Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Nicole opened the back door, to find an old woman wearing a long coat standing there Ė well into her eighties, at a glance, with a deeply lined and wrinkled face. She held a large covered paper plate in her hand. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Is this the right place for Randy Clark?" the woman asked.
"Sure," Nicole smiled, wondering what this was all about. "If youíd like to step inside, Iíll go get him."
"Thank you," the woman said, stepping through the door. "This wonít take long."
Nicole turned and faced the "living room" area of the great room. "Randy," she called. "You have a visitor."
"Coming," Randy called, getting up from his chair near the fire.
As Randy approached, the woman looked through the kitchen at the great room beyond. "My, what a fantastic house," she exclaimed.
"We like it," Nicole grinned. "We had reason to make it a little spectacular. I sometimes think it came out a little more spectacular than we intended."
"Thereís nothing wrong with spectacular," the woman grinned; Nicole could detect a twinkle in her eye as she said it.
"Hi," Randy said as he walked up. "Can I help you?"
"Mr. Clark, I just wanted to thank you for what you did for me today," the old woman said. "I usually have a neighbor take a snow blower to the driveway, but heís in the hospital. I had come to realize that I was going to have to do it the hard way and just started on it when you showed up this morning with that loader of yours. I appreciate that you donít want to take money for doing a random good deed, so I thought I could at least bake you a plate of cookies to thank you."
"Like I said, it was no big deal," Randy smiled. "I was there, I had the time, and I could see you had a big job in front of you. I like playing with that machine, and I donít get to do it enough, so it was really sort of a treat for me."
"It was a huge treat for me, and I canít thank you enough," the woman told him.
"Randy," Nicole snickered. "Were you playing Boy Scout with the Bobcat again?"
"Well, yeah," Randy smiled. "I was headed back from Brentís and I didnít want to have to go back to the office and work. That put it off for another five minutes or so." He turned to the woman, "Maíam, Spearfish Lake is a small town but itís not that small. I know Iíve seen you around, but Iím afraid I donít know your name . . . "
"Nellie," the woman said. "Nellie Fedewa."
"Nellie, like I said, it was no big deal. I appreciate your thinking of the cookies, even though it was something you really didnít have to do."
"I felt I had to do it," Nellie smiled. "It would be impolite to not make the gesture. Kindness and courtesy seem to be dying things these days, but I try to do my part to keep them alive."
"Your kindness is appreciated," Nicole said, then on a whim added, "weíre just serving up dinner. Would you care to join us? Thereís plenty of food and always room for one more at the table."
"I really shouldnít," Nellie protested. "I didnít realize you had guests."
"All the more reason," Nicole smiled. "We all know each other pretty well, so itíll be fun to have someone else present and hear some new stories. Besides, that way we can repay you for your kindness with the cookies. Let me take your coat."
It took Nicole and Randy a little bit of talking to get Nellie to stay, but there was something in the way she agreed that made Nicole think that she was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with others. Randy got the impression that she might be an interesting person to find out a little more about.
Myleigh actually was the one to put the cap on the decision; without asking she set another place at the big dining table. She called the rest of the group to dinner while Randy and Nicole were still talking to their unexpected guest, and after taking her coat guided her to a place at the table.
As Myleigh and Nicole were serving things, Randy made a quick introduction of their new guest, explaining that Crystal and Preach were from out of town, and that they normally were Grand Canyon raft guides.
"Oh, how I envy you!" Nellie grinned when she heard that. "Harold and I made a trip down the Grand Canyon, oh, it had to have been over thirty years ago. What an extraordinary experience that was. Of all the things we did over the years, that was one of the most intense and most memorable. It was with a company called Canyon Tours, if I recall correctly."
"Weíre familiar with Canyon Tours," Crystal grinned. "Preach and I are trip leaders, and my father owns the company. Iíve made over sixty trips down the Canyon, and thereís something new every trip I make."
"You know," Debbie sighed. "Iíve got to do that run sometime. Iím still the only person at this table who hasnít been down the Grand Canyon at least once on a Canyon Tours raft. It really makes me feel like the odd person out sometimes. Probably not this year, though."
"Considering your friends, you probably ought to think about it," Nellie said. "Life is too short to be allowed to be dull. There used to be a beer commercial that said, ĎYou only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can.í Iím afraid I was through the best of my gusto-grabbing days by the time that commercial came out, but I thought it outlined my philosophy of life perfectly."
