West Otter Lake
Copyright© 2013 – Nicholas Hall
"Whoever is mean in his youth runs a great risk of becoming a scoundrel in riper years; meanness leads to villainy with fatal attractions." – (V. Cherbuliez)
The late winter storm increased in intensity and the wind, blustering from the north and west, rattled the Lodge, pelting snow against windows and outside walls. As expected, the power flickered for a moment or two and then the electricity from the outside world ceased to service us. Before the three minutes were up for the generator to kick in and provide power, I heard four little feet pounding down the hall toward our room and an instant later, two flashlights, each held by a small boy, bobbed and wobbled into the room as Terell and Treyvon bounded into bed with Leandro and me.
Scooting under the covers, one on each side of me, cuddled up close, in quaking, shivering voices they announced,
"Okay if we sleep in here with you?"
"Thanks, Conner!" and the conversation was over.
The generator fired up and power was restored, but that made not the slightest difference to my two younger brothers. As far as they were concerned, all was well with the world as long as they were in the arms of their older brother.
The Twins were sleeping soundly when Leandro and I awakened, so we climbed out of bed quietly hoping not to disturb them, dressed, and ambled our way downstairs to the kitchen. Much to our surprise, Mae was already up and had coffee prepared.
"Quite the storm isn't it?" she mused, "I suppose the twins crawled in with you last night; their bed was empty when I checked this morning. They don't really like storms or the dark, yet. Maybe they will when they get older."
Laughing in response, I shook my head in acknowledgement. "Any port in a storm, I think the saying goes. Hey, it doesn't bother us, so no problem!"
"I'm glad," she offered, "they need someone older now their Uncle Reidel is gone."
Clearly, the memories and weight of the loss affected her also since she changed the subject.
"The weather service people think this will all stop by night fall. I hope so; it's really blowing and snowing out there."
Leandro left his empty cup on the table with the admonition, "don't put that in the dishwasher," shuffled off to the entry way, put on his heavy coat and snow boots and trekked outside to stoke the furnace and check on the generator. When he returned, after re-filling his coffee cup, he assured me the furnace was well-stoked and the generator was purring along like a finely oiled machine, just as it should. That's fine with me since it could be another day or so before the power company crews could restore electricity. I was concerned with the amount of snow collecting on the cabin roofs, however. I wish now we had metal roofs on them like the Lodge, but it's too late for this winter.
The metal roof on the Lodge and the steep slope allowed snow to slide off before it piled up to rafter damaging levels and weight. The cabins, however, had standard shingle roofs with slopes similar to most garages (they were actually built from garage plans, but thirty-two feet long and twenty-four feet wide) and when snow built up too high on them, there was danger of roof collapse from the weight. To prevent this, we'd have to shovel the snow from the roofs. That job would be our project for the next day after the snow storm came to a halt.
Ollie and Luis meandered into the kitchen, sleep still in their eyes, but dressed for the day. They were moving kind of slow so I figured the storm kept them awake also. Right behind them bounced in Terell and Treyvon; excited and exuberant in actions and talk as they chattered about the big snow storm, as only eight year old boys can do.
After breakfast, I suggested we all bundle up and shovel some paths and check the cabins. Once outside, I could see the snow had accumulated almost to my knees and butt-cheek high on the twins. I got the shovels out of the shop, dodged the snowballs being fired back and forth, jumped in the fray to help out the little boys against Ollie and Luis, and when I figured it was time to quit, called a halt to it. Handing a grain scoop to Ollie and a snow shovel to Luis, I asked them to clean the walk leading to the front door of the Lodge while the twins and I made paths to the wood shed and furnace. I hesitated in getting out the snow blower, attached to the garden tractor because I was fearful a chunk of ice or rock might fly out and hit one of the twins. Once they were inside, I'd teach Ollie and Luis how to operate it.
