Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The semester was winding down at Riverside before the recall election was held. It was no longer a real big deal in Spearfish Lake as things had died down in the months that had passed since the petition had been circulated during the school board meeting. There was a story about it in the Record-Herald, of course, briefly outlining the issue, and containing quotes from both Battle and Aho.
They were there late that evening since it was a night the Spearfish Lake City Council met. Mike had covered the meeting, while Susan had stayed home, and had only gone over to the board office after the polls were closed to get the results. While the election had not exactly been a foregone conclusion, Aho was ousted, but it had been by a wider margin than Mike had predicted. “I guess there were enough memories long enough to seal the results,” he commented to Susan in the Record-Herald office once he made it back from the council meeting.
“So, now what happens? Do they have to elect a new board member, or what?”
“If I recall correctly from the last time a board member had to leave in the middle of a term, the board will name someone to fill out the term until the next election, which is in June. Usually what they try to do is to bring someone back who has previously been on the board, and Mike Bell, who went off last June, probably would be willing to fill in for that long.”
“What do they do about a new board president?”
“Well, Battle was the vice-president, so he’ll move up into the job. Of course, they’ll elect new board officers at the organizational meeting next summer, so whether he keeps it is up in the air. My guess is that he will. He’s the senior board member now and he has some idea of what he’s doing.”
“Well,” Susan sighed, “at least Aho is out of there.”
“I’m not so sure that’s such a good deal,” Mike shook his head. “Basically, Glenn was doing an adequate job until the thing with Gingrich blew up. I’m not so sure George is going to do any better, and if I had to bet, I’ll bet that he doesn’t turn out to be an improvement.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, Glenn had his idiosyncrasies, like whatever it was that he had going for Gingrich. So does George. He’s a football nut, and for whatever reason he’s a big backer of Jerome Weilfahrt and thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread or canned beer. After the third year of a two-and-seven record I’m not exactly convinced of it, but it’s not my decision to make, I guess. I suspect we’ll be seeing trouble about that up the road somewhere, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The following Monday, Susan went to the School Board meeting. It was relatively quiet; the search committee had hired an executive search firm, and they had come up with several possibilities for a new superintendent. The committee had narrowed the applications down to three, and the board had to interview each one of them, which they’d done over the previous week. At the meeting, there was considerable discussion, with Battle again bringing up his contention that they needed an experienced superintendent from outside the district, someone who understood how grant funding worked in order to shore up the school finances. Susan had heard that from him way back in September, so it was nothing new. Her own opinion was that it should be someone who was experienced in the district and understood how things worked in a small town, but she kept that to herself. It wasn’t her decision to make, after all.
In any case, the background search on all three of the finalists had been extensive, and nothing particularly derogatory had shown up. Each of them had good records in their previous positions, and good references that had checked out. Nothing showed up in a criminal background check either. Still, everyone remembered the troubles back in September, so the interviews had been intensive, and there was no clear leader among the three at the meeting.
The talking went back and forth for over an hour before the board finally settled on Charles DeRidder. DeRidder was a former assistant superintendent of a large school district in the Chicago area, and had been the superintendent of a small rural district in Wisconsin for the last year and a half. The vote wasn’t unanimous; it came down to a five to two decision after one of the candidates had been rejected.
Once the decision had been made, Battle called DeRidder to inform him of the vote; he returned a few minutes later with the information that DeRidder thought he could be on the job after school started up again after Christmas break. Harold Hekkinan was happy at the news; he was glad to be out of having to deal with both jobs, especially with much of the next several months having to be spent on the school budget. To Susan, it looked like all the troubles that Gingrich had caused were now in the past.