"Never saw that commercial," Crystal smiled. "But it probably gets pretty close to my philosophy, too. Iíve tried to do what I can. I mean, thereís a lot to do, I want to do what of it I can."
"I couldnít agree more," Nellie said. "In fact, the Grand Canyon holds a special memory for me, since it was there that Harold and I decided that we were getting older and weíd better be getting on with some of the things we wanted to do. It was mostly there that we made the decision to sail around the world the second time."
"The second time?" Nicole asked in amazement. She decided sheíd just proved herself right; this lady was going to have some interesting stories to tell.
"Yes, 1975 through 1979," Nellie said as if sheíd been talking about going to the grocery store. "The first time was 1951 through 1955, but weíd always felt weíd missed some places we wanted to see on that trip, so on our second trip we only went a couple places where weíd been on our first, like the Panama Canal. That time we went through the western Pacific, rather than the south, and then around Africa."
"I sailed to Hawaii and back on a Tahiti ketch one time," Crystal said. "It was kind of interesting in a way, but the trip back to California got a bit boring."
"Yes, it would get boring going to weather that far in a Tahiti ketch, wouldnít it?" Nellie nodded with a grin. "We were in a Tahiti ketch our first trip, so we mostly tried to run downhill where we could. We had a fiberglass D&D 36 when we made our second trip; it wasnít as roomy but would go to weather much better. Of course, being fiberglass meant we didnít have a tenth of the maintenance."
"How did you wind up making the decision to go the first time?" Preach asked. "I mean, itís not all that common today, but back in the fifties sailing around the world was even more uncommon."
"Well, Harold was the one who brought it up first," she smiled. "But I thought it was an absolutely marvelous idea. The timing was right and things had been dull for us for a couple years. Weíd only been sailing summers, and we didnít have enough to hold us."
"Did you grow up in a sailing family?" Myleigh asked.
"Oh, no," Nellie explained. "I never set foot on a boat larger than a rowboat until after I met Harold. He, well, he was a little burned out by World War II. Several of his friends died, and he was lucky to have survived. He wanted to make up for a little of what they missed, as it were. I, well, I found things a little dull after the war was over and was looking for some way to keep the excitement level up."
"I take that to mean you had a little excitement during the war," Debbie nodded, a little amazed herself.
"A little," Nellie grinned, realizing that she was amazing these people. "Before sailing around the world twice, I did forty-seven Atlantic crossings. Those were all piloting B-17s, P-47s, or P-51s though."
"How . . . how did you manage that?" Crystal replied, just a little dazed. She was known for liking her adventures and getting as much as she could, but sheíd just been one-upped badly by this old lady and she knew it.
"Oh, thatís a long story," Nellie grinned again as they got serious about eating dinner. "My father was a pilot in World War One. He stayed in the Air Corps for nearly twenty years, mostly at Dayton, Ohio where he did flight testing at whatís now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I used to love flying as a child, and I was something like thirteen when he started teaching me to fly. I got my commercial and instructorís licenses in the late thirties, after my father left the Air Corps and continued at Wright-Pat as a civilian. Well, along about 1940 the Air Corps had to expand rapidly, and a lot of primary flight instruction was farmed out to civilian outfits. I was teaching young men my age to fly in 1942 when I happened to meet Jackie Cochran, who probably is second only to Amelia Earhart as a famous woman pilot. At that point in time she was trying to set up the predecessor to what became the WASPs, Womenís Air Service Pilots. Iíd had my fill of Piper Cubs by that time and wanted to fly something a little more exciting, if you know what I mean, so it didnít take much convincing."
"I think Iíve heard of the WASPs," Randy said. "I really havenít studied that era as much as I should have, I suppose."
"We did test flying and ferry flying, mostly," Nellie explained. "At one time or another I flew most of the major types of American combat aircraft in the war, except for the B-29. I never got to fly one of those; the WASPs were being phased out by the time they came along. As I said, forty-seven Atlantic crossings in B-17s, P-47s and P-51s, by myself in the last two types, of course. We usually flew those in a big formation, with a B-17 or B-24 to do the navigation, but I picked up the basics of celestial navigation along in there. I made a few ferry trips to Hawaii, but they wouldnít let WASPs go on from there, for whatever reason. I also did several to Alaska. Sometimes those trips could be a real adventure. The weather going to Alaska could be horrible. Sometimes you could get closed in for days with the primitive instruments we had at the time."
"Iíve been there," Crystal said. "I was on a salmon boat coming down the Inside Passage a few years ago, and we got weathered in several times. We almost ran out of food once, except we were able to trade some booze for food with some loggers."
