Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Garth Matson usually enjoyed the mornings at his summer cottage at West Turtle Lake. While he often went into town for breakfast for the sake of bacon, sausage, and ham, some mornings he just liked to hang around the place to be with Helga and the kids. That meant breakfast usually was something like butterbrot or muesli – something otherwise unheard of around Spearfish Lake, where breakfast cereal usually ran to Wheaties or Corn Flakes. Garth had come to especially enjoy the muesli breakfasts, often flavored with bananas or local berries.
While things were often awkward around Helga, sometimes he had to admit that they were worth the trouble.
Garth would be among the first to agree that he hadn’t fully thought through the problems of a nudist resort at Spearfish Lake, but had just let Helga bully him into it. He could look back now and realize that he should have known that she wasn’t going to alter her principles just because she was married to him and living in a rather conservative northwoods town. The one thing he could be sure of – and it had been the limit of his thinking then – was that Donna was going to turn blue with pure anger every time she realized what her leaving him had brought about. That was good enough for him.
In any case, he hopped on the idea with enthusiasm as soon as he realized how much Helga wanted it.
Garth wound up buying the two square miles of land the club would occupy from Wayne Clark at ten cents an acre. It was then all cut-over stump land, and Clark didn’t even think it was worth that much – but the thought of possibly taking Matson on a land deal led to him not question what Garth might want the land for in the first place. From all reports Donna never let Wayne forget about it, either – something else that pleased her former husband.
By definition, nudism requires sunshine and warmth, items in short supply most of the year in the land of the Mackinaw and the shoepac waterproof winter boot. Except for a few weeks in the summer, and the odd nice day in the spring or fall, a nudist couldn’t expect to be a golden tan, but something more approximating a robin’s-egg blue.
Then, there were the mosquitoes, billions upon billions of them. Even at noon on a warm summer’s day, the early members of the West Turtle Lake Club could hear them hovering in the swamps, revving their motors, tuning up for the attack. Needless to say, the members of the club were heartfelt advocates of more and better mosquito control.
The club would not have been a possibility at all had not Colonel Matson remembered the few days he took off in Naples in the spring of 1944, when the Army Medical Corps and oceans of DDT brought a malaria epidemic under control. Liberal applications of the insecticide made nudism just barely possible at West Turtle Lake.
Members of the West Turtle Lake Club – their thinking largely led by Helga, of course – tended to prefer natural foods, and shied away from “chemical additives” except, of course, when it came to insect repellants, where “anything goes” was the rule. Over the years, some of the preferred concoctions had characteristics that would melt plastic and remove paint, and, occasionally, keep mosquitoes at a distance of up to six inches.
Garth and Brent Clark soon found another way to alleviate the mosquito problem somewhat. By building a small dam near the railroad bridge, they were able to raise the level of the lake four feet, which inundated much of the swamp around the lake, and drowned East Turtle Lake in the process. That made a marked difference in the number of the bloodsuckers. Even though it was now only one lake, it was still called “West Turtle Lake,” more out of habit than anything else.
Mostly because of the stumps on the golf course and the airstrip, it took almost ten years before the West Turtle Lake Club was finished to something approximating the vision that Garth, Helga, and Brent worked out that night in the spring of 1946. But the club was in use, at least on weekends, from midsummer of that year. Eventually, there would be about sixty summer cottages at the club, all built by Clark Construction and ranging from the primitive to the palatial, but only about a dozen were finished the first year.
For the people who got in on the West Turtle Lake Club at the beginning, it proved to be a great investment. Membership was a hundred dollars that first year, and it was to increase steadily over the years. In 1946, eight hundred dollars would purchase one of the smallest of the standard cabins that Clark Construction built at the club. In 1955, one of those cabins, still essentially the same as it was built, changed hands for around $20,000.
It also turned out that Clark Plywood hadn’t totally stripped the place of trees; there was a nice little grove near the lake, with the trees rather scattered, and it made a nice place for the first cabins to be built, with the community hall nearby. Aspens and poplars grew quickly, and there was always enough shade for comfort, even though the club tried to keep things as open as possible, both for sunlight and daytime mosquito control.
Even from the first year, the club was a comfortable and relaxing place. The lake bottom was sandy to begin with, and with a sandy shore; it did not take much work with a bulldozer to develop a magnificent swimming beach before the dam was put in.
