"A Spearfish Lake Story"
"John, Iíd heard you had a pretty good job in Camden," Brandy asked. "That was a while ago, now."
"It was a good job, but it was nothing special, either," John replied. "Basically commercial accounting, but we had a heck of a client load. I had to put in a lot of hours, and that made it hard on Candice with the two small kids. The money was OK, but I was pretty well locked into a program where there wasnít going to be a lot of advancement, either. But, Iíd known that when I started and figured that I wasnít going to stay there forever. I took a few days off to go down to Decatur to interview with Walker, Wade and Garcia, and they were ready to hire me, but I could see it was going to be more of the same thing. So, while I was down there, I did some nosing around and wound up doing corporate bookkeeping with Rotunda Systems, at almost twice what Iíd been making in Camden, plus options. Itís gone up from there, since. It was a good move, even if I donít have as much time home with the kids as I would like."
"I had some of their stock for a while," Phil said. "Did pretty well on it, but when I left Hadley-Monroe I pulled out of high flyers and got into some more conservative stuff."
John nodded. "We do pretty well with online sales, and have some store visibility, too. Iím not into the marketing side, but the PC market is getting a little saturated, and getting a little soft. Earnings may be down some, but we should stay stable."
"Do you think maybe that online sales are a bit overblown?" Phil asked seriously. John could tell that he wasnít just making conversation.
"Weíve done well on it," John said. "The stock price is still growing pretty good, even with earnings about the same. But then, we do more than just online sales, although people think of us that way. We have a pretty good wholesale business, and weíre trying to get into retail outlets a little more."
"Well, with some things, it may be OK, but Iím getting just a little leery of these online sales operations," Phil replied. "I keep seeing these IPOs on some of the dumbest damned ideas, and the stock takes off like a shot, but you never hear of any earnings. I mean, hell, Amazon-dot-com. That really is a pretty good idea, since a lot of local bookstores donít stock anything but the most popular titles anyway, and being able to order an offbeat or specialty book online from Amazon is something that you canít do locally without going to a store and waiting for weeks. Even so, I donít think theyíve paid a dividend yet. And, thatís for a good idea. I think it was the petfood-dot-com thing that really yanked my chain. What the hell can you do there that you canít do at your local grocery store for less money? But people jumped on that like it was the last train from Shanghai, and Iíll bet they donít ever pay a dividend."
"Yeah, that bothered me, too," John said. "I really donít play the market a lot, just my Rotunda stock and some mutual funds, and Candice has some employee stock out of First Decatur. I figure that to do it right youíve got to spend some time studying what youíre doing and keep up with whatís going on, and I just donít have the time to do it right. But, youíre right, there have been some really stupid ideas that are just marketing ideas, with nothing behind them. At least Rotunda does have more than a computer terminal and a warehouse."
"Iím no expert, either," Phil agreed. "But I think itís a house built out of straw, and the big bad wolf is going to come around some day and blow it down. Mark my words, one of these days some Republican is going to buy himself or steal himself the presidency, and the first thing heís going to want to do is to cut taxes, which is going to stick a big pin in this bubble we call the stock market. When people come to their senses, the whole thing is going to fall apart. I wouldnít be surprised to see thirty percent, forty percent, even fifty percent come out of the market, and thatís going to hurt a lot of people. Iím no survivalist or pessimist, but when that happens we could have a depression thatíll make the 1930s look like the big rock candy mountain."
John shook his head. "Iíll agree that thereís going to be a shakeout coming sooner or later, and some of the stuff thatís flying high today isnít going to be flying quite so high, then. And, there will be some high flyers that will tank completely. But, I donít see the bottom falling out, either."
"What do you think about the Y2K business?" Candice asked. "I donít think itís going to turn into any big deal."
"Me either," Phil replied. "I can tell you this much. If the power companies can keep their acts together, then itís not going to be any big thing, and from what I can tell the power companies have been working hard to get their acts straight. Oh, there may be a scattered problem here and there, but no worldwide catastrophe like all the whiners keep babbling about. I mean, any company that has not gotten the message about this in the last four years really has their head up their ass and deserves to die."
