Monday, August 26, 2019

CELEBRATION AT TEA LAKE, from the Memoir of Les Scheaffer

Camp Bovey, Solon Springs, Wisconsin
My parents, Les and Kay (Catherine) Scheaffer, were married 80 years ago today. When I was growing up, the celebration of their wedding anniversary was always a family event. In 1952, we were in northern Wisconsin with my cousins, the Buck family, and decided to take a short road trip to celebrate the day. Here is my father's story about that memorable trip.
            "How shall we celebrate Les and Catherine's 13th wedding anniversary?" Betty directed her question to husband Dave and to Catherine as they sipped their after-dinner coffee in front of the lodge fireplace at Camp Bovey. Les, with the older kids--Jeff, Caroline, and the two Steves-- was playing a game of Crazy Eights around one of the dining tables. Dave spoke up in his bluff executive voice, "Tomorrow we'll celebrate at Tea Lake!"
            To clue us in, Betty explained that Tea Lake was the place in northern Wisconsin where David worked as a teenager helping to build log cabins for a writer friend of his family, a professor at the University of Chicago. The card players had been listening, and the two Buck boys shouted their approval. They had heard their dad brag about his Tea Lake cabins for as long as they could remember, but they had never been there. Jeff, looking at his cousins, Caroline and Steve, "You can ride with me in the Buick convertible with the top down." No further persuasion was needed.
            The fourth and last camping group had left Camp Bovey a week ago, returning to their homes in northeast Minneapolis. The Scheaffer family was now on vacation enjoying the quiet of Lake Metzger and the pine forest around the lake. Nothing is as quiet as a children's camp after the final busload has left. Catherine's sister, Betty, and family had driven up from Chicago in their new Buick to make it a two-family vacation, totaling eleven people--sisters and spouses, seven children, and a dog.
            There was an air of excitement at breakfast the next morning, not the usual leisurely meal, but a sense of "no fooling around, let's get going." It was Tuesday, August 26th, the day of the big expedition. The kids were cooperative, cleared the table and helped do the dishes while the mothers made a lunch and fixed a bottle for baby Betty who was 4-1/2 months old. By 9:30 we all piled into the two cars. David and I and the four "big kids," ages 8, 5, 4, and 3, had the privilege of riding in the classy Buick. The two sisters, Catherine and Betty Anne, with Tom, age 2 and baby Betty, plus Spottie, the dog, rode in the 1950 double ended Studebaker-- double ended because people said you couldn't tell the front from the rear.
            Five miles of sand road took us to the black top running east. David decided that we better put gas in the Buick. Eight miles down the black top we pulled into a country gas station. The Studie didn't need gas and the mothers weren't too pleased about this stop. We heard them muttering to each other, "Isn't this just like men--as soon as the babies get to sleep they think of a reason to stop--and the babies wake up!" Catherine, who hadn't turned off the motor, pulled up next to David and said, "We're going on. You can catch us. We'll see you for lunch." There was a bit of an edge to her voice.
            We didn't exactly know how to get to Tea Lake except that it was somewhere close to Mellon, Wisconsin. However, each car was armed with a Douglas County map and vague directions out of David's memory. He thought that Tea Lake was close to the county line--though he wasn't sure.
            After two hours of driving, which included probing into several deadend forest roads, it was obvious that David was feeling his way. Not having caught up to the girls, we had to assume that they had found a nice picnic spot and were waiting for us.
            We had long since run off the edge of the Douglas County map. Until now, it hadn't worried us that David was the only one of our group who had ever been to Tea Lake. As we passed many little lakes, I asked, "Dave, does any of this look familiar to you?" He gave me a rather scornful look as though to say, "How can you have so little faith in your leader?"
            His reply, however, was "Not yet--but relax, we'll find it soon."
            Faithless and worried, I asked, "What about the girls? I haven't seen the Studebaker." I got no answer to this question as David slowed down to scan a little road, more like a lane, leading into the woods. He put on the brakes and pulled over. Holding onto the steering wheel, he stood up to get a better view. He was looking at an opening in the forest, wheel tracks with grass in the middle, hardwood virgin timber on each side: beech and walnut, maple and birch, a dark cool tunnel snaking its way to the next curve and out of sight.
