Sunday, June 3, 2012

Best Summer Memories....Family Vacations in Clear Lake, Iowa

My Brother Steve at Hilltop Pool
For a kid, a great summer vacation doesn't have to be a European trip that costs 5k per person.  Growing up in "America's Hometown" Charles City, Iowa both my mom and dad operated retail businesses.   Time off was tough to find, but we always seemed to find 3-4 days a couple of times each summer for a family vacation.   Our favorite destination was Clear Lake, Iowa.   Clear Lake was less than an hour's drive from Charles City, but for us kids, it was just as exciting as a summer in Europe.

Our favorite place to stay was 'The Hilltop Motel' which was operated by Al and Louise Allen, good friends of our family.   Clear Lake and the grounds of The Hilltop were full of places to explore:  The Dairy Queen was a favorite.  And there's no better meal than a foot-long hot dog after swimming all day.   Just across the street was the legendary Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly played his last show.   Although I was too young to attend concerts, I watched with great interest as bands like Tommy James & The Shondells, The Grassroots and The Guess Who all came through town to play The Surf.

In Chicago with my son Mac (2004)
One of our most memorable Clear Lake adventures was during the summer of 1968, a year of political and social turbulence.  In August the country was on edge after the violent Democratic National Convention in Chicago.   Woodstock was happening.  And in Iowa, there was a powerful rumor circulating that The Hells Angels were going to come rolling into Clear Lake to 'take over' the town over Labor Day weekend.  People got so worked up that the Governor of Iowa called out the National Guard to protect the town.  I was 11 that year and remember being very excited to see military jeeps and personnel all over town.  Nothing materialized as far as the Hells Angels...but us kids got some great memories out of the deal.

As a dad I've thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my son on vacation.  We make it to Iowa at least once a year...usually over July 4th.  And this year, Mac's really excited about going to New York City for the first time.  More on NYC as the trip unfolds.  Until then, I hope you have a great summer that includes some vacation time with your family. 

-Pete Thomson