Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
On the even longer, slower, and sadder trip back to Spearfish Lake, Randy let Nicole drive so he could make the necessary calls on his cell phone to pass along the news. Among them was Myleigh, although well down the list Ė there were a number of people who needed to be called at Clark Construction.
"Oh my, Randy," she said. "This is indeed not good news. It must be a real sorrow for you."
"Yeah, it is, in more ways than one," he told her. "I mean, in a way itís not unexpected, but still the reality of it bites."
"I wish there were more that I could do to share your sorrows," she told him. "Would you feel offended if Crystal and I were to put together a light dinner for all of us? It would spare you and Nicole the effort."
"Let me bounce the idea off Nicole," he said, and passed along the question.
"Sure," Nicole told him. "Maybe we ought to invite your folks and Alma. They probably donít feel like cooking anymore than I do."
"I can ask," Randy nodded, then turned back to the cell phone to pass along the idea to Myleigh, who agreed without comment, suggesting that he be the one to call his father.
Randy and Nicole were nearly back to Spearfish Lake before he was able to reach his father. "Sure, might as well," his father said gloomily. "I donít think Linda feels much like cooking either. Iíll ask Alma if sheíd like to come. Let us know what time."
"Weíll work something out and get back with you."
"Fine with me, but let me know as soon as you can," his father replied. "If you donít have any objections, there might be a few more people who would like to come."
"Sure, might as well. Iíll tell Myleigh to do something open-ended where leftovers arenít going to be a problem."
"Good, everybody ought to appreciate it, and youíve got a bigger space to work with than we do. Do you have any objections to the funeral being at one oíclock on Tuesday?"
"About as good as any other time," Randy told him. "Iíll have to call a bunch of people again, but I would have to sooner or later, anyway."
"You might have Regina do some of the calling of the Clark Construction people," Ryan suggested.
"I already thought of that, Iíll let her know. Anything else?"
"I just got off the phone with Ruth. She and Dave are going to drive up tomorrow, but they can stay till Wednesday. Iím still trying to get hold of Rachel, but all I can get is voicemail."
"Theyíre probably out and around somewhere."
"Probably," Ryan sighed. "Hey, look, I know you have Crystal and Preach there already, but weíre probably going to have some people staying with us and weíre going to run out of space. Any chance someone could stay with you?"
"Sure thing, weíve got room," Randy said. "As far as that goes, Iím sure that Crystal and Preach wouldnít mind going over and staying with Myleigh and Trey for a while, if it comes to that."
"I hate to ask it of them, but it may come to that."
"Iím sure theyíll understand," Randy said.
"Weíll just have to see what happens," Ryan sighed. "I wish I knew if Rachel and Joel were coming. Iíd hate to dump them on you at the last minute."
"If you have to, you have to. I can put up with them for a couple days."
"Yeah, but still. Find out about dinner and let me know."
"Iíll call right now," Randy replied, clicking off and punching the button to autodial Myleigh. He got a voicemail prompt for his efforts, and mentally examined a few sarcastic notions about the miracle of modern telecommunications. By now, they were getting pretty close to home and decided it could wait till he got there. He snapped the phone closed and said to Nicole, "We may get tagged to have a few guests, and thereís a chance they could include Rachel and Joel."
"Well, if they do, theyíre just going to have to live like the common folk for a couple days," Nicole replied with a pointed sneer.
Randy had once been on somewhat better terms with his four-years-older biggest sister, but that was then. Now he was just as happy that she and her husband lived in an upscale suburb of San Jose, except for the fact that it might have been a little too close. Hawaii might have been better. Maybe even China.
Itís not uncommon for kids growing up in small Midwestern towns to want to head for the big city and the bright lights, and Rachel had had the disease worse than most. When Randy had gone to college he had been perfectly happy to settle for Northern Michigan University, mostly because it was fairly close to home, and he didnít have any idea what he really wanted to study anyway. Rachel, on the other hand, had long had her eye set on Michigan State University, considering it the biggest name school within her reach, and hopefully a steppingstone on the way to something better. So it proved; it was also a steppingstone to Joel Lancaster, a guy with rich tastes and an eye on even greater things.
Greater things, in Joelís case, proved to be Silicon Valley Ė not on the technical side, but on the business side. He was involved in the venture capital business there; Randy wasnít sure exactly who he worked for because it seemed to change with fair regularity. At least, the names of the companies changed about as much as Joel changed jobs. From what Randy could tell Joelís shiftiness hadnít made a huge killing, although he apparently was doing all right for himself, even though from the distance of Spearfish Lake it was hard to tell.
