Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Sometime later, while Susan was wandering around looking for someone else to be acceptably social with, she came across Mark and Jackie Gravengood, who somehow she’d missed earlier. Maybe they’d shown up late, she thought, but that seemed unlikely; it was more likely that they’d been a big help to her mother and father in the work of setting the open house up in the first place.
While there were people in attendance who were there mostly because they were friends of Susan’s parents and thus had to be invited, some of the adults were Susan’s friends as well. Mark and Jackie were near the head of that list. They had been her parents’ best friends as long as Susan could remember. When Susan had been young, Oma Birgit had mostly looked after her so her mother could work, but Mark and Jackie had also been involved. Mark had actually spent time in Germany in the Army over thirty years before, but he was a keen observer, and some of his observations dating from those days Susan had found to still be right on the money.
Mark was also a wizard around computers, and he had helped Susan build the first computer she could call her own, at the age of eight. Partly through his guidance, there was little that intimidated Susan about them, even though she and computers had come far from those days in only a few short years. Jackie had run the local sign-making shop for many years, and Susan had picked up a few of those skills, too. Though the Gravengoods had never had children, in many ways Susan had been sort of a part-time substitute child to them, and they were not people she could ignore.
Both Mark and Jackie were over six feet tall, even taller than Susan, and the three of them spent a lot of time talking about one thing and another, even if it was mostly the things that Susan had already said to others at the open house. She didn’t begrudge the time talking to them, not in the slightest, and it was clear they were going to get a longer version of her time in Germany sometime at a later date when they could be a little more private with each other.
Another woman Susan knew well was Carrie Evachevski, the social editor at the Record-Herald, who had the highest seniority of all the employees there, even more than Susan’s mother Kirsten. Susan knew that Carrie had lived in Germany for several years while her husband had been in the Army. They’d lived on the economy much of that time, so Carrie had more exposure than most to the German culture, and at one time she had spoken fairly decent German; however, she’d lost much of it in the more than thirty years since she had come home to the States. Still, she was the only person in the room besides Susan, Mark, and Oma who had spent any time there at all.
She had a nice long talk with Carrie, who asked some intelligent questions based on her own memories. Things had changed a great deal in the time she’d been gone from Germany, but some things never changed, either. Susan was sure they’d talk about Germany more at some other time.
During a lull in the conversation, Susan became aware of a well-dressed shorter woman at her side. The woman had shoulder-length black hair, was apparently around thirty or so, and was one of the few people at the open house who Susan didn’t know on sight.
“I presume you are Miss Langenderfer-McMahon,” the shorter woman said in a sweet voice. “I dare say you must feel a degree of discomfort at having to stand around and speak nothing but English once again, but I also dare say that you must be growing weary of standing and talking of no one but yourself as well.”
“I know I’m supposed to be the center of attention, but it’s getting a little tiring, too,” Susan replied courteously, a little surprised at the woman’s word choices. Even from the little bit the woman had said, it was clear she used the language more elaborately than most people, and that was unusual and made her interesting all of itself. “I’ve gotten so used to doing everything in German I have to stop and remember I’m supposed to talk in English. Somehow it’s like I’ve fallen down a hole, and a rabbit in a suit should be running by yelling, ‘I’m late! I’m late!’”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this,” the woman grinned. “But I fear this isn’t Wonderland at all, merely Spearfish Lake, and I trust your name isn’t really Alice. Your father tells me that you are most anxious to partake of further experiences of foreign shores. I must say that I rather envy you for your opportunity to do such a thing at your age. I have had but little opportunity to travel abroad, but I managed to spend a summer in England while I was working upon my doctorate, and I found it to be a most invigorating experience.”
“I never got to England,” Susan admitted, now even more impressed with the woman’s use of the language. This was strange indeed, and she felt like this was someone she’d really like to talk to. “I’d like to sometime, but there will be other trips.” She thought for a moment on how to say what she wanted to say, but then finally it was simplest just to blurt out, “I know this may be a little rude of me, but I’m afraid I don’t remember you.”
“I dare say that you have no reason to remember me,” the woman said. “But your mother suggested that I make an appearance at this event so I might make your acquaintance. She has told me that you are a most unique young woman, and that we might find items of mutual interest to discuss. Perhaps I might introduce myself. I’m Doctor Myleigh Hartwell-Harris. While my husband and I live near the shores of Spearfish Lake, I teach English literature at Weatherford College, and have, if I might say, become slightly notorious for other things.”