Another week went by. Classes at Riverside broke for the semester, a week before the Spearfish Lake system closed for the Christmas break. Susan received her grade report from Riverside, and was pleased to discover that it consisted of nothing but A’s. She’d known from her midterm grades that she was handling the work, which hadn’t been very challenging, and she had that much college credit to show for it. The way the scheduling worked, she decided to take eighteen hours the next term, which would involve late nights on both Tuesday and Thursday. If the classes were no harder than the ones she had taken in the fall, she had little concern about being able to handle the extra work. She hoped that those grades held promise for Southern the next year.
By then, Susan had received the anticipated rejection from Michigan State, not a surprise, although it still was a bit of disappointment. If she’d been able to talk to an admissions officer who knew his job and wasn’t a total jerk she might have been going there, but it wasn’t to be and that was that. She’d also received an acceptance from Grand Valley, but by the time it arrived the decision to go to Southern had been made. It was now sure where she was going to college, and she could make more detailed plans.
In the first few days they were out of classes, Susan and Mizuki decided to make a fast trip to Hawthorne to take a look at the apartment situation, which they hadn’t investigated at all on their trip in October. It didn’t look that promising; there were a lot of students living off campus, and rents were higher than indicated previously. There was one apartment in a four-unit structure that would be free in the spring they especially liked, but the rental was just plain out of reach, and reluctantly Susan told the lady who owned the place.
“Well, if you can’t, you can’t,” the woman said. “But I’ll tell you what, I sure would like to sell this place.”
“Just out of curiosity, how much would you have to have?” Susan said, mostly to make conversation.
The woman named a price that seemed surprisingly low, considering the cost of the rentals. On the way back, Susan and Mizuki talked about the place, and Susan did some figuring on a piece of scratch paper – and came up with a surprising answer. Assuming that a loan at a reasonable interest rate could be found, the rental for two of the apartments would cover the payments, and it seemed likely that the rental for the third would cover the other expenses. “That means if we bought the place we could be living there rent free!” Susan finally exclaimed.
“Are you sure?” Mizuki frowned.
“The numbers look like it,” Susan replied. “That would really help the old budget now, wouldn’t it?”
When they got back to Camden, they floated the idea past Mizuki’s father, who wasn’t overwhelmed with the idea, but Susan wasn’t quite ready to give it up. When she explained the idea to her father he thought it had some merit, enough so that Susan and her parents made another trip to Hawthorne after the paper was out that week. All of them went through all four of the units carefully, and examined the figures; Mike was a little concerned that the deal was too good to be true, and that there had to be some hidden fish hook somewhere.
After a lot of discussion, they decided to go ahead with buying the building; even a big fish hook would be cheaper than having to pay the full rent for an apartment. It would be spring before they could finalize the deal, but Susan wound up buying the place, actually in her parent’s names. Mizuki agreed that paying half the cost of one of the apartments was fair, so it was finally settled. The two of them would be roommates. Neither of the girls mentioned to their parents that they planned to have a little fun from time to time, although they didn’t plan on making an every-night habit of it.
Henry and Cindy made it up to Spearfish Lake for Christmas; they preferred it to staying alone in Springfield. Cindy was, of course, critical of Susan’s decision to go to Southern, having no idea of how hard it had been to make the decision. “I can’t see why you don’t go to Central,” she sniffed. “It was good enough for your brother and good enough for me. Southern is just so much farther away and doesn’t have anything like the tradition Central has.”
Susan held her tongue and managed to refrain from saying that the fact Cindy had graduated from Central was enough to pretty well make sure she didn’t want to go there. Of course, the two of them picked at each other all through the holiday. As usual, Susan more than held her own with Cindy, but it still got a little tiring.
One afternoon, Kirsten was baking something and discovered that she was out of paprika, so Susan volunteered to run down to the Super Market and get some. She was standing in the checkout line when she realized she was standing behind Glenn Aho. She thought about going to another line, but the lines were long and she figured that she might as well tough it out, whatever happened. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her behind him, but when she got through the checkout line she discovered that he had.
“Hi, Susan,” he said as she headed for the door. “How are things going for you at college?”
