Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The Roadmaster was parked near the bank, with the windows all rolled down to keep it from being an oven inside. That was something that would not be done in a big city, but this was Spearfish Lake, so Garth Matson knew it would be only uncomfortably hot when he climbed inside. Although it was considered a little improper for a man of Garth’s status to be out-of-doors in the community without a coat or a tie, on such a hot afternoon he felt he could bend the rules a little bit. He wasn’t thinking about that very much as he took them off and threw them in the back seat before he got inside.
Soon he was driving down Lakeshore, heading for the state road and the club. On the way through town he noticed the beach was busier than it had been earlier, but in spite of his conversation with Dan Evachevski there was nothing that remotely resembled a French bikini out there, at least not from what he could see at a brief glance.
Out on the state road the air ripping through the car made it seem a little bit cooler than it was. Garth knew that there were cars available with air conditioning these days, but he hadn’t bothered with it when he’d bought the big Buick last winter. It simply hadn’t crossed his mind since the need for it was so rare, but now he made a mental note to try and remember it when he replaced the car.
It was close to fifteen miles from downtown Spearfish Lake to the club, but he didn’t mind the drive since he mostly lived out there all summer. It had been weeks since he’d spent a night at his big house on Point Drive, and he didn’t mind a bit. While the club may have been more primitive, it had its compensations, not the least of which was that his wife Helga was happiest there.
In his more philosophical moments Garth had often admitted to himself that Helga wasn’t much less of a pain in the neck than Donna had been. But it was a different kind of pain in the neck and one that he enjoyed most of the time, even when he had to put up with some of her weirder ideas – and she had plenty of them. Realistically, even though he hadn’t totally realized what he was getting into when he started seeing Helga, when all was said and done he was much happier with her than he had been with Donna.
Life with Helga was considerably more complicated and troublesome than it had been with Donna, but in the end he realized he’d brought it on himself, and on balance he didn’t mind. It may have been a typist’s error that brought her into his life, and he was grateful for it.
Well east of town he slowed down for the turn onto County Road 919. With the windows down he kept the speed on the gravel road at a bare minimum – there was no point in getting the interior filled with dust, after all. A couple miles north of the state road he turned off onto a narrower road, and immediately stopped in front of the gate for the club. A key he kept on a separate key ring operated the electrically powered gate, and soon he was pulling the big Buick to a stop next to the family summer cottage. He gathered up his coat and tie from the back seat and went inside.
The cottage smelled of sauerkraut and . . . something – Garth couldn’t figure out what it was. “Hi, Liebchen,” Garth said to his wife, who was wearing an apron as she worked at the stove. “What’s for dinner?”
“Sauerkraut and lentils,” she replied.
Garth inwardly rolled his eyes. That wasn’t his favorite meal, and it made him doubly glad he’d stopped off at the A&W to get a hamburger for lunch. Among Helga’s many devoutly-held principles, she was a fanatic vegetarian who had, she swore, never let meat pass her lips. It had caused no end of problems between the two of them in the first years they’d lived together, until the two had finally established a firm, if unspoken agreement about Garth’s being carnivorous: what you don’t know won’t hurt you. It was the main reason he usually ate breakfast and lunch at some restaurant or other.
“Sounds good,” he replied, not quite lying through his teeth. It would be, in fact, a lot better than some of the meals he remembered Donna making, if for no more reason than it was Helga making it. “I’m going to go get my clothes off and jump in the lake.”
“Good,” she said, stirring the pot. “It better for you will be.”
Garth was used to his wife’s occasionally mangling the English language. Although she’d been in the country for over twenty years now, her language often reflected the German sentence structure of her upbringing. While Garth considered Helga’s father, Dr. Deiter Inghulsen to be an absolute nut from the word go, he at least had the sensibility to get his family out of Germany when the Nazis took over. Despite her foibles Helga was positively sane by comparison.
It certainly felt better to have his work clothes off and be heading out across the lawn to the lake. Even on a hot day Spearfish Lake, a big lake, never got terribly warm, but the much smaller and shallower West Turtle Lake warmed up nicely for swimming, just right to cool off without it being a shock to the system.
