It All Started With a Potato Cannon

A Lake Valhalla memory of Jim Lovell

By Rebecca Wanner Pearsall

Jimmy, Nancy and the boys had walked over to our Lake Valhalla home for our traditional breakfast; the boys took the shortcut through the woods, Nan and Jim walked the dirt lanes. We drank coffee and shared stories long before we sat down to eat. The kids and I spent almost every weekday morning with Jimmy but still, there was always more to talk about and to listen to. At breakfast, we spoke about family, kids, books, businesses, hiking, the history of our town and more. As the kids grew restless, Jim and Jay disappeared to the garage and emerged with a homemade potato cannon.

Jim Lovell (photo by Rebecca Wanner Pearsall)

Jim Lovell
(photo by Rebecca Wanner Pearsall)

Potatoes are not aerodynamic, so seeing a whole Idaho potato fly 300 feet in the air through the woods is something to behold. The kids laughed but Jim and Jay laughed even more. The next day Jimmy called Jay and said he wanted to take him somewhere. They drove off in Jay’s Bronco like guys on a mission. The first stop was at a family member’s local metal shop. “Since you like cannons, I think you’ll like these guys.”

The guys hung out and talked cannons – and then hiking trails – for longer than I could have ever imagined. Nancy and I were on the phone: “Are they still out? What could they possibly be doing?” After they left the shop, it turned out, Jim suggested trying the trail to a hidden lake. Jay agreed and tagged along most happily. Hours, a swooping owl sighting, and many stories later, they finally returned.

The next day, Jay took our family out to the hidden lake and retold the stories. When I think back to that family hike, I am sure Jimmy Lovell was with us but he wasn’t. From that day forward, when we wondered about the history of our area, the conversation always ended with “Let’s ask Jimmy Lovell, he’ll know.” And he would know; and he would tell us more.

Last winter, Jimmy and Finn were walking down the mountain in early hours of the frosty morning. Jay offered them a ride, but Jimmy declined. Later we got a message from Jimmy. “Thanks again to Jay but … I wanted Finn to cut his teeth on the Hudson Valley Rite of Passage that we all go through regarding cars and shovels in the dark in order to get to work. Long walks down the impassable dirt road in the dark with the giant full moon hanging over the mountain’s shoulder was a great thing for son and Dad.”

Dear Jimmy, thank you for letting us tag along.

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