            David grinned, backed up six feet and made the turn into the road. He said nothing but we knew that he had found the road into the Tea Lake camp. After three minutes of careful driving on this twisting trail, its course dictated by massive tree trunks, we found ourselves facing an opening with a small lake straight ahead and a log lodge on the west shore.
            We stopped, silently admired this tea-colored lake with flecks of sunlight decorating the surface like a piece of snow flake obsidian. David and I turned around to look at the kids who had been so patient during this long search. It was afternoon and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. David drove to the edge of the lake and broke the silence, saying, "Let's eat. We're all starved."

* * *
            Part II
            To have found Tea Lake at all was some sort of a miracle. Considering how we had probed and groped and stumbled into the correct woods lane, how did we expect the girls in the other car to find it? Nevertheless, David and I looked over the heads of the kids, back toward the road, hoping to see the Studebaker emerge from the trees. No such luck. Not a sound--not even any birds flitting in the branches. The kids were less concerned, especially now that they had eaten the picnic lunch.
            Jeffy Buck turned to his father and asked, "Dad, where is that cabin you built when you were sixteen?" David smiled, motioned us back into the car and drove around the end of the lake. "Everybody out! Now we're going to see my log cabin." He led the way to a log outhouse, a two holer. "There it is--and I built it all by myself."
            At that moment my five year old Stephen let out a yell and a sob, holding the back of his hand as a yellow jacket flew away. I rushed over to comfort him, but before I got there, something like a hot iron struck me in the scrotum. I grabbed for my crotch and then felt something crawling down my leg. A yellow jacket crept out and flew away. We had stepped on a nest. David ordered all of us into the car. "We're getting out of here!" he shouted. Before we got to the end of the lake, I was retching with nausea. David slammed on the brakes. I jumped out and threw up. Then I began to feel faint. We drove around the lake to the main lodge.
            A man came out, evidently the caretaker. He and Dave half carried me into the building and onto a couch. In this 80 degree weather I was cold and shaking like a car on two cylinders. There was one quilt on the couch. They covered me, but I was still shaking uncontrollably. They pulled a rug from the floor and put that over me.
            I was fighting to stay conscious, drifting in and out ... David was scared--the easy grin was not there--neither was it time for bluffing.  I could imagine his thoughts-- As a former football player, college and pro, I've seen people hurt-- concussions--don't let them fall asleep--make them hang onto consciousness -- Tea Lake was my idea and now look-- now look -- Les is fighting for his life -- where are the girls? Where are Catherine and Betty Anne? What a wedding anniversary this turned out to be.
            Caroline suggested hot tea. David looked at her with doubt, not used to suggestions or orders from an eight year old--but Les is her father--no harm in trying--Caroline had never seen a person fighting for consciousness--her strong, healthy Dad--a hero laid low. I wanted to reassure her and also to tell her that I don't like tea, but words wouldn't come. I was lost in a haze.
            David and the caretaker boiled water, made some tea. I couldn't sit up to drink it. They propped me up, poured some in my mouth. It dribbled down my chin and neck. I just wanted to give up and sleep. Faces disappeared as a mist enveloped me.
            . . . I was back at Camp Bovey on the shore of Lake Metzger--I decided to look for that rod and reel I had lost in twenty feet of water--I waded in, walked out with the water rising over my mouth, my nose, now over my head--no problem breathing, not in this crystal clear water--I had always claimed that you could drink straight out of this lake -- fish swam by, black bass and crappies--some stopped, we smiled--no sign of the fishing rod so I walked back in--David and Caroline were standing on the shore waiting for me . . .
            The rug was still covering me, heavy. The haze was thinning. I was vaguely aware of eyes, pairs of eyes focused on me, no nose, no mouths, like surgeons and nurses observing an operation. The ceiling lights suddenly came on--operation over--I felt nausea and diarrhea--said so--David helped me up, rushed me to the outhouse behind the lodge. When I came out I knew that I had licked it, that I would survive.