The cool waters of the lake were starting to bring Garth’s system back into balance when two of the four kids he’d had with Helga showed up. It was evident that Carrie, the oldest by far at twelve, was just starting to turn into a young lady; she’d been a “goodbye baby” born in 1943 while Garth had been in Italy. Phil, the next oldest, had been born in 1946 in Spearfish Lake after Garth’s return, a “welcome home” baby. They’d been joined by two more, April and then Rod, who had just turned six. On the whole, Garth enjoyed his second family a good deal more than he’d enjoyed his first, although Frank, his son with Donna, was showing signs of turning into a decent kid in spite of Donna’s influence.
Even when he stopped to think about it, his whole history with Helga seemed incredible and unlikely. There was no doubt that he was partly to blame; he’d made a conscious decision to go looking for a woman, well, not necessarily an unconventional one, but someone about as different from Donna as she could be. He got that with Helga with spades as trumps.
He certainly never expected what he was getting into back on one warm summer day in 1942 when he caught up with the “D” Battery convoy on maneuvers along the south Jersey shore. He was there to settle a dispute over where the company’s fire base was to be set up. He found the convoy commander, young Lieutenant Brent Clark, arguing the subject with a remarkably beautiful young lady, who was totally naked and fighting mad.
They say that lightning struck that warm Jersey day; certainly the thunder from it was still heard in Spearfish Lake, more than two decades later.
Then-Major Matson managed to maintain a properly military composure, in spite of the obvious distraction caused by the sight of this buxom lass, entirely in the buff. Matson was soon able to work out the problem; though Lieutenant Clark had come to the correct map coordinates, even though they put him square in the center of a nudist camp, the coordinates were wrong; some typist had slipped up. The battery moved down the road a mile, placating the hardheaded young woman, and Matson, liking what he had seen, offered to buy her dinner sometime.
“Why don’t you come out for dinner this weekend?” the good-looking brunette offered. “That is, if you’re willing to take your clothes off.” Matson went away, thought about it, then took off for the weekend and borrowed a car. He didn’t bother to pack a bag.
When he came back Sunday night, he wrote a letter to Spearfish Lake, telling his lawyer to get on with the divorce.
If Adolph Hitler was ultimately responsible for bringing Garth Matson to a New Jersey nudist camp that spring morning, he was equally responsible for Helga Inghulsen’s presence there.
Helga was twenty-one that summer, watching the camp during the week for her parents, who owned it. Helga and her parents were all shaped by the unsettled years after World War I in Germany. Her parents, sickened by the war and what it had done to Germany, set out to lead a life that would be above such squalor and pain. At first they were “Wandervogels,” young idealists who embraced naturalism and pacifism and vegetarianism and nudism and Communism (in its purist, not Russian sense). They strove to instill the virtues of their beliefs in their young love-child and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The Inghulsen family’s beliefs would have made them highly unpopular in Germany after Hitler took over in 1933, even if they had not also both been partly Jewish. Fortunately, Doctor Inghulsen had some money, and his mother died and left him some more. They wound up in New York, just as the American nudist movement got under way in the early 1930s. Even in the depression, a skilled physician could make a decent life. In 1939, they had taken over the struggling young south Jersey camp, where they met Major Matson when he showed up the weekend following D Battery’s inadvertent invasion.
Though pacifism was still much in the Inghulsen heart and Dr. Inghulsen fervently and idealistically believed that wars would be impossible if all armies were naked, kicking Hitler’s butt was the exception.
Helga, who had been much impressed with how open-minded and gentlemanly Major Matson had been, was rather taken with him. Though lust is not supposed to be present among nudists, no one said anything about banning love. As a romance, it was a bit hurried and frantic, but so were many other relationships in 1942, and few could have been more intense.
In those days, D Battery was still almost all Spearfish Lake men. Virtually everybody in the battery had witnessed the incident when Major Matson and Helga met; even thirteen years later, there were still a lot of men around Spearfish Lake who could honestly say they had seen Helga in the nude, and could praise Matson’s taste.
Major Garth Matson and Helga Inghulsen were married in the spring of 1943, just days after his divorce was finalized, and not long before the battalion shipped out.
In the miserable Italian winter of early 1944 Major Matson, second in command of the battalion and soon to be the Lieutenant Colonel commanding it, learned that his daughter Carolyn had been born. He couldn’t wait to get back to his lovely wife and newborn daughter, for he knew things were going to be a lot different than they had been with Donna.
He had no idea just how right he would be.