Things were still unsettled, especially the first year, but Helga set forth in developing a proper, healthy atmosphere for the club, one that was to continue for many years.
So it was with great reluctance that Garth finished his breakfast, then went into the bedroom to get dressed for work. Given a choice, he’d rather have stayed out here with his family, taking in some healthy sun and exercise, and maybe laying around in the shade when it got real hot, rather than sweltering in a business suit in the steamy heat of the bank. For that matter, who could blame him?
But there was no choice, so he went out, started the Roadmaster, and headed for town, wishing that he didn’t have to go to work at all.
The night at Pinewood Campground was a good one for the scouts on the canoe trip. They had a good supper, better than the night before, but Jim had the kids go to bed early, telling them that they had to be up and running early the next morning to limit the time they’d have to spend on the big lake. It could be touchy if the wind came up, so it was best to be through that segment of the trip and off the lake early. “I’m going to be getting you up before dawn, and we need to be under way as early as possible,” he told them. “If we get in early enough the plan is to camp below the Spearfish Lake dam, and there’ll be plenty of time for messing around there.”
Jim didn’t mention the possibility of a stop in town if the Rathburn kid wasn’t acting as if he felt better, but it was certainly an option in his mind.
It was well before dawn when Jim got the kids moving in the morning. Needless to say, they weren’t all that thrilled about it, and things were less efficient than normal, with plenty of yawning, scratching, and a limited amount of horseplay. It was just too bad the kids didn’t drink coffee, Jim thought. Every one of them acted like they could use some.
As they were getting organized, Jim got the Bob to the side, and in a brief discussion found out that he wasn’t feeling any better, and possibly worse, if anything. That made up Jim’s mind – unless there was a drastic improvement in the next few hours, there was going to be a stop in Spearfish Lake to see the doctor.
In spite of everything they were on the river not long after the sun was up. At that hour of the morning it was dead calm, and Jim hoped it would stay that way. Although he hadn’t said anything to anyone, not even to Dale, he had a gut feeling that the sooner he got to the town of Spearfish Lake the better he would like it.
The river twisted around several times before going through a wide, treeless swamp, and then it opened out onto the big lake. Jim didn’t want to say the surface was like a mirror, but it was pretty calm. He still was very reluctant to try a crossing with this group, so he decided to stick close to the north shore, which would be a little more protected if a wind were to come up. There was a good chance it wouldn’t – the last couple of days had been pretty close to a flat calm – but you never knew where the weather was concerned.
There was no waiting around to think about it; Jim just told everyone to stay together and stay close to shore. Early on they did make short crossings of small bays, but that wasn’t the same thing as a direct route across the lake. When possible, he tried to stay close to the canoe with the Rathburn kid, who he could see wasn’t paddling well. He was listless, and not very strong. He even looked like he was hurting now, Jim and wished several times he’d put the kid in the bow of his own canoe, since he was a much stronger paddler than the scout in the stern of the canoe Bob was in, but he hadn’t.
It would sort of shame the kid, but they were making so little progress the decision couldn’t be put off any longer. There was a cottage up ahead with a small beach in front of it, so Jim had the two canoes pull in and switch the kids in the bow. It was only a few steps for Bob to walk, but Jim could see he was unsteady on his feet.
Even after the switch, the kid was game and trying to help, but Jim could see that his paddling wasn’t adding much to their progress. At least Jim was a strong enough paddler that he could keep moving at a much better pace for the group. He could look across the lake and see the town over there, still several miles away. It would be several more miles out of the way to take the shoreline route, but he felt it was still the wise thing to do.
Jim was providing most of the propulsion for the canoe by now; Bob was only getting his paddle in the water occasionally and wasn’t adding much. It was clear that the kid was feeling much worse than he had been when they left Pinewood. He was still trying to think of some way to speed things up when Bob dropped the paddle in the water and slumped over.
Jim grabbed the paddle as he went by and dropped it into the bottom of the canoe. They weren’t far from shore, and it was clear this couldn’t go on. “What’s up?” Dale yelled from his canoe only a few feet away.
“The kid is sick,” Jim replied. “Let’s get in to shore. I think we need to get him to a doctor.”
“How about that cottage up ahead?” Dale suggested.
“From what I can see from here there’s no one there.”
“Yeah, but it looks like the highway is right behind it. Maybe we could flag someone down.”