            We piled into the car and headed for Camp Bovey, 90 miles to the west. We would find the girls there, worried sick about their husbands and family. Long before we got there the sun had set, but as it got dark a moon rose behind us.
            We finally came to the sand road to camp. As we turned into the Camp Bovey lane, David said, "We'll sure have a story to tell the girls--hope they weren't too mad about our running off with the lunch." But as the cabins and the lodge came into view--THERE WERE NO LIGHTS IN CAMP! NO GIRLS! NO BABIES!
            "Les, feed the kids! Put them to bed! I'm going out to look for the girls!"
* * *
         Part III
            "The Girls' Story"
            (As told by Catherine)
            Our last words with the boys were rather sharp. They went something like this:
            ". . . just when baby Betty got to sleep, you had to stop, and now she's fussing . . . we're going ahead. . . you can catch us . . . see you for lunch."
            Then Betty and I drove east on the black top road for about twenty five miles, constantly looking back, expecting to see the boys catching up to us. Maybe we were driving too fast, but a big Buick should be able to catch a little Studebaker with no trouble.
            After driving for a half hour with no sign of the boys and the kids in the Buick, we were a bit worried. David had said something about a gravel road being at or near Tea Lake, so we were looking for that too. It occurred to us before the day was out that David had not been to Tea Lake since he was sixteen years old, and that roads may have changed in that eighteen year interval.
            Regardless of that logic, we saw a wide gravel road going south, and we took it. We kept looking back, hoping to see the Buick entering our cloud of dust--but no cars of any kind. After three miles we came upon a sand road that dead-ended at our gravel road. There was a rusty sign on a tree pointing east, which said "Auto and Truck Sales--Mellon, Wisconsin."  David had told us that the Tea Lake people bought groceries in Mellon, so we decided to turn on this road and go east again.
            *We drove for less than a half mile when we saw a small rut road going along a marsh and into a woods. It looked like a road that would go to a lake--Tea Lake?
            We turned in. Just before we got to the woods, the road came to an abrupt end at a broken down bridge which once crossed the little swampy creek. There was no going forward. To back up 200 yards to the sand road was more than I was willing to tackle. So I walked back to find a spot where I might turn around. I found a place that looked possible, sandy but hard. I stomped on it and jumped up and down. It felt firm enough to me.
            Back to the car, I reassured Betty, told her to get out to reduce the weight and to guide me. In reverse for thirty feet, I then swung the rear end out of the ruts onto the broad sandy spot. The wheels began to spin and throw sand, the right rear wheel sinking deeper and deeper. It was evident that we were badly stuck.
            "What shall we do now?"
            "Let's get some boards from that old bridge."
            We did that, but it didn't help. They were thin and rotten and just broke into little pieces under the wheels.
            "What shall we do now?"
            "Let's wait for the boys or for some other car to come along. "
            Neither happened. It was going on two o'clock, and we were suddenly aware that it was well past lunch time. It occurred to us that the lunch and baby Betty's bottle of milk were in the cooler in the Buick. Luckily we had a baby bottle of sterile water from which even Tommy would take a sip or two before the afternoon was over. We also had six graham crackers. As we got hotter and hungrier during the afternoon our thoughts about "the big boys"--David and Les, were not too charitable. We couldn't help but imagine them eating and enjoying the wonderful lunch we girls had made for the Anniversary Picnic.
            The happiest ones in our little lost group were the two babies and Spottie. Tommy seemed to be content with graham crackers and enjoyed digging in the sand, finding pretty stones. Baby Betty was fine as long as there was still water in her bottle. Spottie raced around exploring and resting in the shade, or coming up to be petted. He was not a very big dog, but somehow he made us feel safe, our protector.
            We walked out to the Mellon road and waited. One hour--no cars! Then we walked to the gravel road where, some place in the distance, came the sound of sawing and chopping, but no people, no trucks, nor any logging road that we could see.
            "Shall we follow the sound and try to find the wood cutters?"
            "No! No! We're lost enough as it is!"