“Oh!” Susan replied, the realization coming on her. She hadn’t really met this woman, but she had watched her play the harp at a party the family had been invited to at Jennifer Walworth’s house not long before Susan left for Germany. It had been a magical experience, and Dr. Hartwell-Harris had been both extremely good and entertaining. Now that the memory had emerged, she remembered that Dr. Hartwell-Harris talked rather quaintly and formally, although Susan hadn’t talked to her directly. How could she have forgotten that experience? “You’re the woman who plays the harp with Jennifer Walworth! I love that album you did in the Grand Canyon! It was one of the few CDs I took to Germany with me.”
“Well, yes,” Dr. Hartwell-Harris smiled without a trace of embarrassment. “That is an avocation of mine, and one that has been somewhat rewarding from time to time, but I primarily think of myself as an educator. I admit to some curiosity about your comparisons between the American and German educational systems.”
“They’re very different,” Susan replied, realizing that the superficial answer she’d given to several people who had asked the same question over the course of the afternoon wasn’t going to wash with Dr. Hartwell-Harris. “That makes them very difficult to compare. For example, in this country we’re more used to high school students being given mostly the same education in the same schools, with most students taking many of the same classes. In this country, it’s not until after high school that students are separated into those who get jobs, those who go to some sort of advanced technical training, and those who go on to college. In Germany, the separation takes place earlier, at what we would consider about the sixth grade level, into Gymnasium, Realschule, or Hauptschule, with Gymnasium being what we could consider the college preparatory level, and Hauptschule just a good general education for students who are going to be non-technical workers. Generally speaking the average American high school graduate is considered to be about the equivalent of a Realschule graduate. But that’s not totally a fair statement since the systems are so different.”
“I find that most interesting,” Dr. Hartwell-Harris replied. “I admit to not knowing a great deal about the German educational system but cannot help but wonder if there might be some advantages to it. However, it’s a change I fear is most unlikely to take effect here.”
“Most unlikely,” Susan agreed, starting to find herself affected by Dr. Hartwell-Harris’s formal way of speech and taking it up a little herself. “Even in Germany there’s criticism that it channelizes students too early, and I don’t think it would go over at all well in this country. On the other hand, the German system tends to separate students who are interested in their studies from those who are just being warehoused, which I find to be one of the less attractive parts of an American school system.”
“Miss Langenderfer-McMahon . . . ”
“Please call me Susan,” she broke in. “Langenderfer-McMahon is too big a mouthful for most people to say. In Germany I mostly dropped the McMahon.”
“Susan,” Dr. Hartwell-Harris said, “I shall accede to your request so long as you shall agree to call me Myleigh, unless it should happen that you find me standing in front of you in a class at Weatherford College. I imagine there’s at least a slight chance that situation could come to pass should you decide to attend our illustrious institution of higher learning. In any case, Susan, what I was leading up to asking was whether you felt that the American educational system prepared you adequately for attending a German Gymnasium.”
“I’d have to be honest and say not really,” Susan shrugged. “I never learned German in school, for example; I learned it as a baby from my grandmother. I learned a great deal of what I needed to know in Gymnasium on my own elsewhere, from other foreign languages through European history and computers, and much of that was preparation for being an exchange student in the first place. As a part of the graduation from Gymnasium you have to take a comprehensive test, the Abitur, which is a short way of saying ‘Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife,’ which is its real name. Passing it is very much like a combination of high school completion certificate and college entrance exam in this country. Because of being an exchange student I didn’t have to take it, but I did anyway because I was curious about the comparison between the programs. I did best on the subjects that I’d had to learn on my own, or had more classes in Gymnasium to expand the knowledge already gained. I did worst on the subjects that carried over from my experience here. That may not be a fair comparison, because I only completed the tenth grade in this country.”
“Dare I ask if you passed the Abitur?”
“Oh, yes,” Susan grinned. “The passing range is a score between 280 and 840. I scored a 658, which I thought was doing pretty well considering the subjects I learned in high school here tended to drag my score down.”
“I find that most impressive,” Myleigh said. “I imagine you do not feel great enthusiasm about returning to high school here after that level of performance.”
“To be honest, no,” Susan admitted. “Attending Gymnasium and having what even my German friends considered to be a really good score on the Abitur makes it seem like a huge step backward to have to spend a year in what’s essentially an American Realschule. But that reflects the difference in systems, too.”
“I must admit to finding this most interesting, and should like to hear of more of your observations upon the comparisons of the two systems,” Myleigh said. “I must encourage you to not let your studies slacken in your return to an American high school, lest it drag you backward. But, Susan, somehow I feel you are a person who will go far and not merely in miles. I fear that I have taken enough of your time from your other guests, but perhaps we shall have an opportunity to discuss this again.”
