Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Garth Matson agreed to ride down to the beach with Dr. Luce in the doctor’s Oldsmobile – apparently the doctor wasn’t much for walking if he didn’t have to, but at the moment Garth wasn’t going to argue. The doctor parked in the beach parking lot right across from the A&W; off in the distance they could see a group of canoes coming toward them. “Looks like it’s going to be a while before they get here,” Garth commented. “I suppose we could run across the street and get a burger while we wait.”
“That sounds pretty good to me,” Dr. Luce agreed. “I just had Corn Flakes for breakfast, and it hasn’t stuck to me very well.”
“It sounds good to me, too,” Garth laughed. “My wife is a fanatic vegetarian, so I like to grab a burger whenever I don’t think she’ll catch me at it.”
“That’s one problem I’m glad I don’t have,” Dr. Luce smiled.
The two of them walked over to the A&W, made their orders, and found a seat on a picnic table where they could see the oncoming canoes. In only a few minutes the waitress brought them their orders; they ate while talking about the town, just building a little bit of a friendship.
The canoes were getting pretty close as they finished their meals, so the two got up and walked down to the beach to meet them. They quickly picked out the young man who had been leading the group; Garth recognized him as the one who had flagged him down on the highway a few hours before. “Dale,” he said. “Jim Blanchard sent me to meet you.”
“He’s not here?”
“No,” Garth shook his head and said softly to the young man. “Dale, there’s no way to sugar-coat this. The boy you had me bring to town has polio, and he has it bad. There’s no way it can be treated here. A couple of hours ago we had him flown to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. It was the nearest place that had an iron lung available. Jim went along with them. We haven’t heard anything back yet.”
“Oh . . . ” Dale stifled a rather heart-felt swear word, knowing that he had to set an example for the scouts. “Nuts,” he finally managed, wishing he could say what he really meant. “I guess I’d better tell the boys what happened.”
“Dale, the man I have with me is Dr. Luce. He wants to talk to the boys and examine them, just to be on the safe side.”
“I know what you mean.” He raised his voice to gather the scouts together; they were messing around getting the canoes pulled up on shore, having drinks, and casting envious eyes on the A&W.
In a minute or so the scouts were gathered around. “OK, guys,” he said. “I’m going to tell you all I know. It turned out that Bob has polio, and they had to fly him to someplace that has an iron lung.”
The boys had been gabbing and messing around, but Dale’s announcement brought them to an instant, stunned silence. “Is he going to be all right?” one of them asked.
“They don’t know yet,” Dale admitted. “Mr. Blanchard went with him, but they haven’t heard back. Now, I know you’ve all heard of polio. My brother had polio, and he didn’t have it real bad, but that doesn’t tell us anything about Bob’s condition. One of the men here is Dr. Luce. He can tell you more.”
Dr. Luce spoke up. “I’m sorry to have to be the one to bring the bad news to you,” he said. “But for your own safety we’re going to examine you and give you some shots to raise your immunity since you’ve all been exposed to a pretty strong polio virus. Now, how many of you have had the Salk vaccine that’s come out recently?”
All of the boys but one raised their hands. Dr. Luce addressed that boy and said, “How come you didn’t have it?”
“They ran out before they got to me,” he said.
“It takes three shots for the full effectiveness to take hold,” Dr. Luce told them. “How many of you have had all three?”
Dale was the only one to raise his hand. “After my brother, well . . . ”
“Understandable,” Dr. Luce said. “How many of you have only had one shot?”
Most of the kids raised their hands. “It could be worse,” he said. “Even one shot raises your immunity to polio quite a bit, but even three doesn’t end the risk. Are there any of you who have headaches? Sore muscles? Coughing? Difficulty swallowing? Trouble breathing?”
None of the scouts raised their hands. “Well, that’s something,” he said. “In a few minutes I’m going to have your leader walk you up to the hospital, where I’ll examine you individually. I’m also going to be giving you some shots that will temporarily raise your immunity against polio at least a little. I’ll tell you right now that there’s a good chance that none of you will get polio like your friend, but there’s no guarantee, so we want to be as careful as we can.”
“Mr. Bunting?” one of the scouts piped up. “What’s going to happen to the rest of our canoe trip?”
“Tom, I don’t have the answer to that either,” Dale replied. “That’s something that’s still going to have to be worked out.”