            "O.K. Let's make a sign and a barricade. If any car does come along they will have to stop.
            So we scraped up a large pile of gravel, carried some tree branches from the edge of the woods and then wondered how we could make a sign that would get people's attention, Betty said, "We can use one of the baby's receiving blankets for a big sign."
            "A good idea! We can use my lipstick to print the word HELP!  Then we should also leave a note."
            In the ditch we found an empty cigarette carton. We flattened it out and wrote -- "Two ladies with babies--car stuck in old logging road--1/2 mile east--Please help!"
            The afternoon was hot, no breeze, and time passed slowly. We walked back to the car. Mosquitoes were flying out of the marsh and biting all of us except Spottie. We got into the car and hoped that help would come soon. We truly believed that we would be rescued. With the car windows open a crack for ventilation we were kept busy killing mosquitoes.
            Then about five o'clock we hard a car, looked out the back window and saw a pickup truck coming toward us. A young husky teen boy got out, looked at the car, then at us and said, "I'll be damned. It's true! What are you doing back in here?"
            "We were looking for Tea Lake. Do you think you can get us out of the sand?"
            "I'll try, but I don't have a rope or chain."
            He tried to lift and push us out but we were stuck too deeply. He saw that we were disappointed and said, "Don't worry. My dad can lift that Studebaker out single-handed. He's really strong. He sent me out to get some food for supper. The men are going to work till dark, maybe finish tonight."
            "We heard some sawing and chopping. Was that your lumber camp?"
            "Yeah. My name is Johnny. We better get in my truck and go get my dad. He's going to be mad that it took me so long."
            We all piled into his truck, the two babies on our laps and Spottie in the back. We got down to the gravel road just in time to meet Johnny's dad. He was mad!
            "What the hell is this all about? I sent you out to get food!"
            Johnny jumped out and quickly told his dad about our predicament--the stuck car and the hungry babies. He looked at us and calmed down. A slight smile crept across his face.
            "Let's get these babies fed first. Follow me to The Corners. We'll take care of the stuck car when we get back."

            It wasn't far to The Corners. We would have found it ourselves if we hadn't turned onto the sand road. The Corners included two good gravel roads, a gas pump, a little grocery store, and a minor miracle--the lady at the store had a tiny baby and a supply of baby formula in the ice box. She also had a beautiful warm smile. She knew the men, heard the story, and quickly warmed up a bottle.
            While Johnny and his dad picked up food for the lumberjacks, Betty fed the baby and shared a bottle of pop with Catherine. Tom drank a glass of milk and ate a homemade cookie that the kind lady laid out for her sudden guests.
            Since the men were anxious to get back to their logging camp, we thanked the lady profusely as she followed us out to the trucks. She smiled and said, "You're certainly welcome. One mother can certainly help another. I'm sure you'd do the same."
            Johnny took the food for the loggers and his dad said to us, "Crawl in. I'll get your car out of the sand. Johnny said you were looking for Tea Lake. I drove in there once--great virgin timber! It's about ten miles from here."
            "We just want to go home now, back near Gordon, Wisconsin."
            In fifteen minutes we were back to the Studebaker. Johnny's Dad didn't lift it out with brute strength, but used a heavy rope and we were ready to go in no time.
            "Can you find your way home now?"
            It was getting dark. We were hesitant.
            "I'll lead you back to the black top and see that you turn west. It isn't that far."
            We were embarrassed that we weren't carrying any money to offer this man or his son, after all the bother we had caused. Betty impulsively stripped off her wrist watch and offered it to him. He laughed, pushed her hand back and said, "I'm glad you have a half tank of gas. You better get on the road going west. Be sure to keep the moon behind you."
            At the black top, windows came down and smiles were passed around generously as Johnny’s dad pointed west, made a "U" turn, and we began to retrace our route to Camp Bovey. Two hours later, lights on, we came to the gas pumps where we had separated in the morning. Their lights were on, so we decided to stop and ask if they had seen the Buick. Also, Spottie had been whining, telling us he wanted to get out. As we were talking to the man, Spottie jumped out to stretch his legs and find a tree.

