Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Wednesday, January 6, 1999
Emily had first gotten a job at the Spee-D-Mart when she was a freshman in high school. It was only a few hours a week and at her age a lot of the chores had to be done under supervision. It wasn’t long before the store manager discovered she was very reliable for such a young kid and would let her solo for a while if the need arose. Emily liked the job; she got to stay active, got to talk to people, and be cheerful and upbeat. The store was one of several around the area started by George VanTyle and now managed by his widow, Sharon. When Emily graduated from high school, Sharon knew Emily was only weeks from marrying Kevin, and told her she was welcome to go full time if she wanted.
Emily wanted – in fact she started full time the day after graduation, a day she remembered as the day she really became a grownup; it was also the day she first met Eve McClellan, although she wouldn’t know that for another ten years. With the exception of a week that Sharon gave her off for her honeymoon, which she and Kevin spent by riding his old Kawasaki crotch rocket up to Mackinaw Island, she worked straight through until the day Kayla was born the following spring. She took a few days off then, but soon was happy to be back behind the counter.
Convenience store workers are often low-paid and often have to work weird hours, so understandably there’s a lot of turnover. Sharon appreciated having someone who was reliable and competent and wanted to stay on the job. After J.J. was born a year and a half later, she made Emily assistant manager; when the manager’s position opened up a couple years later, Emily was the obvious candidate for the job and got it.
Emily didn’t fully realize it at the time, but that bumped her up from being just another person who worked downtown into being part of the business community. Among other things, the Spee-D-Mart was a member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, so that meant Emily automatically became a member of the chamber, and naturally, she took her responsibility seriously.
Most towns Bradford’s size have a chamber of commerce, or some other association of business people. Bradford’s chamber met every other Wednesday morning, changing off between the meeting room at the Chicago Inn, and the one at the Bank Café. The purpose of the chamber, of course, was to do what they could to increase business traffic into the town by coordinating various promotions and activities, but at the time Emily came aboard it was more of a breakfast club. People came up with good ideas, but there was limited interest in actually carrying them through, and not many of the even good ideas actually ever happened. Emily, however, was bright, cheerful, energetic, and more importantly, a natural-born organizer. Naturally, there were far more senior members of the chamber who were more than willing to let her carry the ball on things they’d otherwise have to do them themselves if they were to be done. And, as they’d found out, when Emily took something on, it got done and done well.
One of the balls that got handed off to her relatively early on was the Bradford Courier. The local paper, of course, was a member of the chamber, but the editor/publisher, Lloyd Weber, hardly ever came to a chamber meeting. He had a good reason; at the time the chamber was meeting, the Courier was being printed in Hawthorne, 20 miles away, and Weber was having his regular Wednesday breakfast there before he brought the papers back. One Wednesday morning when Weber brought in the Spee-D-Mart’s ration of papers, she asked him if he’d be willing to print something about the chamber’s activities if she were to write it. “Sure,” he smiled, glad to have someone volunteer to do something that needed to be done.
Emily had been good at writing in high school, reports and essays and other such assignments, but she was glad the chamber met on Wednesday, and she didn’t have to have the story down at the Courier until the following Monday. Never had she agonized over putting words on paper more than she did over that first brief report of a routine chamber meeting. When she got a chance on Monday, she hiked down the street to the Courier office and gave her report to Weber with the words, “I hope this is OK.”
“Yeah, sure,” he grunted after a glance at it. “No problem. Appreciate it, Emily.”
“If there’s anything that needs to be fixed,” she told him nervously, “Feel free to fix it up.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he smiled lightly.
Weber had the reputation of being a dour, cranky old fart who didn’t suffer fools gladly and liked things done his way. She was not terribly surprised to see the story she’d spent literally hours on had been changed around considerably when she saw it in print a couple of days later. But she had to admit that it read better, and it was on the front page, rather than on the inside where she had expected it. Rather than confronting him about it, she knew enough to come at it obliquely when he arrived for his routine mug of coffee and long john the next morning. “Thank you for fixing up my story,” she said contritely. “I didn’t really know what you wanted.”
“Nothing wrong with what you wrote,” he told her. “But there are some things that need to be presented in a certain way if the story is going to be on the front page, so I made the changes.”
“I don’t quite follow you,” she nodded. “Can you show me what you’re talking about?”
“Sure, it’s pretty simple,” he smiled. “The big thing is to write from the viewpoint of an outside observer, which the reader usually is. It’s not ‘We did something’, but ‘They did something’. If you want to say ‘We did something’, you have to say it in such a way that it’s attributed to someone, like, ‘The chamber president said we did something’.”
“I see,” she replied, the light dawning. It seemed awkward in a way, but pretty simple. “I’ll try to do better next time.”
When she brought the next chamber story in a week later, she hadn’t agonized over it anywhere near as long. “Much better,” he smiled, and led her back behind the counter to the computer sitting in the middle of a spectacularly cluttered desk. He sat down at the keyboard, and Emily was amazed as his fingers literally danced over the keys – this slow-moving, rather arthritic old man was the fastest typist Emily had ever seen! In a matter of seconds, he had the whole story up on the computer screen. “The only real comment I have is you put the most important part of the story at the end. You were building up to it, I understand, but this isn’t a novel, and the reader needs to be told what the most important part is up front, since they may not stick it out till the final point.” She could see what he was talking about as soon as he pointed it out, and could see he was right. He made the changes, and yes, it really was better.