“Can we go over and get something to eat?” another one asked.
Garth spoke up. “You’d better not right now. I think the best thing for you to do would be to get right up to the hospital. But when you’re done, I’ll buy lunch for all of you. Dr. Luce, why don’t you drive back to the hospital? I’ll walk back up there with these scouts.”
“All right. I’ll meet you up there in a few minutes.” He turned and started to walk toward his car.
“All right scouts, let’s get going,” Dale told them. “As soon as we’re done we can have some lunch. Sir, would you lead the way?”
“Sure thing. Let’s go.”
The day was heating up now, and the sky was getting rough. It wasn’t terribly bad, as far as Phil was concerned, but he could see that Penny was having some difficulty with it, so he kept the Stinson climbing until he was above the level of the cumulus clouds and reached 7,500 feet. It was smoother there, and the patterns of the clouds below them were actually quite pretty. It was fun in a way; he rarely had the need to fly that high.
It wasn’t very quiet in the cockpit of the Stinson, but now that they were sitting side by side he and Penny could make themselves heard if they talked loudly. “This is better than down lower,” she commented. “I suppose you get used to the roughness after a while.”
“Pretty much,” Phil agreed and decided to try to divert her attention a bit. “The funny thing is that for some reason it isn’t quite as bad if you’re the one flying the plane. Would you like to try it?”
“What? Me? I could never do that. I’d be too scared.”
“Scared? A woman who worked in a polio ward?” he said. “Penny, that would scare the living snot out of me. At least an airplane is big enough for me to understand. It’s a lot like driving a car, at least when you’re up in the air. Put your hands on the wheel, and I’ll show you a bit about what it’s like.”
“Are you sure? It looks like it takes a lot of skill.”
“No, just practice. My eight year old son Mark knows how to fly, at least up in the air. I haven’t tried to teach him how to land yet since he can’t see out through the windshield well enough.”
“Well, all right,” she said dubiously. “If you say so.”
It was something Phil had done often enough before, and if nothing else it made the time pass a little more quickly than just sitting there, especially for the passenger. By the time they were halfway back she was handling the plane well in the air, without having to concentrate too much.
Unfortunately, it gave Phil too much time to think on his own. Finally, he couldn’t hold back on his thoughts. “Penny,” he said. “Didn’t you worry about getting polio?”
“I worry about it all the time,” she replied, apparently happy to have a little diversion herself. “But you can’t let your worries get to you. I suppose it’s a little like flying. I always was careful, and I always took precautions, but there is always the chance.”
“Yeah, I guess it is a little like flying. Do you really think I should stay away from my kids for a while?”
“I would if I were you. There’s actually a very small chance that you could have picked up polio from the boy we flew down to Madison, and a smaller chance that you could pass it on to your family. But you’ve already seen what it can do to a child. Is it a risk you really want to take?”
“I see your point,” he said. “I guess I’m going to be sleeping in a cot in the hangar for a while. I sure wouldn’t want one of my kids to end up like that.”
“I haven’t had kids yet, although it probably won’t be too far in the future. But I’ve seen enough kids hurting and dying from polio that it makes me wonder how bad I want to take the risk of even having them.”
It was getting hot now, and in the interests of keeping cool and keeping the confusion down, Dale had the kids sit out in the shade outside the hospital, with only a couple kids inside seeing the doctor at a time. They seemed to be handling it well, although the reality of what had happened with their friend was starting to sink in now.
Dale and Garth found seats on the steps. “Mr. Matson,” Dale said. “I really hate to say this, but I’m at a loss about what to do next. I hate to just call our trip off, but I don’t think we ought to go on, either. I’m, well, I’m not sure I should be leading the boys off into the woods again if this is hanging over us. What happens if another kid comes down with it?”
“I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes on that one,” Garth told him. “If it was me, well, I’d be worried about it, too. I’ve had some experience as a leader in the Army, but this isn’t the Army, it’s a bunch of Boy Scouts. I guess I’d be tempted to take the safe course.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. On top of that, I’m not sure I should be taking these scouts down the river by myself. I don’t have anything like the experience Mr. Blanchard has. The other side of it is that these kids have looked forward to this trip and worked toward it for a long time, so I don’t want to louse it up for them if I can help it.”
