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updated: 10/23/2013 10:49 PM

The familiar North Country spots are still well worth a visit

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CRIVITZ, Wis. -- For those among the many readers who were fortunate to have parents who would scrimp for getaway trips to the North Country, consider yourself lucky.

I sincerely mean that, because there were some guys on my block in Chicago who never got beyond No man's land on Sheridan Road, just before Kenilworth.

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And even though scraping a "few nickels" together to keep the family jalopy in good enough shape to make it over the rutted roads, we breathed a sigh of relief when my father assured all the passengers that we would "make it" in grand style.

Of course, that in itself was adventure as the radiator cap became a deadly missile with oodles of pressure urging a launch sequence. When the hood was opened and the tired engine burped a few times we hid behind the huge trunk, hoping tragedy would be averted.

But when the traffic thinned out and the pines and spruce trees then sculpted the vast Wisconsin landscape, us kids knew we had stepped -- or ridden, as it were -- into the world of our dreams.

We knew about birch-bark canoes and hatchets. We had visions of rough-sawn log cabins with open hearths and dirt floors. And then just like that, it was time to unload the car and chow down. We had arrived.

Did I ever tell you how much of a dreamer I am?

Did I ever share with you how given the chance I would forsake everything I had in my Chicago neighborhood just to learn the ways of the woods and waters?

What you don't know is later in life I had that chance with my own cabin on Minnesota's Gunflint Trail. But I am way ahead of myself.

The "chowing down," as I called it, happened at the various supper clubs in and around Crivitz or Hayward. Those wonderful resort owners always greeted us as if they remembered our faces from their own pictorial Who's-Who of Chicago immigrants. The windows in our rooms were always opened to allow the breezes in. The rust stains were gone from the sinks and toilet bowls but never forgotten.

And so we entered the kingdoms of the local supper clubs. Places like the Shaffer Park Resort and eatery, with its famous chicken concocted by Mrs. Shaffer (some 60 years ago). The Peshtigo River Resort was a favorite back then, as was Rene's, right across the street from the main office of Popp's Resort, gently situated on a slight rise facing the famous High Falls Flowage.

Those memorable names of Popp's and Shaffer's became etched in my memory some 60 years ago. And it felt wonderful to see these places still in business, because far too many of the clubs and resorts my family knew had been either closed or sold off by the kids who inherited the properties and subsequently never had the desire to continue to make a go of it.

Even as a kid with wide eyes, when we entered through the front door I was flabbergasted by the length of the shiny mahogany bar. Cocktail times in these joints was an event to behold. Of course it was not very wise to be in your car when some of these clowns headed home.

Back here in Chicago the survivors of the great restaurant dynasties somehow manage to respect traditions, even though it also means raising prices to sky-high levels.

My late mother was right when she told me, "Nothing ever stays the same. Just make the most of it while you can."

•Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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