It sounded like a good idea to Jim – certainly better than his other idea, which was to grab another paddler from among one of the older scouts, a strong one, and do a direct crossing for the town. In only a couple of minutes the troop was pulling up onto a nice beach in front of what obviously was a deserted cottage.
As soon as he had the bow of the canoe up on shore, Jim hopped out and rushed up to the Rathburn kid. “Bob,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t think so,” the kid said in a hurting voice. “I can’t move my hand. I can feel it but can’t move it. I can barely move my arm, and I hurt all over.”
“Let’s get you out of the canoe, Bob,” Jim replied, not liking what he heard at all – in fact, cold chills were running up and down his mind at the word that kept echoing around there.
It took both Dale and Jim to get the Rathburn kid up onto the grass – he couldn’t walk by himself now and was difficult to carry. “Dale,” Jim said. “Grab a couple scouts, go up to the road, and try to flag someone down. I think we needed to get Bob to a doctor as soon as we can.”
“Jim,” Dale said seriously. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I hope not,” Jim replied seriously. “It could be a lot of things, but I sure hope it’s not what I think it might be.”
Jim and Dale looked at each other quietly saying with their eyes what they didn’t want to say in front of the kids. From what little they knew, this morning the Rathburn kid was showing all the signs he’d ever heard of. He didn’t even want to say it in his own mind, but Jim knew it could be polio.
There were few words that scared him worse – especially when it was one of his scouts.
Garth Matson had at least surrendered to the reality that he would have to spend the day at the bank wearing a business suit and trying to avoid melting down into a puddle of sweat, rather than being comfortably undressed and enjoying it with his family at the cottage. He didn’t like it, but there didn’t seem to be much alternative, either.
It was still fairly early in the morning and not uncomfortably hot, so he got along with only one of the windows of the big Roadmaster rolled down, just to keep the air moving in the car a little. He was mostly trying to come to grips with the problems he’d be facing during the day, and trying to put wishful thoughts of just skipping work behind him.
The road was empty this morning, but it often was; there were no cars or trucks to be seen in either direction. The state road ran through several miles of woods after he’d turned off of County Road 919, and Garth made the drive often enough that he didn’t have to think about it too much. But there was a place where the road came out for a brief overlook of the lake, and he almost always took a glance across the lake at the town in the distance.
Not far beyond that, he noticed a man and two boys standing right in the road, waving their arms as if to stop him. Garth wasn’t the kind of person who would arrogantly pass by someone who might be in trouble, so he slowed the Buick; the boys stepped off the road, and the man stepped out across the centerline as Garth came to a stop. “Got a problem?” he asked conversationally.
“Yeah,” the man said. “We’ve got a bunch of scouts on a canoe trip, and one of the kids is awful sick. We’re wondering if there’s any possibility of you taking him to town.”
“Yeah, sure,” Garth replied. “I need to get my good deed in for today, anyway. Where’s the kid?”
“Down at the end of this driveway,” the man said, pointing across the road. “It’s not too far, and it’s not too rough going.”
“Hop in,” Garth offered. “I’ll run you down there.” The man and the two boys piled into the Buick. Garth glanced up and saw there was still no traffic on the road, so turned and drove down the driveway.
It wasn’t very far – less than a quarter of a mile – before he came out at a lakeside summer cottage. Not far off the end of the driveway he could see half a dozen canoes pulled up on shore, along with boys and another adult clustered around another boy lying on the grass. He stopped the car, shut it off, and got out to ask, “What’s the problem?”
“Got a sick kid,” the other adult said. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but I think we need to get him to a doctor.”
“Sure, put him in back, I’ll take him,” Garth said.
“I better go along,” the man said, and turned to the man who had waved him down. “Dale, let’s get him loaded.”
The two men carefully picked the young scout up and put him in the back of the Buick. Garth was no doctor, but he could tell that the kid didn’t look good; he was obviously semi-conscious and in some pain. “I’ll ride in back with him,” the man announced, and turned to the other man. “Dale, load the scouts up and take them on around the lake. Stay close to shore and keep them all together. You probably would be best off to tow one of the canoes. When you get to town, come by the hospital, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
“There’s a big beach right downtown,” Garth offered. “It would be a good place to stop.”
“OK, thanks,” Dale said. “You better get moving.”
In only a minute Garth had the Buick running. He turned it around, drove up the driveway, then got out on the state road. “How far is it to town?” the guy in back asked.