Over the course of a couple years it had become routine. Only rarely was the write-up for the chamber story longer than two or three paragraphs, but by such gentle lessons Weber taught her things like good leads, simple but effective writing, pyramiding stories, and other tricks. She also came to understand that he really wasn’t a dour old curmudgeon, but was a rather private man who, in spite of his lifelong business, really wasn’t comfortable with most people. When you got past that, he had a sparkling intelligence, a wide range of interests, and a wry sense of humor. She also learned he’d been in the business over forty years, and frankly was burnt out on it a little, just going through the motions. She thought she could see how he’d gotten that way from doing the same old thing for too long, and dimly realized it was a trap she could fall into. At the reunion the previous fall, she’d realized she had indeed fallen into it. Now, being on council and having the Sportster gave her a couple of new things to take interest in.
There was a problem with the Sportster though, Emily thought on the Wednesday after New Years’ as the morning rush died out, and it was that she couldn’t use it. With snow all over the place and it being colder than the south end of a northbound husky, the Sportster was sitting in the garage with a tarp over it. It would be spring before she got to ride it much. Maybe she ought to think of something else to get her through the winter; she’d had a knitting project she’d started on in the fall, but had come to a halt on it and couldn’t get up the enthusiasm right now to start on it again.
Just about that time, Weber came in, wearing a heavy jacket and a fur hat over his nearly bald head, a stack of papers under his arm. “Good morning, Lloyd,” she said brightly. “How are you today?”
“Grumpy,” he replied honestly. “There ain’t no such thing as a good morning when there’s as much snow on the roads as there is today. So how was the chamber meeting?”
“Same old, same old,” she replied. “A couple of new ideas for Downtown Days next summer. Dayna and Sandy’s schedule got shifted around a little, so they’re finally going to be able to give the free concert they’ve been promising for a couple years.”
“I hear they’re pretty good,” he smiled, counting the return papers that would be taken off their bill. “I’ve heard one of their albums and like it.”
“They’re much better live,” Emily grinned. “Most people around here don’t know how good they really are. Anyway, I’ll get the story written up tonight and drop it off in the morning.”
“Always good to have it,” Weber said. He stopped for a moment, obviously turning something over in his mind. “Emily,” he said finally, “How would you like to cover the Albany Township board meeting for me tonight?”
This was a new request – she’d covered the chamber meetings for him for years, but really, it was more for the chamber than it was for him. “Is there a problem?”
“Not a big one,” he said as he wrote up the charge slip. “I’ve got something else going on I really should go to, but this township meeting really needs to be covered, too. They’ve got some kind of a squabble about a shooting range out there; I’m not clear on the details. It sounds legal, but Lynnette Hershberger makes it sound like some sort of death camp. You know who I’m talking about?”
“Short, fat, gray hair, whines about everything?” Emily nodded. While she hadn’t been on council long, she knew that in every local government there were two or three chronic malcontents who made pests of themselves in public meetings, like Bill Driscoll did in the Bradford Council meetings. She didn’t know much about Albany Township politics but knew that the elderly Hershberger woman filled that niche in the township.
“Right,” Weber sighed. “I’m really not in the mood to show up out there and have her rag on me for hours, especially when there’s something else I should be doing. What I’m thinking is that you could go out there, write up a little story about it, and she wouldn’t realize you’re covering the story for me. I really don’t think it amounts to much of anything, but I’m afraid I might wind up telling her what I really think. I’d be willing to slip you a few bucks to make it worth your time. Besides, it might do you some good to see how some other public boards handle their meetings.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” she nodded, thinking for a moment. There might be something to learn there – and it would be something different to do. “I think Kevin was planning on being home,” she said. “He and Jason MacRae have been messing around making knives, so he’s gone several nights a week. But I think I can make him stay home for once.”
“You know, that’s another story I’d like to see done sometime. I’ve heard about his knives and even seen a few of them. From what I know they’re pretty darn good.”
“I don’t know much about knives, but I’m amazed at the things he turns out,” she replied. “Kevin has been learning a little about it, and he seems fascinated.”
“Well, if you’d ever like to write a feature story about it, I’d be interested in printing it,” he told her.
“Maybe I’ll have to think about it,” she smiled. “It would give me an excuse to head over there some time and watch them.”
“If you want to do it,” he said, “See me first and I’ll loan you one of the digital cameras. But no rush. As far as I know he’s been making them for thirty years and probably will be doing it for another thirty. Anyway, let’s talk about it sometime. I guess you’re into me for $19.60 this week.”
“Not a problem,” she said, punching buttons on the register. “The meeting is at the township hall? What time?”
“Seven,” he smiled. “Lynnette will probably have stirred up things pretty good, so you might want to get there early to get a good seat.”