The thing that yanked Randyís chain Ė and had done so from the first time heíd met Joel Ė was his arrogance, his absolute confidence that anything that was more than fifty miles or so from Atlantic or Pacific salt water was flyover country inhabited by sub-humans. The fact that Joel was from Ohio had little to do with it Ė it was a fact that he admitted to as reluctantly as possible. Worse, as far as Randy was concerned, heíd passed that attitude on to Rachel. It had been a couple years since Rachel had been home, and Joel hadnít been with her at the time. It went without saying that if Rachel, and especially Joel, were to stay with them, Nicole and Randy would hear all the whining about how isolated and primitive everything was, including their showpiece house.
"Weíll just have to put up with it," Randy said. "Of course, you have to wonder if Dad is trying to shove her off on us because he doesnít want to put up with them himself."
"I know, I know," Randy shook his head. "I shouldnít have said it but I can sure think it."
"I donít particularly like her attitude either," Nicole snorted. "But at least we should be civil even if theyíre not."
"I suppose," Randy sighed. "I mean, itís not like I have anything else on my mind. Yeah, weíll have to do the family thing, it goes with the territory. But Iíll guarantee you that if Joel shows up the only reason heíll have come is to look for some angle."
* * *
What fell together that evening in Randy and Nicoleís great room was something less than a party and something less than a wake, although at times it was hard to tell. It was a lot bigger than anyone had been expecting, with several people from the construction company and from the plywood plant management there as well, to pay respects, have a drink or try out the buffet. Danny had been a bartender at times in his past, and although heíd given up drinking he hadnít forgotten how to mix a stiff one, and he mixed a few that evening.
A number of people gathered around the big fireplace, where sort of a running eulogy was going on, mostly carried out by Ryan, his only surviving son, who had known Brent Clark about as well as anyone Ė which really wasnít very well.
The truth, Ryan explained, was that his father was a tragic figure, in his way. "In fact it was tragic right from his birth."
Brent Clark had been born only a few months after his parents were married. "I donít want to say that it was a shotgun wedding, because in that social circle shotguns were rarely used," Ryan wisecracked. "I suspect the pressure used was somewhat more subtle but no less effective. In any case, Wayne and Flora werenít married long. She died as a result of childbirth of her second child, who also died. Iím not sure why and Iím not sure anyone else knows, either. Those things happened in those days. Itís a lot less common today, thank God. Anyway, and again I assume there was more going on socially than met the eye, Wayne wound up raising Dad, at least as much as he did. There was a series of nannies, and Dad told me more than once that sometimes weeks would go by between times he saw his father. They were never particularly close, especially when he was very small. Of course, that was Chicago in the Roaring Twenties, and I think everyone knows what that means. I donít want to say that Wayne was involved in the mob or rum running or anything like that, because I doubt that he was. He was a little too upper crust for that in those days, but from the stories Iíve heard he never had trouble finding a bottle when he was looking for one, and that was pretty often."
"Chicago in the twenties," someone put in. "Thatís kind of a legend."
"Yeah, it was," Ryan said. "Dad never had any exciting stories about those times, since he was just a little kid when all that was happening. He was never particularly clear why his father decided to pull out of the stock market about six months before it crashed and move up here to the family so-called summer cottage, but he may not have known, either. The story goes that his father had an interest in a beat-up sawmill and lumbering operation, some big ideas, and some money to invest, but once again, no one really knows for sure where Wayne was concerned, and it could well have been something else. By the way, if youíre thinking that Dad was not thinking very well of his father, youíre dead right, although how much of that was true at the time they moved up here and how much of that came later is hard to say. Well, anyway, Dad went off to college, got involved in ROTC, and eventually wound up as a second lieutenant in the local National Guard field artillery unit, "D" Battery, not long before World War II broke out.
"Now, Iím sure that at least some of you remember Dannyís grandfather Garth Matson, who we used to call Colonel Matson, although he was then a captain. When they called up the National Guard, he was executive vice-president of the Spearfish Lake State Savings Bank and the battery commander. The battery was really under strength at the time, and it may have been that Dad was the only other officer; Iím not sure about that. The important part about the story was that Wayne and Garthís wife, Donna, had been nosing around each other even before the call-up. From everything I ever heard the train carrying the battery down to Camp Knox wasnít even out of sight before the two of them were getting it on out in Wayneís hunting cabin."