"At First Decatur, weíve spent a lot of time testing and certifying systems," she said. "We may have missed something, but if we have itís not something that will bring the whole system down."
"Weíve run some systems tests," John said. "We really havenít worried too much about it, since weíre running pretty new software, anyway. I, for one, donít think much is going to happen."
Brandy shifted her position. "So, do you have any plans for the big night?"
"Not really," Candice replied. "Itís awful late for us. I donít know if we can manage to stay awake till midnight. The boys want to stay up, but I donít think theyíll make it. There wonít be any wild parties or anything. Weíre not really social-type people. I mean, weíve lived in Decatur for nearly six years now, but we really donít know anybody very well. I know a few people where I work, and John knows some where he works, but we never really get together with anyone very often."
"I guess itís pretty much the same with us," Brandy said. "I like the people I work with, or I can at least tolerate them, but by the time we get done with a site, weíre just as happy to not see each other for a while. I canít imagine socializing with them, not even considering the fact that when we get off a site we scatter all over the country, even all over the world. But then, Phil and I havenít made a lot of new friends in Spearfish Lake, either. Of course, weíve never both been in Spearfish Lake at the same time long enough to make much in the way of friends beyond family or the people I already knew."
Phil shook his head. "Thatís not totally true," he related. "I have made a few friends, especially Josh and Tiffany, and Brandyís mom had a lot to do with that, although I met Josh clear back when he was in high school and Brandy and I were in college. When I was home and Brandy wasnít, I used to spend some time with them. It helped out a lot."
"Thatís still sort of a family thing," Brandy protested. "It just came through my family, not your relatives. I guess weíre just kind of homebodies. It always used to be that when we could get together, we had enough to do just to get used to each other again. We do see each other more now, and, who knows? Maybe someday weíll even have to get married."
"Youíre not married?" Candice asked, a little surprised.
"Oh, we could be," Brandy said. "We always shied away from it back when we were in college since it looked like we were going to be going our separate ways. It was just something of a fluke when we wound up coming up with the first prototype magres system. The term, by the way, is short for Ďmagnetic resolution,í but the system is way more than that. Anyway, when we both got to traveling so much, we just werenít sure we were going to be able to stay together. I mean, it gets lonely like that, but the chances to get together eventually were always something to look forward to, and such home life as we had was something to keep us coming home again. But, I think I can say that weíve worked that out well enough that itís not an issue anymore."
Phil nodded as the doorbell rang. "Probably itís the tax thing that keeps us from getting married now, more than anything else," he said, getting up from where he was sprawled in his chair. "That must be the pizza."
While Phil was paying the pizza delivery kid, Candice asked, "So are you going to be around much longer?"
"Afraid not," Brandy said. "Once we get through the holidays, Iíve got to go to Denver and work on a few things there. Then, itís Bolivia again, for three months, maybe a little more. Iíve been to the mine before; itís a dump, but I probably wonít get any farther than 200 yards from the data trailer all the time Iím there, so thatíll probably help."
"Youíre not going up to catch the Iditarod, then?" John asked.
"Iíd kind of like to, but itís a hell of a long haul just to stand out in the street in Anchorage and Nome to freeze my butt, which will be used to the heat in Bolivia," she replied. "And, it would mean weíd be that much longer finishing up. Maybe someday, if Phil does the race again."
"Youíre going to keep at your job, then," Candice commented.
"The money is very good," Brandy admitted. "But, more important, I think Iíd go nuts if I didnít have the job, or at least something else thatís as challenging. I keep thinking I need to take a year or two off and finish my doctorate, but that just doesnít seem as important, now."
Phil set the pizza box down on the coffee table and headed for the kitchen for more beer. "It may be just as well," he said over his shoulder. "I canít imagine what it would be like to be together all the time, with her wishing she had something to do."
North of Camden, near the little town of Moffatt, thereís a point where the two-lane state road that leads from Spearfish Lake turns into four lanes in order to handle the increased commuting traffic. Itís at about that point that the forests and swamps and lakes of the north woods change rather abruptly to fields and farms and clusters of houses that soon become towns, and eventually the outskirts of the city. It wasnít even a quarter of the way home for John and Candice and their boys, but it was the point where they knew theyíd left the fun part of their vacation and the drive home behind. From there on, it would be nothing but miles and hours and exhaustion.