“I’d like that,” Susan grinned, detecting a kindred soul of sorts, and one whom she felt she’d like to know much better. “We’ll find a reason to do it if we have to.”
Eventually the afternoon and the open house wound down. In the end it hadn’t been quite as bad as Susan had expected it to be. She still would have liked to have had a day to wind down from the travel and get her internal clock back to something resembling local time. Finally the last guest went home, leaving just the basic family left, which included Cindy and Oma Birgit. “Well, that’s finally over with,” Susan said.
“Come on, Susan, it can’t have been that bad,” her mother replied; Susan couldn’t tell if she was teasing or not.
“Well, I got tired of just standing around answering the same questions over and over again, and having to make nice. Only a couple people asked questions that I thought were interesting or challenging or deep enough to have some really solid discussion. I have to admit, a lot of them were from that Doctor Hartwell-Harris you invited.”
“I thought you might find her interesting,” her mother smiled. “She’s only been in town two or three years, something like that, but we’ve gotten to know her and her husband fairly well, and they’re both very interesting people. I was of two minds whether to invite her since I didn’t think you knew her, but I thought she might perk up the afternoon for you.”
“That she did,” Susan grinned. “She sounds like a really smart person.”
“She is all of that,” Mike grinned. “Plus she’s really a magician on the harp.”
“She sounds like she just stepped out of some old English novel,” Cindy commented, a bit sharply. “I couldn’t tell if she was smart or just knew how to put people on.”
“She’s unique, no doubt about it,” Kirsten replied, a little put off by Cindy’s sniping comment. “Once you’ve met her, you don’t forget her easily.” She changed the subject, if for no more reason than to keep Cindy from making another derogatory comment. “So, Susan, are you about ready for dinner?”
“No way,” Susan said. “I spent enough time with the canapés and finger food as it was. I’ve put on a few pounds I’d like to lose. To top it off, my body his no idea what time it is but thinks it sure isn’t what’s showing on the clock. What I’d really like to have is a soak in the hot tub, a beer, and then go to bed.”
“Beer?” Cindy sniped. “You’re not supposed to be drinking beer!”
“I’ve had a beer or two a day, every day, for the last year,” Susan snorted. “Usually with dinner, sometimes not, and good beer, too, not this weak and watery American stuff. It’s really going to be a pain in the butt to have some prohibitionist say that I can’t have one. It really makes this place seem provincial.”
“Like it or not, that’s the law,” Cindy sniffed.
Susan shook her head, wondering once again what Henry saw in her. Cindy had one very unpleasant trait shared with her own mother: when her mind was made up, don’t try to confuse her with the facts. And another one, as Susan thought about it: the world needed to be made over in the way Cindy thought it should be, no matter what anyone else’s opinion was. There was a good reason that Susan didn’t particularly like her prospective sister-in-law, and it wasn’t just the fact that she didn’t seem very bright. For Henry’s sake, she hoped that Cindy made up for it by being good in bed. In fact, very good in bed, to make up for her obvious deficiencies in other areas. “So?” she sneered back. “Sometimes the law is an ass.”
“Actually,” Mike replied, seeking to make peace a little, “Cindy has a point, and it is the law. But just like Cindy looks the other way at speed limits when she doesn’t think there are any cops around, I think we can look the other way at this if we’re careful and sensible about it. Susan, if you want to have a beer or two at home, if there’s only family around, I don’t see why you shouldn’t have it. But it’s not a thing that should be spread around town or somebody like Cindy will get into a snit about it.”
Cindy got a little red in the face when she heard that, as Susan got a grin on hers – if that wasn’t a zinger there was no such thing. She thought her father must realize that Cindy had to be put in her place once in a while, if only on general principles.
With that as a sendoff, Susan didn’t wait for a reply; she headed to her room to pull off her clothes. In only a few seconds, she was nude, heading for the porch and the hot tub. On her way past the kitchen, she stopped at the refrigerator and snagged a beer. Unfortunately it was American beer, several cans of Budweiser, but looking deeper she saw a few bottles of Sam Adams, which she knew was a little more like what she felt beer should be. She grabbed one of them and headed out onto the porch.
A few minutes later her father joined her, carrying a Bud. “Care for some company?” he asked.
“You? Always,” Susan grinned. “One of the things that I really did miss over the last year was some quality time with my father. I sure liked that zinger that you threw at Cindy.”
“She needs it sometimes,” Mike said as he swung into the hot tub. “The world isn’t always what she thinks it should be. The two of you really don’t get along very well, do you?”
