“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Lost in the Woods
Mr. Black received the land, nearly eight hundred acres, as partial payment on a real estate deal he made in the thirties. I thought he must not have been too happy about it at the time, as it was just mountains and forest miles from anywhere, with no services whatsoever. Over time, this land would become my favorite place on earth.
It was breathtakingly beautiful, and Mr. Black hit upon a great idea to dam up the stream to make a lake he could fill with rainbow trout. He then went back East and sold shares to rich guys he knew, so they would have a private place to retreat to with their other rich guy pals. It must have worked, because Mr. Black built a clubhouse and decorated it with panel after panel of enlarged photos of parties of the big boys who stayed there over the years.
The clubhouse, caretaker’s cottage and boathouse were the only structures on the land for years, until another couple of cabins were built, one of which was bought by my uncle, who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
The photo above was taken fifteen years later in front of my uncle’s cabin. That’s my cousin Stephen, at about eight, in the white shirt leaning on the rear fender, and that’s me next to him at about seven in the tan shirt. Nearly everyone else is our brother, sister or cousin. And that’s how Stephen and I, now fourteen and thirteen respectively, happened to be driving up the mile-and-a-half dirt road from the lake to the highway late one summer afternoon in the Model A.
As we climbed through the Aspens speckled with pines, we were pretty far along when we saw a midnight blue Cadillac coming towards us. We and the other car slowed to a stop facing each other, our bumpers not twenty feet apart.
The driver of the Cadillac lowered his electric window and waved impatiently for us to back up. We couldn’t see his face through the afternoon glare on his windshield. But we knew it was Earl, the caretaker, and we also knew that he was driving Mr. Black. Everyone knew the rules of this one-lane dirt road, and every other road in America, for that matter.
When two cars meet on a single-lane road, the car going downhill is supposed to back up. But this was Mr. Black and Earl, on the road Mr. Black had built, so I knew we would be backing up.
Stephen rolled down his window, and I assumed he was going to look back and proceed to back up. Instead, he waved his hand for Earl to back up. Shocked, I said, “Let’s just back up,” as Earl waved again, more vehemently. But Stephen waived right back with equal energy.
I began to plead with him just to back up, as all six-foot-five of Earl got out of the Cadillac and came towards Stephen’s side of the Mode A.
Not one to waste words, Earl yelled at Stephen, “You back this damn thing up!” To which Stephen replied forcefully, “You back up!”
Earl snapped, “You back this truck up right now!” And Stephen, perhaps assuming Earl hadn’t heard him the first time, expanded his message, saying, “You back up, you’re the one going downhill!”
Earl glared as he pointed at the Cadillac, demanding, “Do you know who I have in that car?” Stephen replied that he did.
Once more, Earl insisted that Stephen back up–to which my fourteen-year-old cousin replied by reaching down, in full view of Earl, set the hand-operated emergency brake on the Model A and rolled up the window. Grimly, Earl trudged back to the Cadillac to give Mr. Black the news through the now open rear window.
The rear window rolled back up, and as Earl got back in the car, the rear door of the Cadillac opened, and Mr. Black got out and stomped in our direction. When he got to the side of the car, I was sure there was steam coming out of his ears, but maybe it was only the dust from the road.
Mr. Black rapped hard on the closed window with his ring. Stephen rolled it down, and Mr. Black lost no time in asking Stephen, “Do you know who I am?”
Personally, I thought we had covered this point thoroughly in our exchange with Earl, but Stephen confirmed once again that he did know who Mr. Black was.
Mr. Black said, “Then, you damn well back this truck up right now!”
Stephen replied, “You back up, we have the right-of-way.” Mr. Black fumbled in his coat pocket and pulled out the biggest gold and silver badge I had ever seen. Holding it up to Stephen’s face, he asked, “Do you see this badge?” Of course, Stephen could not deny that he did indeed see it. We were making a little progress.
Mr. Black said threateningly, “Then you back this truck up right now!” He left out the obviously implied, “Or else!” Stephen put his hand on the ignition key, and I breathed a sigh of relief that at last he was going to give in and we could get out of there.
Instead, Stephen looked Mr. Black square in the eye, pulled the key out of the ignition, opened his hand and let the key drop through the air to land with impressive clatter on the wooden floor boards.
Mr. Black stared at Stephen for a second with murder in his eyes, made some unintelligible sound, his bluff called, and trudged back to his midnight blue Cadillac, as Earl hopped out to open the rear door for him. They both got in, and, after a moment, they backed up.
Photo Credit: Janice MacLean