Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Day I Heard Violins

Gretta in the north woods of Wisconsin

Preface: In 2002, Gretta and I fell in love in the little town of Crandon in Northern Wisconsin. It wasn’t Paris or Rome, but it was a place which taught us that life is what you make of it.

The Day I heard Violins
by Gregory E. Larson

           The pines of northern Wisconsin exhaled their scent on the warm July day, while Gretta and I perspired profusely as we pedaled our bikes for the start of a week-long tour. We had hoped the trip, with its route along the Wisconsin River, would provide relief from the Kansas heat, but the temperature had reached the 90s by early afternoon. The Wisconsinites on the tour were complaining about the heat and some of the riders were getting dehydrated. Other than the pine scent, it seemed like a summer day in Kansas to Gretta and me. We just put on more sunscreen and drank more water. No big deal.
A hot day in Wisconsin
          After fifty miles of pedaling, we arrived at the Crandon High School, the first night’s destination, and pitched our tents on the practice field. Crandon was in the north woods country, but there were no large trees around the school.  Inside the school, the muggy air in the hallways rudely made us aware that no air-conditioning existed in the building. Even with big fans and root beer floats in the cafeteria, everyone sweltered.
          This was our first week-long vacation together, and I was worried it was fast becoming a bad experience.  “What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked Gretta. Our eyes met. I made a quick decision. “Let’s ride the bikes into town and see if we can find a park . . . get some shade. It’s only a couple of miles.”
          Gretta eagerly responded, “Sounds like a plan. Let’s go.”
          I liked Gretta’s spirit. She was always ready for adventure. We felt better the moment we hopped on the bikes and rode in the cross-wind towards Crandon. Once in town, I looked left and right at each intersection, hoping to see a grove of trees, but nothing looked inviting. We noticed the Crandon Police Station and I said, “Let’s ask them if there’s a park in town.” I knew from experience the police have a wealth of information, including good places to eat.
          The officer at the front desk looked bored on the Sunday afternoon. He peered at us in our bike clothes and said, “Looks like you’re having fun. What can I do for you two?”
          “Well, we’re with the cyclists staying at the high school. We thought there might be a park in town to find some shade.”
          The officer’s eyes perked up and he responded, “I can do you one better than that. If you go back west one block and then south for six, you’ll be at Crandon Beach on the lake. It’s real nice . . . has trees for shade, grass for picnics and a sandy beach.”
          Gretta and I gave a look of incredible to each other.
          “Thanks for the info.” I opened the door for Gretta. “Let’s go.”
          We followed the instructions and coasted most of the way down to the lake. It was a one-way ticket to heaven on earth. The small beach had a family atmosphere of dogs, kids, and parents, a dozen people in all. Other than the two of us, there was not a single cyclist or bicycle in sight. I flopped onto the cool grass in the shade.
          Gretta sat beside me and said, “There’s no one here from the bike tour. Can you believe it? We’re the only ones here out of hundreds of cyclists.” A strong, south breeze flowed across the lake and onto the shore, while the white-capped waves rolled onto the beach causing the children to jump and laugh.
          I was amazed. All I could say was “Wow. This is so cool.”
          Gretta sat with her face to the wind, eyes closed. I suspected she was enjoying it, too. For the next few minutes we sat with legs outstretched and with our elbows propping us up to catch the breeze.
          I broke the silence. “The water looks like fun. You want to get wet?”
          I pulled the bike jersey up over my head and tossed it on the ground. Incredibly, Gretta did the same with hers. Thank goodness she was wearing a sports bra. We walked hand-in-hand to the beach where the wind, the waves, the freedom and relaxation – all of it washed over us. As the sand and water tickled our feet, we felt giddy and began to laugh.  Deeper and deeper into the water we waded, when all of a sudden a big wave appeared. Gretta jumped as a white-cap splashed us, we caressed and I held her with my arm under her knees and the other arm wrapped around her back.
          That’s when I heard the violins.
          Cupid cranked up the orchestra. I looked in Gretta’s eyes and thought why would I want to be with anyone else? Gretta’s eyes appeared to say the same thing, and we kissed. It was such a heavenly feeling. Her body seemed weightless in the water and I didn’t want to let go. I kept walking with her in my arms, hoping the bliss would never end. That was the moment I knew I was truly in love. I was convinced that good things happened when we were together.
          Eventually we strolled back to the shore where I found a fisherman’s cap which had washed up on the beach. I wore the wet cap as a memento, and we sat back down in the grass to dry off.
The fisherman's cap I found on the beach
          That’s when another cyclist rode into the park and brought over a six-pack of beer wrapped in a beach towel.
          He smiled and said, “I stopped at the store and got some beer . . . I thought there would be a lot of cyclists down here.”
          I replied, “We’re the only ones, but a beer sounds good to me.” We each opened a can and surreptitiously sipped the beer while we visited. It was a nice finish to a magical day.
          Over the years, we both reminisced about our walk in the lake at Crandon Beach. The rest of the bike tour was full of fun, laughter and adventure. Truly, it set the tone for our entire relationship and our future. We had discovered how to make our own happiness.
Making our own happiness
         Crandon. Whenever the word came up in our conversation, we’d give each other a dreamy gaze. It was the classic Gretta Factor - when I was with her, good things seemed to happen.
          I will always remember that special day when I held her in my arms and heard violins.

          Click the link above to hear Joshua Bell playing the violin to Claudio Monteverdi's ‘Pur Ti Miro’ which is Italian for ‘while I gaze.’ I listen to it and daydream about Gretta practicing her figure skating. I can see her starting out slowly gaining confidence and freedom on the ice, then doing little half-jumps and turns – a picture of contentment. As the music quickens I see her boldly jumping into the air. This was symbolic of her life in the last fifteen years – a person who was free to accomplish many things with the self-assurance and happiness that was visible to all.