Finished, we trudged through the snow toward the cabins while Leandro used the Ford tractor to blade the parking lot and lane to the county highway. A quick inspection of the cabins confirmed what I knew was going to be the case; we'd have to clean snow from the roofs the next day. It wasn't long until Terell and Treyvon tired and wanted to go in. I'll give them credit, the little buggers worked hard and played hard while they were outside and had nothing to be ashamed of, so I gave them a big hug and sent them inside. I laughed as I watched them drag their tired little butts to the kitchen door. However, they weren't so tired they couldn't meander this way and that, poking holes in the snow or flopping down in it to make snow angels on the way to the Lodge.
Ollie and Luis followed me to the shop and once I got the garden tractor started, I put Luis on my lap (barely room, I know but...) and demonstrated how to operate the tractor and engage the snow thrower attached to the front. It raised and lowered by hydraulic and the directional chute was manipulated through the same power. The chute would direct the snow in any direction the operator aimed it, except straight back toward the tractor. Once he had the hand of it, I repeated the lesson with Ollie.
Luis was the first to give it a go while I watched and then Ollie took his turn. Both boys did very well, but Luis seemed more comfortable in operating the machine than Ollie. Confident they were doing just fine, I spent my time clearing snow from the shop roof with a roof rake. The roof rake, a long handled device with an eight inch high and two foot piece of aluminum blade attached to the end, was used to reach up beyond the eves or edge of the roof and pull the snow off. Generally, it was used to pull off the first four or five foot of accumulated snow and really helped diminish ice build-up and roof damage, but it was often used in situations like we had going on during this storm. By noon, we were done outside and headed in for lunch.
The snow diminished by mid-afternoon and we were treated to a bright, beautiful sunny afternoon. I walked to the big windows overlooking the lake, admiring the diamond-like glittery reflections emanating from the snow covered surfaces, happy to be living where I did.
"I suppose we'll have school tomorrow, won't we?" Ollie declared as he ambled up beside me.
I put my arm around him and he came willingly to my side.
"Don't count on it Little Brother, there's a lot of road to clear and power has to be restored before school can begin; at least if past snow storms are any indication."
"Man," he lamented, "we won't see bare ground until June. How're we ever going to open the first of May?"
I laughed, chiding him for his pessimism; "Ollie, a week of warm weather and sunshine and most of this will be mud. Another week of warm weather and sunshine and you'd never know winter was here. The ice usually goes out of West Otter Lake in mid-April, but it could be later this year; we'll just have to wait and see. All of the run-off will weaken the ice since the warm water flowing into the lake from streams tends to erode the ice from underneath. We could have some minor flooding, however, if we have a fast melt, but that's normal."
The next morning we tackled the cabin roofs right after breakfast. Ollie and Luis wanted to be the ones to scale the ladders and stand on the roofs. We situated the ladder and I cautioned them on staying safe as they clambered up; I may as well have been shouting into the wind. Shovels at the ready, they began while I worked on another roof using a roof rake. Evidently, I wasn't doing my duty in watching Terell and Treyvon very closely since they joined Ollie and Luis on the roof. I became aware of their absence and presence on the roof when I heard Ollie shout, "Terell, you dumb little shit, what are you doing?"
This was followed by a howl of laughter, with a shout, "Your turn Treyvon," and another whoop of laughter. I looked and realized the twins were doing what I'd done many years before, much to the chagrin of Grandpa Johnson when we had similar snow storms. They were sliding off of the roof, landing in the piled, soft snow below. It didn't take long until Ollie and Luis followed suit and joined them in the adventure and fun. I finally had to put a stop to it, especially if I wanted to get the roofs done today, claiming we had more cabins to do. It temporarily dampened their exercise, but all four had to slide down at least once on each of the cabins we worked on.
Late that afternoon, the power flickered a couple of times and stayed on. We heard the county snowplow grunting and groaning down the highway as it cleared away the accumulated snow. Leandro went out with the Ford tractor and re-opened our lane, now blocked with mounds of snow plowed back from the highway by the county plow.