"Much the same thing happened with me," Nellie said. "I got caught by weather once, and the only place I could get into with a P-38 was Kodiak. I was weathered in there for days, and it was there I met Harold in 1943. We didnít have any big fling, or anything, but we got friendly and just hung out together a lot while we waited for the weather to lift. It was no big thing at the time. Well, in early 1945 they phased out the WASPs, and there was nothing much for me to do but go back to Dayton, get a job as a bookkeeper at Wright-Pat and wait out the rest of the war."
"It must have been frustrating, after getting pushed out of flying," Myleigh observed. Randy noticed that Myleigh had toned down her normally effete language for the benefit of a stranger being present.
"You have no idea," Nellie sighed. "I mean, every time I heard an airplane Ė and that was all the time Ė well, it was hard to think that I couldnít be out there, but I was a woman, and well, that was the way things were, especially back in those days. But by early 1946 I was about fit to be tied, and I just couldnít stand the thought of doing the same thing for the rest of my life. Well, along about that time Harold showed up, just about to get out of the Air Corps, and, well, we did have a little fling then. He had some money stuck back from his family Ė they were in commodities trading in Chicago Ė and he wanted to do that about as much as I wanted to be a bookkeeper. He had this idea he wanted to go to Seattle, buy a boat, and spend some time sightseeing and game fishing. That sounded like a great idea to me and the next thing I knew we were doing it together."
Nellie went on to tell about their first boat, an old twenty-six-foot salmon boat that rolled its guts out in any kind of sea and had more dry rot than they were comfortable with, so they never tried to get out in the open ocean beyond Vancouver Island. But they had a great time and loved the scenery that first summer, so much so that they decided to do it again and do it right this time. They started north in 1947 in a sailboat this time, a Hereshoff H-28 that was much more capable of handling open water, and they didnít make it back to Seattle until 1949, wintering over two winters and getting as far west as Kodiak, where theyíd met years before. "We were married by then," she explained. "And weíd figured that weíd had our fun, and that it was time to head back to Chicago to quit playing and get responsible. What a dumb idea that was!"
Harold went to work in the family brokerage business, and Nellie spent a while looking around for some kind of a flying job. There were still a lot of World War II men pilots around, though, and she never got even the ghost of a nibble. Harold wound up hating the job about as much as he figured he would, although he made a few lucky trades and managed to stack up some savings. In early 1951 they went to Florida on a winter vacation, and wound up wandering around a yacht harbor near Tampa, where they came across a thirty-six-foot Tahiti ketch named "Downwind" with a For Sale sign on it. They spent a lot of time looking at it before Harold commented, "You know, we could take that boat and sail it around the world."
"I thought it was an absolutely wonderful idea," she recalled at Randy and Nicoleís dinner table. "So, we did. Panama, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, where I discovered I was pregnant. We went to New Zealand to have my son, Jack. Four weeks after he was born we sailed for Australia. My daughter Alice was born in Italy, and about eight months later we were back in Florida. Well, with two small children we decided weíd better play it straight, so we headed back to Chicago, Harold went back to work in the brokerage, and we pretty much stayed there for the next eighteen years. We had two more sailboats in that period, mostly on the Great Lakes, and we managed to get free for adventures every now and then. Both Harold and I were still pilots, and we owned a share in a Cessna 310 so weíd take off and go flying when we could. We managed to take two months one winter flying around South America, and that was quite an adventure, too."
"You sure seem to have had a lot of them," Crystal shook her head. "I mean, I thought Iíve gotten around a little, what with hiking the Appalachian Trail, a little sailing, a little surfing, and the Grand Canyon, but I donít have anything like that kind of history."
"Well, Iíve had longer to do it than you have," Nellie grinned. "Youíve managed to do at least one thing I never did, although I wish Iíd thought of the Appalachian Trail when I was young enough to do something about it. Youíve still got some time to do some more things. I know that when Harold and I were raising our children I thought that the real adventure was over with, but it turned out that we were just catching our breath and getting our second wind."
The main part of the meal had been over with for some time; as Nellie continued to hold her audience enthralled with her tales, Nicole served up the cake that she had made for the dinner, along with the cookies that Nellie had brought with her. They sat around the dinner table, eating their dessert, sipping coffee and listened to their visitor continue to tell her tale.