“That’s a tough one,” Garth agreed. “I’ll say this much. You should talk to Dr. Luce and get his input. He may say that under the circumstances it would be foolish to go on, considering that the boys have been exposed to polio so badly.”
“I figured that much out already, but I haven’t been able to ask him yet.”
“Well, here’s a thought. You’re pretty much on schedule for the trip, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, we were going to camp down below the dam tonight and get started on the Albany tomorrow.”
“Could you lose a day, or maybe two, and still make your schedule?”
“No doubt about it. The distance is a little short for the time we have, anyway, and we planned for possibly losing a day or two to rain or something along the way too.”
“Then why not just sit on it for a day?” Garth suggested. “Maybe we’ll hear from Jim in that time, and you could put the question to him.”
“That might not be a bad idea.”
“Dale,” Garth said, lowering his voice so the boys on the lawn couldn’t hear him. “There’s another question we probably ought to keep between ourselves for the moment. I think the parents of all these kids need to be informed of what’s happened.”
“I do, too. Mr. Blanchard is pretty good about telling the parents about problems on these trips, at least when he can.”
“He said he was planning on calling the Rathburn kid’s parents when he was down in Madison,” Garth replied. “So it’d seem likely to me that the word will get to the rest of them anyway. You have to figure that they’re going to be worried about their kids. I mean, speaking as a father, I would be in a situation like this. But that argues for your sitting it out here until we hear something from Blanchard.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right on that. We might know more tomorrow. I almost think we shouldn’t even go down to the dam and do the portage tonight. Do you think anyone would mind if we were to camp on the beach downtown?”
“I don’t know, but if it was me, I’d advise against it. You’re by yourself, so you might have trouble keeping your eye on nine kids with all the downtown distractions close by.” He let out a sigh and thought for a moment. “Look, after we get done here, I’ll treat your kids to lunch like I promised. But then, load your canoes back up and paddle about half a mile down the beach. I’ll let you camp in my front yard for a day or two.”
“Mr. Matson, that’s very nice of you. Won’t that upset your family, though?”
“No family there to upset. They’re out at my summer cottage, and they’re going to stay there for a while. I’m like you, I’ve been exposed to polio, too, and I don’t want to risk them getting it. I’d just as soon we keep your kids pretty well away from the townspeople, and we can manage that better if you stay at my place.”
“When you put it that way it makes sense. And it’s a nice thing for you to do.”
“Here’s another thing. Your Mr. Blanchard has my phone number and knows how to get a telegram to me, so I’m pretty much going to be your contact person anyway.”
“All right, we’ll do that,” Dale agreed. “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Matson, I don’t know how bad I want to press on, even with Mr. Blanchard, without knowing what the deal is with Bob.” He let the rest of his thought go unsaid, even though Garth could feel him thinking it: what happened if the Rathburn kid didn’t make it?
The ride had been fairly smooth up high, but Phil knew it was going to be rougher than a cob when they got below the level of the cumulus clouds. So he stayed above them until they were almost back to Spearfish Lake, then set up a steep descent to get the hard part over with as quickly as possible.
It was indeed rough. Penny was looking a little green by the time he set up a short final for the runway and got the plane on the ground. He stopped fairly quickly on the grass airstrip, then turned the plane around to taxi back up to the hangar. “Well, that wasn’t too bad after all,” he commented to his passenger.
“Then I hope I never have to endure bad,” she said. “Phil, I have to thank you for putting yourself out like this, and I’m glad you let me play with flying the plane a little, but I hope you don’t mind if I say that I hope I don’t have to do something like that again anytime soon.”
“It can get a little rough around midday,” Phil admitted, “but it’s nice to buzz around on a calm evening just to take in the sights. If you or your husband would like to do it sometime, let me know and I’ll be glad to take you for a ride.”
“I’ll mention it to him,” she said. “But like I said, I think I’ve had enough for one day. Now, how do I get back to town?”
“If you don’t mind waiting a few minutes, I need to gas up the plane and put it away, then I can take you back to town in the phone truck.”
It was probably twenty minutes before Phil had everything done and the hangar doors closed. He knew he would to have to break the bad news to Rose soon, and he didn’t want to do it. But there wasn’t any choice, either.