School resumed as normal on Monday, although the students did have two extra days added on to the school year to make up for the snow days. The sun came out, the temperature started to rise and spring came. The second week of April was parent-teacher conference and this'd be an opportunity for Mae and me to see just how the boys were doing in school. We both attended the morning conference for Terell and Treyvon and were extremely well pleased with the report we received from Mr. Polistrini, their teacher. As we knew and now evidenced by their grade report, the boys were very bright and keeping them challenged and active as learners also challenged the teacher. Mr. Polistrini was young, yet possessed the maturity of a much more experienced teacher, extremely handsome young man who was a master educator.
He and I both attended the same university, but never happen-chanced on each other through the course of our academic career. This wasn't unusual since it is a huge campus with a large student enrollment, located in the capital city. The hangouts and activities we laughed about afforded some common ground to share and made the conference more relaxed and forthcoming for all of us.
When I asked why he left the city for here, he was somewhat circumspect in his answer, only saying it was time for a change and this change was good for him. This was his first winter in the north and found it quite different from those he'd experienced growing up in Illinois.
Ollie and Luis' conferences were in the afternoon at two different times and two different rooms. I asked Mae to accompany me to Luis' conference since she planned on going to Ollie's as well. Luis' advisor, who we met with, was one of the science teachers and Ollie's advisor was the vocal music teacher.
According to Luis' advisor, Luis was an excellent student, far exceeding what was expected of him, had an innate ability in science and math, and was a superior candidate for university study someday.
"All has gone well for him since his arrival at Otter Lake High School," his advisor assured us, "except for that little dust-up in Physical Education a few weeks back."
Enquiring concerning the "little dust-up" I was again reassured all was well, but I should really visit with Mr. Wilcox, the principal, since his office handled the situation. Of that, I was certain I'd do, right after Ollie's conference.
The vocal music teacher said basically the same thing about Ollie; very bright, excellent student, exceeded expectations, and was a very gifted and talented pianist. Ollie, it appeared, was her right hand man since he accompanied the chorus and small groups and would be accompanying the chorus, small groups, ensembles, solos, and others music contests. He was doing extraordinarily well except for a "bit of a fracas in Physical Education shortly after he arrived" but not to fret, since everything was going quite smoothly now for him.
We received no more from her than we had from the science teacher concerning Luis and his "little dust-up" and Mae and I wanted to know just what the hell happened! We headed to the high school office to have a bit of a chat with Mr. Wilcox.
Mr. Wilcox, amicable as always, welcomed us into his office and when I asked what happened with Luis and Ollie, he just laughed, a deep, sonorous laugh punctuating the twinkle in his eye as he seemed to enjoy the remembered results of this "little dust-up." "I don't want you to make a big issue of it, but let me put it this way; there is one less bully in school who thinks he can push smaller kids around and, there's an African/American boy and a Latino boy who now have the respect of many others who may've experienced bullying in the past. There's also a healthy respect among those who now will think twice before having an encounter with those two."
Once home, I collared Luis and Ollie, sat them down at the kitchen table with Mae, Leandro and me to "discuss the little dust-up" they had at school. Terell and Treyvon just couldn't abide missing any of the action so they pulled up chairs, put their elbows on the table, and with their eyes followed the action from one player to the next. I think they knew ever so well what happened, but never spilled the beans; why, I know not!
Ollie and Luis sat, looking sheepish, not guilty understand, but sheepish! I quietly and calmly looked at them, raised an eyebrow, and said, "Spill it!"
Luis, the less silent of the two and Ollie's protector it would appear, took the lead. "You know Jimmy Barnes, the big senior football jock?"
Oh, I knew the Barnes family quite well! There was an older brother in my class; big, ugly, red-neck, pencil-dick type. If he had shit for brains, he couldn't have popped a turd an inch long. Mean son-of-a-bitch and I steered clear of him. The Barnes's must have bred like rabbits, since there was a bunch of them.