Rather than the impulsive decision that had resulted in their first trip, they took their time planning their second, partly because Alice wasnít out of high school yet. As she had explained earlier, their second trip was considerably different from the first one, mostly because they had a faster, more weatherly, if slightly smaller boat. This time their route took in Hawaii, several central Pacific islands famous from World War II like the Marshalls and the Marianas Ė Harold said that theyíd changed a lot from when heíd been there during the war. They went on to the Philippines, Indonesia, and the long haul across the Indian Ocean to South Africa, then another long haul across the South Atlantic to Brazil before heading back through the Caribbean to the States. It was an interesting trip, with more places visited for less time at sea. Jack and Alice both visited them for extended periods during the trip.
"Weíd sold our home in Chicago to help finance the trip," Nellie explained. "We were both in our sixties by that time, and Harold really didnít feel like going back to the brokerage business. Neither of us was very anxious about moving back on shore and we had an adequate if not large investment income, so we decided to trade for a little larger boat that we could live aboard for an extended period, mostly up and down the east coast, wintering in Florida. After a couple of years, when both the kids were married, we sailed to Europe and stayed there for a year before we returned."
"So how did you wind up in Spearfish Lake, of all places?" Debbie asked.
"As you get older, you get slower and stiffer," Nellie sighed. "Back about 1990 we decided that the time had come to admit it and move ashore. We bought a small place in Florida, but decided we wanted something in the North Country for the summer months when it gets really humid in Florida. We wound up finding a favorable deal from a friend here, and moved back and forth for years until Harold died six years ago. I didnít like the idea of moving back and forth and enjoyed being here more than I did Florida. Iíve spent enough time in the warm in the winters and wanted to experience the cold, too. Iíve always liked cold weather, so here I am."
"Quite a life," Nicole sighed. "Iíd think that youíd have to be rich to do it, though."
"I donít think we were ever what you could call rich," Nellie smiled. "We never were hurting for money and we were always careful about where we spent it. The real trick is to set your priorities and stick to them. If weíd decided weíd wanted a big house and nice cars, for example, we would have had them, but it would have been at the expense of something else. We didnít come to those conclusions easily, and it was easier before we had children. But even while we were raising our children, we were aware that we had other priorities we wanted to work toward, too."
"Yeah, thatís the problem, isnít it?" Randy sighed. "I canít tell you how many times Iíve dreamed of doing some of that stuff. Both Nicole and Crystal have made me pretty jealous by their being able to go do the Appalachian Trail, for example. I would have loved to do things like that, but I had to stay home and work. Itíd be fun to think about sailing around the world, but the best I can do is contemplate it knowing it could never happen. I came to the conclusion years ago that being a weekend warrior is all I could ever be."
"So, thatís where youíve set your priorities," Nellie told him. "I mean, I can look at this house and tell a good deal about where you set yours. Not that thereís a thing wrong with it, but thatís a decision you have to make for yourself. Now, Iíll be the first person to admit that something like sailing around the world is a pretty extreme priority to set. Thatís just what Harold and I wanted to do, and we went well out of our way to do it. You could do it too, if you were willing to make the sacrifices youíd have to make. The decision to make those sacrifices is up to you."
Randy replied, "Well, to be honest, I wouldnít mind knowing a little more about sailing, for example. The only real sailing Iíve ever done was a two-week trip in the Bahamas a few years ago. I got to play around with it a little and I enjoyed it. Iíve always felt thereíd be more to be learned there, but Iím so busy in the summer months I just havenít been able to take the time."
"Thatís a shame," Nellie shook her head. "Thereís a lot of fun to be had, but you have to be willing to make the time. For several years, we owned a twenty-eight-foot fiberglass Triton with some other friends. In the summer, we kept it at Little Current, over on the north shore of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. There arenít many places in the world that are nicer to just go poking around and see whatís around the next bend, and itís not even a dayís drive from here."
"I know," Randy sighed. "Iíve talked about hauling the sea kayaks over there many times, but it always seems like summer is just too busy. I just have too many other things to do. I donít know where Iíd even find the time to even learn to do something like sailing a boat like that."
"I donít see why not," Crystal snorted. "Randy, Iíve never been here in the summertime, but here you are with a nice lakefront house, and Iíll bet the biggest boat that youíve ever had parked out front is a seventeen-foot sea kayak."
"Guilty as charged," Randy sighed. "Except that I donít usually leave a sea kayak outside. I carry it over and put it in the garage."
"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step," Crystal smiled. "Maybe you ought to think about parking a sailboat out there."