The day had been just as hot for Brent Clark, and jumping in the lake seemed just about as appealing to him.
Nailing down shingles on a sunny, humid summer is at best uncomfortable. Brent knew that he could have skipped helping out with the project at the new Bertram cottage Clark Construction was building out on the north shore of Spearfish Lake. But one thing he’d learned about leadership from commanding D Battery in the later stages of the war in Italy is that it’s good for worker morale to see the boss sharing his sweat with theirs. So he’d spent much of the day with a hammer in his hand, helping his lead crew get through the miserable task. Now, it was just good to get home.
It was cooler in the house – not exactly cool, but compared to being out on a roof on a hot day, much more comfortable. “So how did your day go honey?” his wife Ursula asked.
“I’m just glad to have it over with,” he sighed. “What would you think about you and Ryan hopping in the car with me? We could run out to the club and spend some time cooling off in the lake.”
“It sounds wonderful,” Ursula agreed. “Ryan has been talking about it all day. But let’s eat first. If we wind up at the Matsons’, Helga will ask us to dinner, and you know what that means.”
“Right, something awful and inedible,” he smiled. “I’d just as soon avoid that if I can. I don’t know how Garth puts up with it.”
“I can throw some hot dogs on,” she suggested. “We can have some beans and potato chips with it, and be ready to eat in ten minutes.”
“Sounds good to me. Where’s Ryan?”
“Out on the porch, playing with his Erector Set again. He sure likes that.”
“He sure does. That may be the best toy we ever gave him. I’m going to go get out of these hot clothes and get on shorts and a T-shirt.”
“Don’t be long,” she smiled.
Brent went up the hall to their room, peeling off his hot clothes along the way. It felt good to be out of the sweat-soaked work outfit, and he felt cooler already. Another day done, and while it had been uncomfortable, it had been a good one. Right at the moment, he couldn’t be much more satisfied with the way things had turned out for him. Even after ten years – it would be exactly that in a little more than a month – he still couldn’t believe he was married to as beautiful, as kind, as considerate, and as intelligent a woman as Ursula. She’d been more than a wife to him; she was a business partner and was the reason for much of the success that Clark Construction had enjoyed, despite its unlikely beginning.
It still seemed incredible to have her in his life. Meeting her had come about as the result of that really awkward affair when Garth Matson met Helga Inghulsen at that nudist resort on the Jersey shore. That had been a screwup from the word go, but so much good came out of it!
At the time Ursula Mandenberg had been Helga’s best friend, and she’d also been present at that memorable meeting, although Brent didn’t remember seeing her then. But as the romance between Garth and Helga had bloomed, so had the one between Brent and Ursula. Unlike the Colonel, Brent had waited until after returning from Europe to marry her, but it wasn’t long after his return when they’d tied the knot.
Brent had originally had many doubts about returning to Spearfish Lake at all, since he knew very well that he was going to be stepping right straight into another war, and this time he was going to be right in the middle.
When D Battery was called up in 1940, Brent was right out of college. He had known that there was a position waiting for him at Clark Plywood, which his father Wayne owned and had built up from not much of anything over the course of ten years or so during the depression. The only problem with that was that Brent wanted as little as possible to do with his father.
In fact, Brent had never been close with his father. He didn’t remember his mother at all; she had died in childbirth when he was two, and his little sister had died with her. He’d mostly been raised by a succession of nannies and housekeepers while his father had taken advantage of the fun and looseness of Prohibition-era Chicago. Brent had never really known why his father had picked up and moved to Spearfish Lake when Brent was ten, but he now suspected it was an effort by his family to get him out of town and keep him out of trouble, which succeeded only moderately.
Brent still resented the fact that his father had chosen to have so little to do with him in his growing-up years. Granted, his father had been busy building Clark Plywood from almost nothing, but he’d also been busy with his bottle and any loose skirts he could find in Spearfish Lake and elsewhere in those years. Any priorities his father may have had with offspring were way down the list.
Brent had built his first real adult friendship with Garth Matson in the days before the war, when Battery D had first been called up for duty. He was as aware as anyone else in the battery of the dirty deal Wayne had pulled on Garth with his wife, and he’d made it clear to Captain Matson that he was on his side. Matson returned the favor – when he was promoted and made the battalion operations officer, he’d recommended Brent to command the battery. That just sealed the friendship – and it meant that going back to Spearfish Lake would put Brent right in the middle of the battles his best friend would be having with Brent’s father and stepmother, who he disliked even more than his father.