"Well, in Physical Education class, about the second session or so we had after Ollie came to school, we were all headed toward the showers and he gave Ollie a push, shouting `Everybody, take a look at the Donkey Dick on the little "..." and used the "n" word."
Mae clucked her tongue in disgust. "Nasty boy, why would he say such a thing?"
"'Cause Ollie's got a ginormous weanus, that's why," giggled Terell (I think).
Ollie's shoulders slumped, as he snorted in disgust, "Terell, (I was right) please knock it off."
"Well, you do!" pointed out Treyvon defending his twin's remarks.
Mae just rolled her eyes and muttered something about "too much information," followed by one word; "boys."
"So Ollie," I asked tentatively, "what did you do?"
"I walked up to him, smiled and tickled him under the chin and said, "at least I have one, peanut dick!' That really pissed him off.!"
Luis interrupted our conversation. "Yeah and the big lug pushed Ollie again. Ollie doubled up his fists to take a poke at him, but I stepped in between them!"
Shit, this wasn't going to get any better, I feared.
"I held up my hands and said, `Jimmy, better watch it. You might get hurt.' He told me to `f' off `cause there was no way that little shit was going to hurt me.' So I said, yes he will!"
"Stupid looks at me with those little pig eyes, and smirks, `How!'"
"If he kicks you in the nuts like this and landed a direct hit to his old cajones with my right foot. Conner, he dropped harder than a hot turd in a new outside toilet – kersplat! Excuse me, Mrs. Thompson. On the way down he hit my knee and kind of re-arranged his nose a bit, somewhat."
Leandro leaned over to me and said quietly, "I told you he didn't fight fair!"
"I could've handled him," argued Ollie.
"Yeah," countered Luis, "but you might've hurt your hands and we have contests coming up, dufus!"
What could Mae, Leandro, and I say- nothing much so I just said, "Thank you boys," and we left the table.
The weather continued to warm, shedding the landscape of the last vestiges of snow and winter, and as Grandma Johnson's memorial service and the opening of the Resort drew closer, activity at the Resort became more hectic as we busied ourselves in preparation.
Eddie Winters from Winter's Sport and Marine delivered the outboard motors, all tuned up, repaired, and ready for attachment to the runabouts when needed. Leandro and I helped him unload them and put them on the motor mounts in the shop. Ollie, a twin secured in each hand, walked by the shop on the way to the Lodge, all three happy as a tick, with the Twins chattering like blue-jays.
"Quite the family, you and Leandro got, huh, Conner?" Eddie commented questioningly, seeking some more gossip, I assumed. Evidently, the folks in the area knew Leandro and I were a couple and we had more people living with us.
"Those are Wesley's kids too, aren't they?"
I nodded my head and was about to respond, but Eddie continued.
"It's a shame he never learned to take responsibility for anything. He was a couple of years ahead of me in school and he seemed to enjoy picking on kids smaller than him or girls. Funny thing, he'd back off if someone challenged him but you really had to watch your back after that; the sneaky bastard would slip behind your back and get even, in a nasty way sometimes. Heard he had some more kids, but didn't know he brought them up here for you to raise."
Eddie knew the gossip as well as anyone since his wife was a great collector and spreader of the same, so he was just fishing, hoping to confirm what most people figured anyway.
"Yeah, Eddie; the taller one is Ollie, after my grandfather, and the twins are Treyvon and Terell. Wesley didn't bring them here; they came on their own accord with their Grandmother Johnson. I'm damned happy to have them here! Not only have they been a big help, but it gives me family and I enjoy the shit out of it; wouldn't have it any other way, would we, Leandro?"
Eddie departed and Leandro gave me a gentle poke on the shoulder, grinning, acknowledging we'd just given Eddie and his wife some more to chatter about.