“About ten minutes, maybe a little more. I’d guess it would be best to take him directly to the hospital.” Garth stepped on the gas; he’d only be able to save a couple minutes by hurrying as opposed to the leisurely speed he’d been driving, but at least it would make him feel like he was trying.
“Thanks for helping out with this. I’d already made up my mind to take him to the doctor when we got to town but he got worse pretty quick.”
“No big deal,” Garth replied, speaking a little loudly to be able to talk to the man in back. “So how was your canoe trip?”
“Not bad until this came up. I’m Jim Blanchard, the scoutmaster. We’ve never canoed this river before, so I don’t know much about the area.”
“I’m Garth Matson, I run the bank in town. I guess it’s pretty much a typical small town. I’m afraid our hospital isn’t anything much, but it serves the purpose.”
“It’s got to be better than what I could do out on a river,” Blanchard replied, obviously worried. “I’m just glad you came along when you did.”
Garth stepped down on the gas a little harder as he said, “I’m sure they’ll do what they can for your boy.”
“So did you find a place to stay?” Dr. Brege asked Dr. Luce about that time in the waiting room of Sanford Memorial Hospital, just up Central Avenue from the doctor’s offices, about three blocks from the lake.
“For the moment,” Herman replied. “You were right in sending us to Tom Rufner. He managed to find us half of a duplex on Oak Street to rent. It has some furniture in it, not very much. We moved our things in last night, but we’re hardly settled yet.”
“It’ll do until we can arrange for something permanent,” Penny added. She’d met Dr. Brege briefly the afternoon before, when she and Herman had been going through Dr. Halford’s office, just getting used to it and finding out what was there. She’d come along with Herman on this visit because she knew she’d have to work with the people at the hospital, too.
“We ought to be able to see patients in a day or two, or the first of the week at the latest,” Herman added. “There are still some things we need to arrange.”
“Good, that’ll be a relief,” Dr. Brege replied. “I guess we’d better show you around.” He led the Luces down a narrow hall of the big old structure that had once been a real estate developer’s house, and walked into the second office back. “This is Charles Fike, the hospital administrator,” he said by way of introduction, and told Fike who the Luces were. “He handles the administrative stuff, billing, ordering supplies, a lot of other things of that nature.”
“Good to meet you,” Fike replied. “We’ve needed another doctor in town badly since Dr. Halford died.”
“I’m giving them the nickel tour while I make my rounds,” Dr. Brege explained. “You can come along if you like.”
“Sure, I’ll follow along. I might be able to answer a question or two, but lead the way.”
“Upstairs, probably,” Fike shrugged. “She’s around somewhere.”
“Denise is the head nurse,” Dr. Brege told them. “Usually we only have one nurse on duty at a time. If we get real busy, we’ll call in someone else to help out. Mrs. Luce, we may have to call on you in an emergency, but it probably won’t happen too often.”
“I don’t mind,” she replied. “I suppose that’s part of what it’s like in a small place like this.”
“We have such a small staff that everyone more or less has to pitch in when needed,” Dr. Brege said. “Anyway, in general, administration is downstairs, and so are the medical facilities. We have a couple of patient rooms downstairs, as well. Most of the time we just use the downstairs rooms to limit the going up and down. Fortunately the downstairs part of the building is bigger than the upstairs.”
“It used to be worse before we had the elevator,” Fike added. “We had a fundraising drive a few years ago to put that in. I think in time that we’re probably going to have to have all the patient rooms upstairs. There have been discussions about building a new, more modern facility out of the edge of town but money is the issue, as always.”
“We get along,” Dr. Brege agreed. “It would be good to have a modern emergency room, for example. We have our admitting area, which does double duty, but it gets inconvenient at times.” The tour went on, such as it was. There was a small surgery unit, rather primitive to Dr. Luce’s eye, but Dr. Brege said that it was luxurious compared to some of the places he’d had to do major surgery during the war. Herman could imagine that; he’d managed to avoid serving in the military, unlike some of the people in his medical class who had had part of their medical school government funded. At least there wasn’t a war on right now.
The tour went on. The hospital had a small lab, right off the surgery, and some treatment rooms. “We really could stand a new hospital,” Dr. Brege admitted, “but we’ve been able to make do so far.”
Just then a short, heavy older woman with salt-and-pepper hair came up to them. She was wearing nurse’s whites. “Dr. Brege,” she said, “I’m glad you’re here. Garth Matson is outside, and there’s a very sick child in the car with him.”