It was Ursula who talked him into it – mostly because Helga, her best friend, would be moving there too. Under the circumstances he couldn’t deny giving it a fair try.
When Brent and Ursula came back to Spearfish Lake in the fall of 1945 Wayne, of course, offered Brent a job at Clark Plywood again. Brent turned him down, and rather brusquely at that, saying truthfully that he wanted to do something else, to build something for himself rather than follow in his father’s rather wobbly footsteps. He wasn’t sure what, other than drawing unemployment, but there ought to be something else out there.
The winter of 1945-46 was hard and cold in Spearfish Lake. One of the real bright spots for Brent and Ursula was their friendship with the Matsons; the two couples spent a lot of time together, and both the women were pregnant at the time, Ursula with Ryan and Helga with Philip.
Over the course of the winter they first heard Helga’s idea to start a nudist resort in the area, and between the four of them they turned a wild idea into a workable plan – and gave Brent the idea for what he was going to do with his life. Someone was needed to do the construction, and while Brent was hardly an expert at it, he knew people who were, and most of them veterans of D Battery at that. Plus, he knew that he’d have very favorable terms and support from the Spearfish Lake State Savings Bank.
Brent learned a great deal from building the first dozen or so cottages at the club from stock plans, but in the second year they started on the huge log clubhouse, later known as Commons – and Ursula, a former architectural student, was the one who designed it. In spite of the differences between Ursula and Helga, they were still the closest of friends, but Ursula didn’t insist on manic vegetarianism or some of the other causes Helga espoused. Despite her very German name, especially her first name, she was American born and just about as Americanized as Brent was himself.
With his clothes changed and now feeling better, Brent went back out to the kitchen, where Ursula was busy with supper. “You’d better tell Ryan to go wash up,” she said.
“Yeah, and I want to see what contraption he’s built with his Erector Set this time,” Brent agreed.
As much as Ursula was one of the lights of his life, Ryan was the other light. He was a good kid, smart and serious for a nine year old. Even at his age, it was easy to see that he was going to go somewhere with his life. It was one of Brent’s few sorrows that Ryan was the only kid he was going to have. He and Ursula had tried for more kids, but she’d had three miscarriages before they decided to not risk another one – and Ryan was a good enough kid that he almost made up for it.
Sure enough, Ryan had put together quite a rig. “What did you build this time?” Brent asked with considerable interest.
“It’s a drag line crane, Dad,” his son said. “It took me a while to figure it out, but it works!”
“That’s quite a job,” Brent replied, proud of his son’s skills. “Let’s see how.”
The toy drag line really did work! The boom was raised and lowered by a hand crank, but the bucket ran off the little electric motor, which took throwing a little lever in the gear train on one side of the motor to make it work right. If Ryan had been willing to take it out into the yard he could probably have moved some sand with it, but he knew better than to mess up his favorite toy that way.
Brent had bought Ryan his first Erector Set for Christmas a year and a half before, and it had soon become his favorite toy. Made up of stamped metal girders, nuts, bolts, and other odds and ends, there were a number of things kids could build with them. Despite his age and a few problems handling the small parts Ryan had steadfastly worked his way through everything in the rather thin instruction book that came with the kit.
Ryan had enjoyed it so much that for Christmas last year Brent had bought him a much larger set, one that included a small electric motor that ran off wall power. The possibilities for building with the combined sets were much larger than before, and while Ryan hadn’t worked his way through the whole instruction pamphlet yet he was well on the way – and he’d built several things that weren’t in the book. This was one such, and it was an ingenious job. Brent had real reason to be proud of his son for the patience and effort it took to build it.
“Good job,” Brent summarized. “You really do well with that. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do with it?”
“I don’t know. I’ll probably play with it a little, and maybe make a couple other changes to see how they work, but I think tomorrow I’ll tear this down and build something else.”
“I’m sure you’ll do well with it,” Brent said. “You better go in and wash up. We’re going to have supper, then take a ride out to the club to go swimming.”
“Sure, Dad!” Ryan said. “I’ve wanted to do that all day.”
What a kid! Brent didn’t know many other nine year olds, but none of the ones he did know would have been able to do something like this. Someday, he was sure, he was going to be able to put his skills to something useful.