Leandro, Mae, and I started opening and cleaning the cabins while I put Luis, Ollie, and the twins busy in the camp ground raking leaves, picking up downed limbs from the snow, and tidying up the campsites. Some of the campsites needed new metal fire rings, so the boys replaced those. The local plumber came out to charge the water lines to the cabins and vent the pipes and a furnace company came over from Parsonville to turn the gas on in the cabins so there'd be hot water, heat, and cooking for the guests. Leandro paid particular attention to each of them, confiding to me, that it was a piece of cake doing what they did and next year he'd save us some bucks by doing it himself. Sounded fine with me!
The septic service came out and pumped the two big septic tanks and checked the waste pumps that transferred effluent to the drain field. Leandro decided that was something he just wasn't going to learn how to do. Besides, we didn't have the equipment or the state permits needed, at least that's what he claimed; personally, I thought he just didn't like the smell of shit!
The caretaker's cottage was the first we readied for the summer. It wasn't that much of a job since I left a low heat on all winter in it and just had the water shut off. The cottage was well-insulated, winterized so it could be used year-round, and was the only one of the cabins that had a metal roof on it like the Lodge. When the cottage was built, it was constructed the same size as the rental cabins, but instead of the three bedrooms in them, it had two bedrooms, giving the living area more space. The kitchen and living room/dining room was all one large room, with a nicely sized bathroom accessible from there.
Mae absolutely fell in love with the place and decided to move in, at least for the summer, leaving the option to move back to the Lodge in the winter should she so choose. I had absolutely no problem with that. The Twins looked lost until Leandro and I moved them into the bedroom next to us; the one Leandro occupied before he moved in with me. The shared bathroom would allow us to check on them and give them a feeling of security knowing Leandro and I were close by. They were so excited!
Mr. Osgood, my attorney, informed me Aunt Mildred, Aunt Lucille, Uncle Rob, and Wesley contacted him and would accept the five thousand dollar payment even given the requirement to sign off on any future challenges to the estate. I was surprised when he said they all claimed they'd be at the memorial service.
The three days before the service, Mae and Leandro busied themselves in the kitchen preparing the various dishes for the buffet and refrigerating those that would keep. Ollie, Luis, Terell, Treyvon, and I finished setting up the Lodge meeting room. I checked with the funeral home and the church ladies and was satisfied all was ready for the service on Saturday.
The little church was packed with well-wishers from the surrounding area and Otter Lake. There were pews reserved at the front of the church for my Aunts, Uncle, and Wesley, plus any of members of their families attending. There were cousins I'd never met accompanied by their children, along with some who'd been in attendance at Granddad's memorial service. The funeral director quickly reserved a couple of more pews because of the larger than expected family attendance. He left one empty pew behind them for my family, once we entered, with me carrying the cremation urn with Grandma Johnson's cremains in it.
The church pastor, offering a prayer from the rear of the church, lead the procession down the main isle toward the alter as a soloist, accompanied by the organ, sang "On Eagle's Wings." I walked to the front and placed her funeral urn on the white cloth-covered table next a picture of her and Grandpa, as Mae led our family into the pew.
I joined them, tears streaming down my face, as I faced the truth of reality, my grandparents would never return to love me, hold me, wipe away my tears and fears, and encourage me to do my best. As severe as the loss was to me, I was more than compensated, by having Leandro, Luis, Ollie, Treyvon, Terell, and Mae to love and to love me in return.
Wesley turned around abruptly when I sat down and snarled quietly, menacingly, "What the fuck are they doing here?" jerking his head toward Ollie and the Twins.
"They live here, asshole," hissed Leandro. "They're his brothers!"
"Who the hell are you?"
"The man whose going to cut off your balls and shove them up your ass if you don't turn around and listen to the preacher, that's who!"
To be continued
Thank you for reading "West Otter Lake – Chapter Thirteen - "Whoever is mean in his youth runs a great risk of becoming a scoundrel in riper years; meanness leads to villainy with fatal attractions." – (V. Cherbuliez)
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