As a one-time thing, considering the heat of emotional stress and all, Captain Matson might have been willing to overlook his wifeís deviation from the straight and narrow, but it didnít stop there. It did not take long for word to reach the commander of "D" Battery, down at Camp Knox, that the two were shacking up at the cabin two and three nights a week. Resolving to bear his cross in silence and get on with the subject at hand, Matson decided that if he came back from the war, he could then deal with Donna appropriately. Stringing her up by the thumbs seemed like a good idea.
It was the spring of 1942 before his resolve weakened. Three hurried trips back to Spearfish Lake from Camp Knox, and later Camp Dix, had not settled anything. Captain Matson had long given up on the idea of saving his marriage, and was talking with his lawyer about the best way to wrap things up. His was not an uncommon story in those days.
"Now you can guess that Dad was caught right square in the middle on that deal," Ryan said. "He always thought it was hell of a shitty thing for Wayne to do, and he was behind Garth every inch of the way. I guess they both had pretty much the same attitude about Wayne. Dad and Garth always thought well of each other, and when Garth was promoted to major and became the battalion operations officer, he pulled a few strings and got Dad the command of the battery.
"Well, along about that time Garth met Helga Ingstad, Dannyís grandmother," Ryan said, pointing at their bartender. "Iím sure Danny will agree with me that his grandmother was something else. The story I always heard was that she was nude when Garth and Dad met her."
"Thatís how the story goes in our family, too," Danny grinned. "Sort of goes with the territory when youíre a nudist. Apparently a convoy made a wrong turn or something, at least thatís what Grandpa Garth always said."
"Well, the legends agree on that much," Ryan chuckled. "Letís just say that lightning struck Garth and Helga. They were married before the battalion shipped out to Italy, and Dannyís mother was born before they made it back. Anyway, the battalion had a busy war and a fairly hard one before they came back. In any case, everyone was nice to Garth and Helga when they finally came back to Spearfish Lake, but that only lasted for a while."
Danny couldnít help himself. "It only lasted for a while because Gramma Matson decided that even though sheíd exiled herself to the back of beyond to be with Garth, she was still going to be a nudist, no matter what the local textiles wanted," he grinned. "The story on my side of the family is that Garth beat Wayne out of a section of stumps out around West Turtle Lake for even less than the pennies an acre that Wayne had bought it for in the first place. I guess it was a hell of a guilt trip."
"If so, it was about the only time anyone ever guilt-tripped Wayne Clark," Ryan snorted. "And thatís basically how we wound up with a nudist resort in Spearfish County. Now, Dad came back from the war and wanted even less to do with his father than he did before he left, and he was looking for something else to do. Dad was involved up to the eyeballs in the creation of the West Turtle Lake Club, at least partly because heíd worked out a sweetheart deal to build Commons and a lot of those cute little cottages you can see out there if youíve ever visited. That was the start of Clark Construction."
"They had a few adventures in the early years," Danny added.
"I heard a few of those stories, too," Ryan agreed. "People have gotten used to the West Turtle Lake Club being out there after all these years, but it was a hell of a scandal back in the late 1940s, and a lot of people got their noses out of joint. Danny can probably tell some of those stories better than I can. Anyway, Helga liked Dad, and she was born to be a matchmaker. Designing the cottages was no big deal and I guess Dad just got some stock plans and modified them to look cutesy-poo. Commons was a much bigger deal, and demanded more serious planning."
"Thereís kind of an interesting philosophy there," Danny commented. "Great-Grandpa Ingstadt and Grandma Matson were both pretty socialist in several respects. They were both great believers in the equality of the people, how no one should put on airs over another. But at the same time, they didnít think that the people couldnít have something spectacular and luxurious to share among themselves for their comfort. Thatís part of the reason why Commons is so grand, and all the cottages are very modest by comparison. While the cottages are privately owned, the land is leased. Any exterior improvements to an individual cottage have to be passed by a building code committee, and theyíre both strict and a bit pissy."
"Thatís it exactly," Ryan agreed. "I hung out there a bit as a kid, and I suppose some of it has stuck with me. Anyway, Helga Matson had this young friend who had studied to be an architect. Now, in those days, a woman architect was just about as unheard of as, oh, a woman fighter pilot or something. It just wasnít done. So, Helga brought her friend, Ursula Mandenberg, in and sort of strong armed everyone into letting her design Commons. She did a heck of a job on it, as anyone who has ever seen it will agree. But at least part of what Dannyís grandmother wanted to do was to set Ursula and Brent up, and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams."
