Archived Story

Mail deliveries made via boat in 1950s [UPDATED]

Published 4:00am Monday, September 9, 2013 Updated 6:00am Monday, September 9, 2013

Now and then a person hears about mail delivery from boat to dock on a lake.

We experienced this in the mid-1980s while spending a week on an island at Cass Lake, east of Bemidji.

There also are stories about mail delivery, in bygone years, at Otter Tail Lake. Recalling those days is Mara Renier who currently lives in Cambridge, north of Minneapolis.

Now in her 50s, Renier said she was two weeks old when her parents, Lew and Marilou Johnson, who were raised in Breckenridge, brought her to Otter Tail Lake for the first time.

Renier was raised in Fridley, near the Twin Cities.

“My grandfather owned a cabin at Otter Tail Lake. My parents had already spent many happy days there, as had my sister and brothers,” said Renier. “We spent most of every summer there in the 1960s and 1970s. It was our Garden of Eden.”

While speaking on the telephone with me Thursday morning, Renier said she could talk all day long about her special memories of Otter Tail Lake.

Communication between cabins back then was primitive but that was part of the charm.

“When my mom wanted to relay a message to my aunt down the shore, on the northwest side of the lake, she sent us in the boat to deliver it,” said Renier. “We’d dutifully wait while my aunt wrote her response. I corresponded regularly with my friends back home, but we had no mailbox.”

Mel’s Market, run by the Melby family, was the command center of the shoreline.

All personal mail was delivered to his store and he served as postmaster.

Any important phone calls were made from the pay phone in Mel’s Market. Renier said it was the Byerly’s of the lake with its spectacular array of fresh fruits and meats.

Mel’s Market later became Lakeside Market on the west side of Otter Tail Lake.

“I remember waking up every morning and listening for the sound of waves,” she said. “If it was a wavy, whitecap day, we’d be in search of alternate activities such as sophisticated hide-and-seek games involving the entire shoreline.”

Renier said that Otter Tail Lake had two personalities.

“When it was wavy, it was angry. When I woke to the sound of calm waters, I knew it was going to be another great day at the lake.”

She said they were never bored.

“There was always something to explore, although my brothers’ explorations were far more adventurous than mine.”

When she was 15, her grandfather sold the cabin. It wasn’t until 1996 when Renier heard of a great private rental opportunity.

“By then I had a family of my own, with a husband (Budd) and two young boys, Joe and Sam, ages two and four,” she said. “I was so grateful to have Otter Tail Lake back in my life again. I worried about my boys growing up without my magical experience there.”

For the past 17 years they’ve enjoyed the lake just as much as Renier ever did.

“I cry when we arrive and the boys cry when we have to leave,” she said. “That’s probably because Otter Tail Lake was introduced to me so early in life. I feel as if that’s where my soul resides. I can feel myself coming alive again when we approach the lake.”

A few years ago she started to put together a video compilation of each summer.

That’s become her creative outlet as well as a means of surviving the winter.

Some of the aforementioned recollections also have been shared, by Renier, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Otter Tail Lake is a magnificent lake,” she said. “It was made precious to me by the many nostalgic memories I have, and also by the wonderful times I’m able to share there with my new family. I can’t imagine life without it.”

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