“Pretty well,” she said, just to be courteous. “It looks like I’m going to be transferring to Southern Michigan next fall.”
“Good news, then,” he said. “I’m glad that worked out for you. Look, Susan, I didn’t find out until just recently what Earl had done to you. That was stupid, but I’m glad it worked out all right for you.”
“It was pretty stupid,” she said, the old heat rising in her again. “I thought it was pointless and self-centered.”
“I thought so too, once I heard about it. Earl was really off base on that one, but he had his own way of doing things, and once he had his mind made up, there was no way of changing it. I have to say, I think you and your father handled the whole deal pretty well, even the part about me. I’m sorry you couldn’t get hold of me, but I’ve thought since I was between a rock and a hard spot, I wouldn’t have been able to say much anyway.”
“I’m just sorry you got caught up in it,” she replied, and then decided to take a plunge into an area that she and her father had often wondered about. “I can’t help but wonder why you stayed so loyal to him, even after he got you in so much trouble.”
“He was a friend,” Glenn sighed. “A long-time friend, clear back to college days. We were roommates for three years, and, well, I’ve never been one to make friends easily and neither was he. We, well, we understood each other a little more than most people, I guess.”
There was something in Aho’s words that made Susan realize that Gingrich had been more than just a friend, say, maybe something more like her relationship with Mizuki, but Susan realized that she wasn’t going to press the point. If Aho wanted to say something about it, especially to her, it would have to be his decision to make. “It’s good to have friends,” she agreed, trying to be conciliatory. “I don’t have many myself, and the few I do have are scattered all over the place. I really only have one close friend here in Spearfish Lake, and she spends more of her time with her boyfriend now than she does with me. I guess that’s understandable, though.”
“Yeah, it is,” he replied. “When you have a good and loyal friend, you have to stand up for them sometimes when you don’t want to; even if you know it’s the wrong thing to do. I guess it was the wrong thing this time, but I still had to be loyal. I knew Earl was in trouble down there in Byzantium, but I had no idea how bad the trouble was. I thought I could help him out, so I did. It turned out it wasn’t the right move to make, but when a friend is in trouble it’s the natural thing to do to want to help. I guess I was pretty blind about the reality right up to the end, but what’s done is done.”
Susan shook her head. “Wow,” she said. “I hope I never get caught up in a situation like that, where I have to support a friend even though it’s the wrong thing to do.”
“It will probably happen sooner or later,” he replied philosophically. “And you may be the one in the wrong when it does. It’s the times like those that you find out who your friends are, and how valuable a friend can be.” He sighed for a moment, trying to put what he was trying to say into words. “In spite of everything, Earl and I are still friends,” he said finally. “But it looks like we’re going to be friends at a distance. We may never be quite as close again, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to trust him in quite the way I used to, but we’re still going to be friends. If you can find a few friends in your life who are loyal in that special way, then you’re going to be a lucky person.”
“Like I said, I hope I never have to get into a situation where I have to depend on a friend’s loyalty like that,” she replied tentatively.
“You better hope you don’t,” he said. “But you never know what life is going to bring you, Susan. I think you’re going to do well, but we always hope that of kids your age. Treat your friends and family well, Susan, and hope they’ll do the same to you. Good luck down at Southern, now. I hear that’s quite a place.”
“Good luck to you,” she smiled. “And I hope things work out for you.”
“It’s not all bad,” he smiled. “At least I don’t have to sit through those dull meetings anymore. The school board meetings are bad enough, but when you get into finance committee meetings, well, those can get awfully long, even with the strongest coffee in town.”
Susan and Glenn headed out into the afternoon. The skies were dark gray, and they were spitting snow into the cold winter day. It looked like the weather was going to get worse before it got better. Susan was happy to get into the Cavalier and out of the wind. She started it up and turned it toward home, thinking that she was going to have to do something nice for Cindy. She might never be a true friend, but there was no point in having her as an enemy.