            As we got on our way looking for Simms Road House and then the Flamang Road to camp, Betty said, "Won't the Boys be glad to see us!"
            "I hope so. As a 13th wedding anniversary I'd say that the number 13 is not my lucky number."
            We rode along quietly for about a half hour when Betty said, "Spottie is pretty quiet in the back seat. He must be tired." She shifted baby Betty carefully so she could turn around to see Spottie. She looked in every corner of the car. Spottie wasn't there!
            "Catherine! Spottie isn't with us. We must have left him at the filling station!"
            "Oh, no! Shall we go back?"
            "No. Not now. We've gotta get home. He'll wait for us. David can go back in the morning."
            Another hour, mostly quiet, and we came to the Flamang Road to camp. Two miles north we saw a bobcat cross the road, then Ox Lake where we heard the loons and the coyotes. Just before we came to the camp road we saw headlights coming fast. We stopped and flicked our lights.
            It was a blue Buick convertible. David! He stopped, head on, six feet away, jumped out and ran to the Studebaker. In a voice that was both relieved and confrontational, "Where have you been all day?"
            Betty in a quavering voice--"Lost . . .stuck in the sand . . .eaten by mosquitoes . . . Why didn't you find us? Where have you been?"
            Betty began to cry. David said, "Tea Lake. You were supposed to follow us. Les almost died -- stung by bees!"
            Catherine started to cry. Tommy and baby Betty woke up. David mellowed and did a big dimpled grin for the girls --
            "Everything is going to be all right. Let's get back to Camp and get something to eat. Les is there feeding the kids and putting them to bed."
            Sure enough--back at Camp Bovey all was quiet. With the help of the older kids, Caroline and Jeff, the young ones were fed and put to bed, An hour later the four parents sat around a table in the dining hall eating warmed up spaghetti and telling their stories of a 13th wedding anniversary that went awry.
            Shortly after sunrise David was on his way to fetch Spottie, who was waiting, watching, and wagging his tail thirteen miles southeast of Camp Bovey, never in doubt that his good master would come.

Monday, August 19, 2019

From BLINIS to PELMENI, Sampling Traditional Russian Food in Washington, DC

Sometimes eating out can be a little bit like a trip to a foreign country. On our recent trip to Washington, DC, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Mari Vanna, a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue not far from Dupont Circle. Specializing in traditional foods from Russia and Eastern Europe, it was a chance to try foods we don’t normally eat. It was a Saturday night, and the bar on the main floor was humming. We were taken upstairs to the comfortable dining area, decorated with lace covered lamps, flowered menus, walls covered with historic photos, and a samovar in the corner. As we waited for our food, an accordion player serenaded the tables with lively polka tunes.
The menu of Mari Vanna features several kinds of black caviar–far beyond our price range. One can also order a variety of vodka based drinks. We opted for a Moldavian Merlot red wine.
Rather than ordering a large main course, we chose several smaller plates to share.
We began with a fish plate, an assortment of smoked salmon, smoked butter fish, smoked sturgeon chunk, which was served with fresh cucumber slices and lemon. We also ordered a plate of blinis (thin egg pancakes) served  with sour cream and salmon roe (which provided a salty crunch). A bread board came with two kinds of bread--a dark and light rye--served with traditional red radishes and a scallion
Our third item was a pot of Siberian pelmeni, a kind of Russian dumpling--in many ways similar to Chinese steamed dumplings. They came with various fillings both salty and sweet. We chose to have the pelmeni stuffed with ground pork.
By the time we finished the pelmeni, we were ready for dessert. Art had Medovik, a traditional Russian honey layered cake, and I chose what was called Bird’s Milk, described on the menu as a “Traditional Royal Milk SoufflĂ© with Dark Chocolate” and tasted a bit like meringue topped with chocolate. Delicious!
By the end of our meal we were completely satisfied. I understand one can go to Mari Vanna for a traditional afternoon tea--another chance to sample their many desserts. On another visit to Washington, I’ll have to do that!
Mari Vanna
1141 Connecticut ave NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036