Ryan was silent for a moment, and was a little choked up when he continued, "I really donít remember my mother well, I was only ten when she died in that car wreck. But everybody I ever talked to has said that my father and my mother were made for each other." Again he was silent, trying to figure out what he wanted to say. "That was the other real tragedy of Dadís life," he said. "Like I said, I donít remember the two of them together very well, but I can tell you that when she died a lot of the light went out of my fatherís life and it never really returned."
"Thatís very true," Alma said quietly. "He missed her every day until he died. Heíd often say, ĎUrsula would have liked this,í or that she would have hated that or thought another thing was stupid. Sometimes he talked to her, like he was in the same room with her."
Randy just nodded; heíd seen his grandfather doing it, too. He did not need to be convinced that his father was right, that much of the light of his grandfatherís life went out with his grandmotherís death.
"Just about from then on he threw himself into his work," Ryan continued. "Hours and hours and hours, work that would have killed a lesser man. Randy can tell you, Dad worked like that right up until he started getting heart attacks, sometimes twelve and fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Not much of a social life, just agonizing over details, re-figuring everything over and over again."
"It was very hard to get him slowed down, even with the heart attacks," Randy said. "And that meant I had to work about as much as he did. That could get old after a while."
"I know it," Ryan said. "And you hung in there with him because you knew you had to do it, even though itís given you a lot of grief. Before you went to work with him we agreed you were going to have to bust your butt to learn how to keep up with your grandfather and learn what he knew, but for the most part youíve not only done it, but done it better than I expected." Again he let out a sigh while he gathered his thoughts. "My father was a very smart man, a very capable man, but a very driven and tragic man, as Iíve explained. He never had a lot of happiness in his life, only the satisfaction of a job well done. I tried for years to get him to slow down a little, to stop and smell the roses a little, and I never was very successful. I thought for a good many years if he could just find someone he could love like he loved my mother he could be a little happier. I know Alma tried very hard for many years to make things easier for him, to show him some human kindness. Alma, you did well, and I think you did as well as anyone could to help make the life of a lonely, grumpy old man a little bit better."
"I tried," Alma said honestly. "I could never do on my best day what Ursula could have done for him on her worst. I never got to know him until after you were pretty well gone from the house, and Iíve often wondered how he could have managed to be enough father to produce a son as good as you are."
"If itíll help any, Iíve wondered that more than once myself," Ryan said. "We had some neighbors who helped a lot, especially during my teenage years. It probably helped that after my mother died he dropped out of the club, mostly because he couldnít stand to be around it with all of the memories of her that were associated with the place. That probably eased things up for me a little bit, since it could be hard to be a kid and be involved with the place back in those days. Garth Matson helped a lot, too, because some of the younger kids in the family were about my age, and Dad and Garth were always big friends. In fact, Garth may have been the only real close friend my father ever had. Clark Plywood might not be an independent company or even in existence today if it werenít for that friendship. Garth didnít have any financial interest in the plant other than he would have had as a banker, but when Wayne died, he left an equal amount of shares in Clark Plywood to Dad and to Donna. He also left a few shares to Garth and Donnaís son Frank. At the time that happened, Frank was still a minor, and his father was his legal guardian. Basically, Donna wanted to sell out, take the money and run, but the three of them were able to hold her off for almost twenty years, not without some real knock-down, drag-out battles, especially in the early years.
"Dad, Garth, and Frank all thought it was important that the plant stay locally owned and controlled, because that puts the future of the community in the hands of people who are interested in the community. If youíre some bottom-liner in some office in oh, Toronto or Atlanta, the fact that a company has been the centerpiece of a regionís economy for decades means nothing to you. All that counts is the bottom line, and if you can kill it and improve your bottom line, it dies. What that does for the community or the workers who have given their loyalty to it means nothing to them. In fact, Dad, Garth, Frank, and I have always been of the opinion that Spearfish Lake and the Clark workers have always been good to the Clark companies, so itís the duty of the Clark companies to return the favor. And weíve done our best to do just that."
He shook his head and chuckled, "Someone who really wanted to make an issue out of it could probably trace that whole philosophy clear back to the socialist ideals that Helga had in mind when she started the West Turtle Lake Club. If so, it was really a roundabout way to get there. Anyway, when Donna Clark died I got the shares in the company she had held, at least partly because she didnít have much use for Frank, partly because I worked there, and partly because from her viewpoint I didnít get along all that well with my father. Actually, we got along pretty well; we were just distant, although we started to get a little closer once we consolidated the shares in the plywood plant. My father and I were never real close as adults, but we could work together well and learned to scratch each othersí backs in the process."