The car was packed, not unpredictably, to the point where John and Walt had to tie the new mountain bikes onto the roof rack, and the car was still loaded from the Christmas haul. The boys were fairly quiet in the back seat, though; Shay was playing a handheld computer game heíd gotten as a present, and Cody was wrapped up with a couple of Christmas books.
The traffic wasnít bad, and it got a little easier once they got out on the four-lane. "You know," John said once he got the cruise control set, "I sort of wish we still lived in Camden. We could get home more often."
"Thatís so right," Candice agreed. "That was a really, really good Christmas. The last time we were with family was two years ago, at Arvada Center, and it seemed so sad since everybody knew it would be the last one like that."
"It took the edge off, even for me," John replied. "I know it was worse for you."
Candice nodded. "Thatís all in the past, now. But, this year, well, it was good to be with friends and relatives. The last couple times, I didnít feel as at home at Arvada Center as I did at your folks the last few days."
"Iím glad you tripped across Phil," John said. "That evening we spent with them . . . well, I canít tell you the last time that we just sat around with some friends, shooting the bull, solving the problems of the world, and just enjoying being together."
"Iíve missed it a lot," Candice agreed. "I canít remember a night like that since we were in college. Oh, weíve been together with other couples, but there was always some, well, uneasiness about it. Like we were trying to score points off each other, or something. But with Phil and Brandy it wasnít like that at all."
"Yeah, it was like we were with friends weíd known forever. Well, it was, in a way, because youíve known Phil and Iíve known Brandy since we were kids. Theyíve got to have some pretty good money, but you could never tell it to look at them, or the way they live."
"You get right down to it, weíre pretty different, in a lot of ways," Candice nodded. "But, weíre a lot alike, too."
"I suppose one of the things that make us feel that way is that weíre all college people," John said after thinking about it for a moment. "I mean, that gives us some common ground that we lack with some of the other people we spent time with. Donít get me wrong, I think Josh and Tiffany are great, but Josh decided while he was still in high school that heíd rather be a railroader than go to college. At least he thought about going to college down at Athens with that gal he ran around with right after we were first married. I think the only time Tiffany has ever been on a college campus is the spot where the Iditarod race route crosses a community college on the edge of Anchorage. She barely made it out of high school, not because she isnít smart, but because she spent most of her time messing with her dogs when she should have been studying. Or, Jackie and Mark. Jackie was thinking of going to a community college, but she ran off with Mark, instead. Mark has an immense amount of technical savvy. Phil may know something about computer applications, but Iíll bet that Mark knows a lot more about how to make a system sit up and talk. None of them are dumb, but not going to college does give them a little different perspective than we have."
"Youíre probably right," Candice shrugged. "Still, I wouldnít mind seeing Phil and Brandy again."
"I hope we do, too. Of course, catching them home will probably continue to be the problem. Maybe we can find out when sheís going to be home, sometime next summer, and take a weekend to run up there."
"Iíd like to spend more than a weekend. Weíd have to spend some time with your folks, too. Besides, I keep thinking that going on one of Josh and Tiffanyís kayak trips would be fun. Nothing really adventurous, just going out and camping out on an island some place. The boys are getting old enough that we could do that."
He cocked his head over and looked at her, and she knew he was looking. The statement surprised John a little; while Candice was a farm girl and knew what it was like to be outside, she hadnít been big on the idea of a family camping trip the once or twice heíd brought the idea up. Of course, the boys were pretty little, then. "Iíve wanted to do it for years," he said.
"Well, the boys are getting to the point where they need to know something about the world outside the city," she said, reading Johnís questioning glance perfectly. "Itís not like we can take them down to the farm and let them get used to horses, anymore."
"What do you think, Shay?" John said over his shoulder.
"What?" the boy answered, looking up from the beep-beep-beep of the computer game.
"Do you think youíd like to go on a kayaking and camping trip with Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Josh and Mom and Dad next summer?"
"Thatíd be fun," he said. "Could we maybe go fishing, too?"
"Cody, what do you think? How about a camping trip next summer?"
