer at our new island lake place: trying to build a soccer/baseball field out of the woods, and getting my first summer job.
The summer job was as a stock boy/handyman at the Wise Owl grocery store in West Alton. Looking back, I know we didn’t get much grocery business since one of my jobs was “dusting” the canned foods on the shelves. I cleaned breakfast dishes, made beds in their 8 cabins, mowed, and fixed stuff (usually the dock). It was very exciting to have that first real job. I still tell folks at the store today that I worked here and now that it’s been more than 42 years ago, they don’t know the owner I reference.
The interesting part about building that “soccer field” was that my dad would come up on Fridays, and on each Sunday before he left I would give him an updated tour of the field. You see there were trees that needed to be taken out. And both my mom and dad hated ANY trees being touched. But he could see what I was up to, so he would say, “You can take this tree and this tree, but not these trees.” My job after work or early in the morning that week before he came back on Friday was to take them all! By the roots. Otherwise, he’d know I had taken it against his wishes. So I would chop the roots with an ax till the tree fell, and then drag that baby as deep into the inner part of the island as I could. Eventually, I had a “field” right there in the woods behind our bunkhouse. And soon I’d also built a soccer goal, a basketball net, a backboard and a “bang-board” to dribble a soccer ball against, or use as a whiffle ball backstop. I even built an obstacle course that started and finished on the “field.” It all worked, even with major granite rocks (that I could not move) popping up here or there—and it was used by my own kids about 25 years later.
I remember that Dan and I would waterski after work with no spotter (against the law). In fact we waterskied so much that we became pretty darn good at it (never getting wet, starts and stops on the dock!), but the thing that nailed us was that we liked to spray, but it was really hard to see your own spray. So we went over to Rattlesnake Island and it had some rock cliffs, and we found we could spray those and see how high we could get those water marks up on the cliff. We were always competing, of course. Well, one day the Marine Patrol saw my brother Dan was spraying the rocks. I was the kid that never got into trouble so…I panicked a bit and headed right over to the officer when the blue lights began flashing from his boat. I was cited for not having a spotter. I was cited for bringing a skier within 150 feet of the shore (we were like 2 ft from the shore) AND I was cited for leaving my brother floating alone in the lake while I was talking to the officer!
I have so, so many other memories. I have a late July birthday, so all of my birthday parties have been at Liberty Street. From 12 to now 55 this July. That’s a lot of birthdays.
I particularly remember my 30th. I was about to cut the cake, surrounded by family and college friends, and I just happened to notice that the cake was made of sponge, like a kitchen sponge and then frosted to look like a nice cake. The gag would be that the knife would not cut into it. But since I noticed this before I cut, and with everyone around— and feeling good—I took my barefoot and slapped it down on top of the cake to “leverage” my cut. Well, that brought down the house, and the photo from that moment hung on the wall next to the kitchen—my foot on that cake and my red face bearing down on the knife.
My 40th was there with my kids and my wife Cindy. We all had to do games that involved the number 40—one involved a flotilla using all the collected crap from under the house. My 50th was recent and so fun. I can never, truly, ever remember a birthday there without the temperature being in the 80s, beautiful sun and no bugs—apparently they can’t breed on the island.
In recent years, my favorite things to do were to take the boat to Sandy Point in Alton Bay for summer dinner and the lobster special (twin BO for like $18), or take the kids waterskiing or tubing, or just reading, relaxing, and enjoying the sights and sounds on the lake on a warm summer day.
It is a very special place. Hardy and luxurious. Settling and very active. And you will always respect Mother Nature on Lake Winnipesaukee.