Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 18, 2000

Stranded on Howard Lake in winter

Bob and Ruth Rekedal came to Howard Lake in 1948. Bob bought the drug store and Ruth taught at the Howard Lake schools in the '50s and '60s. They now reside in Sun City, Ariz.

By Bob and Ruth Rekedal

Snow had piled up on the lake for over two months. The county road grader had plowed the usual "highway" through the drifts across the lake, clearing a path for easy car and truck driving to the many cluster villages of fish houses on Howard Lake.

On a late Sunday afternoon, druggist Bob was out on the "NW triangle" of the lake, comfy in his heated fish house, enjoying a visit with fish house neighbors, warming some chili on the camp stove, ever alert for that sudden drop of the bobber on the fish line dangling in the open hole of icy water.

I was at home in town, preparing papers for the next day's classes, when the doorbell rang. It was a customer, a friend, urgently needing medicine for his ailing wife.

Since we had no walkie-talkies from house to fish house, I promised to immediately drive down to the lake to bring Bob back to the drug store. (Long before the days of cell phones, kids.)

I backed the big blue Pontiac station wagon out of the snowy drive, carefully avoiding the snow-banked corners on the residential streets, and eventually entered the one-way passage from the baseball park onto the surface of the lake.

A slight wind was riffling the snow, my car lights scarcely showing the path. I turned right, sensing that the road had turned. It had not.

But before me lay quite a long patch of black ice, and far in the distance ahead twinkled lantern lights, probably of a fish house or two. So I proceeded along carefully, occasionally hearing loud cracks in the ice in this -10 degree weather.

But the little lights ahead of me disappeared, and for no particular reason at all, I turned right again, now facing the lights of the town and Highway 12, a half mile distant.

But the thin snow became heavier, and suddenly, I was spinning wheels in a drift.

I got out of the car, very careful not to allow the car door to slam shut with the engine running, the wind had now risen considerably.

Although it was dark, I could see that the front end of that big heavy car was simply driven head first and solidly wedged into a deep snowbank.

Bob had taught our sons, "Never, never spin your wheels in snow nor on ice." So it was not an option to try to spin the back wheels on ice enough for traction to back up.

I climbed back into the front seat, glad that there was sufficient gas in the tank to keep the motor running for quite a long time. But what about the car lights, would the battery run down, even though the car was idling? So I turned the lights off.

Then the ice cracked. And cracked again. And I began trying to compute how many tons of metal I was sitting in, behind a hot engine on black ice, and what was the probability of my getting quickly out of the car if it started to go down into the water?

I had worn a jacket over a skirt and blouse, and slipped on my calf-hi boots over nylon hose, not exactly the snowmobile suit recommended for fooling around on the wintry lake at night.

And so long as the car stayed warm, I decided that I should stay with the car instead of trying to tramp through snowbanks across other drifts to the lakeshore, still a mile or so from town. I will not panic.

Here I am, two miles from our house, in the snow, at night, I need a signal. And my mind drifted back to years and years ago when, as a little girl in Wallingford, I used to watch the depot agent sending Morse code along the telegraph lines, suddenly hearing once again the clickety-click-click- clickety-clack of his fast keys.

Our boys had been studying the code for Boy Scout drills. What had they taught me? This was mayday, but no radio to transmit it.

So I decided to blink the lights on and off. . . long, then short, then long. On. . . off. . . on, on. . . off. . . on. Not the best Morse code, but?

(In retrospect, considering my absolutely dead sense of direction, it is fortunate that I had turned the car enough times to be facing toward town.)

One of the post office employees, Elroy Boltz, lived in a large home facing the lake, Highway 12 the only thing separating their house from the ball park and lake.

He was sitting in his easy chair watching television (it was later in the evening than Bonanza, maybe What's My Line?).

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught this "on and off" business. He watched it for awhile, then phoned his next-door neighbor, Pudlitzke, suggesting that there must be someone in trouble on the lake.

Glen had a Jeep; they braved the windy, cold night and were able to work around the big snowdrift to reach the station wagon, pull-back it out, and lead me home.

(Meanwhile, Bob had gone home, "fishing too slow.")

You may be sure the topic of conversation at the Monday morning drug store coffee counter was the rescue. I never felt that Pud and Boltz were sufficiently rewarded, but they have had a good story to tell for many years.

"But what was she doing at the opposite end of the lake from Bob's fish house?" (Getting stuck, what else.)

The lady needing the medicine? Did she take another aspirin and wait for morning? Most probably, her husband drove to neighboring Cokato and obtained it there.

Oh yes, the lights at the end of the lake? They were really there -yard lights at Lew Roberts' resort, switched off as they went to bed.

Black ice is not one of my cherished memories. But, forever, a smile of thanks to Boltz, here, in Sun City.

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