"Thatíd be neat," the boy replied. "Could we spend some more time with Uncle Josh and Aunt Tiffanyís dogs, too?"
"They donít go dogsledding in the summer," Candice said.
"Aunt Tiffany said they train them in the summer. She said she drove the dogs to school and ran her first race when she wasnít a lot older than I am. Thatíd be cool!"
"Your Aunt Tiffany was a little precocious," John smiled with a sarcastic tone.
"Whatís precocious, Dad?" he replied with a confused look.
"It means that she started doing something a little before she really should have started doing it."
"Oh," Shay piped up. "You mean, like Amanda Wilson is precocious because sheís making out with her boyfriend when sheís only twelve?"
John and Candice exchanged some very heavy thoughts with brief mutual glances before John tried to brush it off. "Yeah, thatís sort of what it means. But, it means things like, oh, driving a car before youíre old enough to have a license, too." Shayís parents glanced at each other again. There was clearly going to have to be a serious talk when the boys werenít around. "Your mom and I are just thinking about the camping trip," John said, to try to defuse the subject. "But it could be fun,"
"Does that mean weíd get to see Grandpa and Grandma Archer next summer, too?" Cody asked.
"Oh, probably," John said. At least that topic was diverted into a different course. "I donít see how we could go up there and not see them."
"Thatíd be cool," Shay replied. "Grandpa said heíd take us for a ride on a railroad engine."
"Well, weíll just have to see," Candice replied. They rode on in silence for two or three miles; Shay went back to his computer game, and Cody back to his book. Once she was pretty sure the boysí attention was adequately diverted again, she caught Johnís eye and spoke a single word: "Valley?"
"Dunno," John replied with a shrug, just as cryptic as she had been. Theyíd been around this block before. They were not real impressed with the school the boys were attending. It was a little Ďprecocious,í the way Shay used the word. In addition to the gun incident that Shay had mentioned while theyíd been setting up the tree, there had been two drug busts that fall, and enough other things that made them uncomfortable with the place. Theyíd discussed getting the boys into Valley Christian Academy. It was expensive, but they could afford it if they wanted to, but they were a little uncomfortable with the idea. For one thing, they werenít particularly churchy people, and they werenít sure they wanted that degree of Christianity forced on the boys. In addition, John felt there was a degree of isolation from the real world at the place. Not that the quality of education was any less than the public school; it was clearly better, since the rough element in the public schools was kept out, but the boys would have to face a rough element in their lives sooner or later, and it was probably just as well that they knew it existed. That had to be tempered by being good parents, they knew, setting a good example for their kids, and, in the old saw, "teaching them right from wrong." But, as much as he was working, it was hard to spend the time he should with the boys, and he knew it, and Candice working didnít make it any easier, and no amount of soccer leagues and after-school programs could fill in the gap.
"Me, either," Candice replied after a moment. "But . . . " Nothing had changed, but things had just gotten a touch more imperative. Valley, or maybe some other school, was clearly an option, but she doubted it was a solution to the real problem, if there was a solution. After all, any good parent wants to do the right things for their children, and things were enough different from the schools they had grown up with that they werenít sure they were doing the right thing. At heart, they were country people, small-town people, and they knew it. The last few days had driven home to them just how much they missed that life.
"Yeah," he nodded, still reading her perfectly Ė not all that difficult, since it was a discussion theyíd had many times before, often enough that they could talk in shorthand over the boysí heads. "Too big." The elementary school the boys attended was a good ten times the size of the Spearfish Lake elementary John had attended, well over ten times the size of the whole school system in Arvada Center. No one could control a school system that size and give the kids the degree of personal attention John or Candice had experienced as kids. One of the disadvantages of a small school was that everybody knew everybody else, knew everyoneís likes and dislikes, whether they were trouble or not. Of course, it was one of the advantages, too. In any case, it was what they had to use as a measure, to compare their current situation.
Candice shrugged. "What can you do?" They werenít country people anymore; the boys were growing up as city kids, or, at least, suburban kids. They probably would never be country people. The standards were different from what they had experienced, the times were different, the lives were different. In any case, there wasnít really much they could do, however much they wanted to.