Just about that time Garth was standing on his lawn in front of his big lakeside house on Point Drive. He hadn’t used the house much since the season had opened out at the club, he only stopped by every couple of days to pick up the mail, or occasionally to get some little thing he needed. At times it seemed a little silly to have the big house on the lakefront when he and his family spent the summers out at the club. But he’d owned the house since before the war, back when Donna and Barbie and Frank lived there with him, and he really didn’t want to give it up. It was big enough for his and Helga’s four kids and Frank to each have their own rooms, and it seemed full of life when they were all there.
If Frank were in Spearfish Lake at all Garth would have been willing to keep the house open so his son could be with him for the weekends, which was the way the custody agreement had been worked out. Frank lived with them during the week in the winter and on the weekends in the summer, and was with Donna the rest of the time. However, Donna had insisted that Frank go to a residential boys’ camp downstate, and had even wheedled Wayne into paying for it. Her logic was that the experience would be good for him, but Garth knew very well that Donna didn’t want him to take Frank out to the club any more than necessary. Garth wasn’t happy about the arrangement but at least admitted that it cut Donna’s throat as well as his, and since Wayne was the one coughing up the money there wasn’t much he could say.
He’d made good on his promise to the scouts to buy them lunch after they were done at the hospital, and the good news on that was that Dr. Luce had told him none of the scouts seemed to have polio symptoms at the moment. Whether that would continue to hold true would be anybody’s guess, but the chances seemed good.
Garth was just about as happy that he wasn’t in Dale’s shoes on this one. It seemed like a very good idea to bring the trip to a close, and that was what he would have done if he had been in charge. But that decision would have to rest on Blanchard, and maybe the parents of the kids, so he was just as glad it was out of his hands.
He didn’t have to wait long for the scouts to show up in their canoes; he waved them into shore and helped them get out of the boats. “This is your place, Mr. Matson?” Dale asked. “It sure is nice.”
“It’s nice until you see how much it costs to heat it,” Garth replied ruefully. “But I have a large family so I need the space. There won’t be any of them here, though. You can go ahead and set up your camp right on the front lawn. I’ve already told the neighbors you’ll be here. Just pretend you’re out in the wilderness. If you need to build a fire for cooking later, I’d just as soon you kept the fire on the beach, and not on the grass. There’s a stack of wood at the back of the garage, so use what you need out of it.”
“Mr. Matson, we really appreciate what you’re doing for us.”
“Scouts have to do a good deed every day, don’t they?”
“Well, yes. Were you a scout?”
“Afraid not, I was too old for it by the time the movement came here. But I’ve read a little about it, so you can consider this as me making up for some lost time. Go ahead and get your camp set up. I’ve got a couple places I have to run to, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. I may be gone a couple of hours, though.”
It seemed to Heidi Toivo that Betsy was feeling even worse as the afternoon wore on. She was crying a lot, coughing a lot, and seemed to be hurting a lot. Not long after noon she really began worrying about where Hekki was with the pickup truck, but there was no sign of him, and with no telephone there was no way to call around looking.
She thought briefly about going out to the road and trying to flag someone down – but they lived on a back road, and two or three vehicles going by each day was a lot, so it wasn’t worth the effort. Walk to the Langenderfers? That was still a possibility, and growing into a real likelihood. It would mean leaving Jody and Henry alone with Betsy, and that didn’t seem like a good idea, either, but it was beginning to look like the best choice in a limited range of options, none of which were good.
Betsy was acting even worse, and Heidi had just about made up her mind to go walking for the Langenderfers when she heard the welcome sound of Hekki’s pickup driving in. She rushed out of the house, to find him getting out of the pickup. “Hekki, I’m glad you’re home,” she told him. “Betsy is even sicker and I think we need to get her to a doctor.”
“Is she dat bad? Have you tried putting her in da sauna?”
“I tried it. It didn’t help anything. Maybe it even made it worse. I think we need to get her to a doctor real quick.”
“All right, we go,” he said. “Do we wanna leave da boys here?”
“I don’t think so. There’s too much trouble they could get into here.”
“Den let’s get going,” he said.
In only a couple minutes the five of them were in the pickup. The two boys were riding in the back, while Heidi cradled her sick little girl in her arms as Hekki got the truck moving. Something was really wrong with Betsy, and Heidi didn’t know what it was.