After a couple more brief exchanges, Weber headed out into the windy January morning. For the moment, the store was empty; there were things to do, but Emily decided to take a little break and check out the front page of the Courier. The headline, to no surprise, was about the big winter storm that had struck over the weekend, leaving a lot of snow to be dug out – and ending any hope of being able to take the Sportster out, even around the block. She and Kevin had on occasion talked about getting a snowmobile or two, but it seemed pretty expensive for the couple months at most that they’d be usable. Some winters they had little snow at all, and the only option seemed to be to load up and head north for a long weekend.
There was, of course, a story about the most recent council meeting, but it was down toward the bottom of the page. The old DPW supervisor had retired at the end of the year, and City Manager Bill Levitsky had recommended that an outsider, a guy by the name of Ken Hufford, get the job. The only problem was that Hufford worked for the city of Hawthorne DPW. While he was young and seemed like he knew what he was doing, the hiring was over the head of Phil Olivia, a local guy who had been the assistant manager of the DPW for years. Olivia was a good worker and knew what he was doing, but he was very much a working guy, not an administrator. It seemed to Emily that it was a pretty poor way for that loyalty to get treated, especially since there seemed to be little doubt that Olivia could do the job.
The problem went deeper than that. Back before New Year’s, Emily had heard about the proposed appointment, and had talked with Mike Daugherty about it. Daugherty made no secret that he didn’t like Levitsky, who was an outsider, not long out of college, and quite obviously primarily interested in getting some marks on his résumé so he could get a better job. Daugherty had been one of two council members to vote against his hiring, and it was his opinion Levitsky was trying to build a staff that was more loyal to him than they were to the council or the city. On thinking about it, Emily agreed, and she was one of four council members to vote against the appointment.
Then, to their surprise, Olivia addressed the council, saying he really didn’t want the job at this time – and was pretty honest about why: “I don’t want to get in the middle of a shoving match between the city manager and the council. I just want to get the job done. I know Ken and I can work with him.” With that said, the matter was brought back up again, and this time Hufford was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Emily being one of the two who switched her vote.
Emily scanned the story – it was told briefly, and totally bypassed the point that there were at any time two people on council who would vote against Levitsky for almost anything, just on general principles, and he’d rubbed others the wrong way. Clearly, there was going to be a showdown there sooner or later; council wasn’t quite as placid as Weber had indicated back at the first of November – but there was no hint of that in the story. If Weber had wanted to tear a stripe off of someone, he had all the ammunition he needed to do it – but he didn’t, and had shrugged off what could have been a nasty squabble if Olivia hadn’t taken a hand. It didn’t take much understanding to realize her being asked to go to the Township meeting was intended to avoid stirring up another one.
She was still staring at the story and thinking about it when the door opened and Vicky walked in, dressed nicely in a pantsuit under her heavy jacket. “Morning, Ems,” she said with a big smile. “What’s happening around here today?”
“Oh, not a lot,” Emily replied. “The paper just got in, I’m checking it out. So what are you up to? I thought you were working mornings this week.”
“I called in sick,” Vicky reported, “Sick of work, that is. Actually, I’ve just been on a job interview, and it looks pretty good.”
“You did?” Emily beamed. She knew Vicky’s miserable job at Walmart had dragged her attitude down a lot in the last couple of years. In that time, Vicky had sent out dozens, if not hundreds of résumés, filled out a lot of applications, and she never could quite make it to being hired. If she could manage to get a decent job, it might go a long way toward dealing with her chronic depression. “Where at?”
“Macy,” she smiled. “Accounting. It sounds like it’s going to be mostly payroll clerk, some other disbursements, pretty much what I did up in Warren, so it’s right down my alley. Apparently the woman who had the job has a husband who works for General and got transferred someplace.”
“Well, I hope you get it,” Emily smiled. “From what I understand, they’re pretty decent with the non-union help in the office. Not exactly General, but way better than Walmart.”
“I hope I get it, too,” her friend replied. “There’s no way they can be worse than Walmart, and I’d even get benefits and everything, along with a regular schedule, and none of this any-old-time day-or-night stuff.”
“When are you supposed to hear?”
“Most likely later today,” Vicky smiled. “So I guess you know I’m heading home, and I’m not planning on going outside the rest of the day.”
“Good day to not be out and about,” Emily shook her head. “I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t call off school, although it’d be a mess for me if they had.”
“The roads really aren’t bad, although I haven’t been any farther out of town than Macy,” Vicky shrugged. “Now heading back from Hawthorne yesterday, that was an adventure.”
“Hey, do you know if Jason and Kevin are planning on working tonight?”
“Not that I’m aware of, but I don’t always hear,” Vicky told her. “I’ll probably be over there if he isn’t. I’ve been working on engraving this whale hunting scene on an ulu. It’s going to be just gorgeous!”
“You sure are getting into that, aren’t you?” Emily smiled.
“Oh, I’ve always enjoyed it,” Vicky shrugged. “After all, it lets me use some of the stuff I learned in college.”
“Plus, you don’t mind hanging around with Jason,” Emily snickered.
“There is that,” Vicky grinned. “There is that. I’d love to stand around and talk, but I think I better go home and wait for the phone to ring.”
“Don’t stare at it too hard,” Emily grinned. “But I hope it works out for you.”