“Not really,” Susan shrugged. “She thinks I don’t give her enough respect, and I think she doesn’t give me any at all, so we plink at each other. That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s probably the way it will always be. Fortunately I don’t have to deal with her very much.”
“Yes, there are some good points about Springfield being as far away as it is,” Mike replied philosophically. “She’ll be gone tomorrow and then things can get back to normal.”
“It’s going to take longer than just tomorrow for me,” Susan said. “I don’t know if you’ll like the sound of this, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel normal in Spearfish Lake again.”
“It’s possible,” Mike replied, popping the top of his beer can. “You’ve grown up in a lot of ways in the past year, and you’ve always been mature for your age, but you’ve still got a few rough edges to wear off of you. I don’t think we’re done having interesting times for a while.”
“I’m glad you think so. It’s been an interesting year, and looking ahead seems pretty dull to me, especially having to take what seems like a step backward.”
“I heard you talking with Myleigh about that,” her father replied soberly. “Do you really think it’s that bad?”
“That sort of depends on what you consider ‘it’ is. Spearfish Lake High School really does seem like a Realschule to me, because when you get right down to it, that’s what it really is. It’s geared to the average kid, and there’s no place like a Gymnasium that’s geared to the above-average kid. Or, at least there isn’t anything like it around here, and maybe not anywhere. So, I look at it like I’ve already accomplished the higher-level stuff. Going back to fill in a few blank spaces mostly feels like I’m being warehoused along with the kids who are waiting to get school over with so they can get a job out at Clark Plywood or driving a truck or something. Looking back at it, it probably was a mistake to do the exchange program in my junior year. If I had done it at the end of my senior year, it would have been a clean break, but I’d probably want to be looking forward to college instead of the exchange program. But, what’s done is done, I guess, and I’m probably further ahead for having done it.”
“If it helps any, I think you are, too,” he told her. “My guess is that it will prove beneficial to you in ways you don’t realize yet.”
“I have to say that I hope you’re right.”
“I don’t want to sound like Cindy,” he grinned, “but I usually am, at least on broad generalities like that. So what did you think of Myleigh?”
“Wow, she’s something else, isn’t she? I remembered seeing her at that party you took me to at Jennifer and Blake Walworth’s before I went to Germany, but I must not have talked with her then. If I had I’m sure I would have remembered her.”
“Boy, is that ever the truth,” Mike shook his head. “She doesn’t always talk like that all the time, but I think she actually has to stop and think about what she’s saying when she wants to talk like a normal person. Randy Clark introduced her to us, oh, a while back. I actually met her first when she and Randy were still in college. They got to be great friends there. Then we got to be better friends through Jennifer and Blake. They would have liked to have been here today, but they’re on tour some place. They do more recording now than ever, but they still put on a pretty good concert, and she can draw enough fans to make it worth the effort.”
“That’s one thing I can say about Germany, nobody has ever heard of Jennifer Walworth or Jenny Easton. They’ve hardly ever heard of country music, and those people I met who have don’t think much of it, not that I’m any big fan of it either, although Jennifer is an exception. Anyway, I’m glad you thought to invite Myleigh. She was one of the real bright spots of the afternoon, and I think she’d be pretty neat to take a class with.”
“I suspect that you’d either love her or hate her by the second session,” Mike grinned. “I’m told that she can be quite demanding as a teacher. It would probably be hard to come out of a class you took with her and say you hadn’t learned something.”
“Unlike Spearfish Lake High School,” Susan replied, not willing to let the subject go. “I’ve taken classes there that I could have taught better than the teacher did. At least I knew more about the subject than they did, and not just language classes, either.”
“Well, whether we like it or not, that’s the system we have to deal with,” Mike replied, conceding that he wasn’t going to get Susan off the subject, not that it was going anywhere. “The system as we know it is geared to the average kid and the les-tha-average, while the bright kids have to move ahead on their own at their own pace. They just have to challenge themselves to do it. That’s not the way I think it should be, but that’s the way it is, and there are parts of it that aren’t all bad, even though there are a number of ways that it’s not very good. About all I can say is deal with it the best you can while you’re working on things like where you’re going to go to college. I know a year seems like a long time to you at your age, but it’s really not.”
“That’s one of the things I learned in Germany, how short a year really can be,” she smiled.
“Then maybe it will help this year be shorter for you,” he advised. “There will be bright spots and there will be things you can learn. You may think you’ve been handed a lemon out of this whole deal, but the old saying about making lemonade when you’re handed lemons is just as true as it ever was.”