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CLARA'S BEST - May of 1938

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Img: Meeks Bay Resort, Lake Tahoe - 1938

[Shannon Casebeer]

In May of 1938, Henry and I each turned 70. Quite an achievement, if I do say so myself. I look at least 70. And feel at least 70. And I darned sure act at least 70. But It’s still mighty hard to believe I’m 70! Ralph and Sylvia haven’t aged a day. Oops! I mean Cynthia. One weekend, Ralph and Cynthia surprised us with a birthday extravaganza! They’d arranged a room for all four of us at Camp Richardson at Tahoe, following a sunset dinner cruise on a sternwheeler. 

Bright and early one afternoon, around three o’clock, we all boarded the Packard and headed for the lake. None of us had ever been aboard a steamboat. She was a dandy vessel! We strolled the decks feeling quite Twainesque. We took a tour of the boiler room and then stood at the stern, listening to the gentle chugging of the engine and refreshing ourselves in the spray from the churning paddlewheel. She did a wide lap around Emerald Bay, and then chugged a tighter circle around the Island and the elegant tea house. 

Dinner was served on the upper deck, under the starry sky. We arrived early to be certain of getting a good table. To Henry’s delight, this evening’s menu featured the Hangtown Fry. We enjoyed a bottle of wine, not expensive, but more than adequate, and then settled in to admire the view and prepare our growling stomachs for a treat. 

While awaiting our meal, we gathered at the railing and marveled at Tahoe and the majestic snowcapped Sierras. And, high on the mountainside, Ralph pointed out the snow filled, cross shaped crevasse known as Tallac, which, In the Washoe dialect, means big mountain. As the sun slipped silently into a crimson haze, the moon began a leisurely climb into a cloudless sky. 

Peering over the railing, Cynthia marveled at the clarity of the water and the dizzying twenty-five-foot drop. Tahoe’s frigid snowmelt is renowned for creating a clarity of water which allows a glimpse of the stoney bottom to a depth of thirty feet. As we gazed down from the top deck, the distance to the water, and the depth we could see into the water, combined to make it seem like we were flying! Beneath us a procession of gigantic granite boulders passed by as if on parade, occasionally looming up from the depths until it seemed as though they’d surely bump the boat. 

Once we were some distance out on the lake, they shut down the engine, so that the steamer drifted motionless in the moonlight. The wind, which had been significant much of the afternoon, became dead calm, and the surface was still as glass. The majestic snowcapped Sierra’s glimmered in the dusk, and the velvet black water cast a perfect mirror image of the moon and its shimmering light. 

Between our table and the railing was another table, with a young couple and three children. We briefly exchanged pleasantries as they took their seats. The mother and father sat with their backs to us, with the children across the table against the railing. The boys were quiet and went largely unnoticed. The little girl was probably four years old. She was extravagantly dressed in a frilly white frock. Her shoulder length hair was red as roses and all done up in ringlets. And her eyes were a dazzling green.  Cynthia was immediately smitten!  

While we ate, Cynthia and the little redhead flirted. The Hangtown Fry was scrumptious, although I have to admit to picking out my oysters. Ralph eyed them admiringly until I offered them to him. The girl’s mother sat directly between she and Cynthia, so, periodically the little child would pop up so that Cynthia could see her, and then she’d grin and giggle and plop back down.

During the evening, this behavior became routine. Eventually the father became a little annoyed. On several occasions he asked her to please sit still. Just as our desserts were being served. The little redhead, having popped up several times unnoticed by Cynthia, craned her neck and stood straight up in her seat. The chair tipped back against the railing, and the little girl went head over heels and disappeared over the side. 

We all sat speechless for a second, until we heard the splash, and then the mother let out a lion like scream and we all jumped up and rushed to the railing. The little sweetheart floated momentarily, face up and eyes wide open, just below the surface, and then spiraled slowly downward into the depths. 

Horrified as we were, no one in their right mind would consider jumping overboard from this height. Enter Cynthia. Without a moment’s hesitation, Cynthia sprang up on the railing, kicked off her shoes, tore away her favorite dress, and performed a dive that would have made Johnny Weissmuller proud! She entered the water without the slightest splash, and disappeared immediately into the darkness. 

Seconds passed while we all stood dumfounded and speechless, peering into the moonlit depths, and then, suddenly, here the two came, streaking for the surface amidst a mass of bubbles. By this time, several men on the lower deck had donned lifejackets and leapt into the water. By the time we’d managed the stairs and assembled near the gangway, they were bringing Cynthia and the little girl aboard. Both were blue lipped and shivering, but otherwise unscathed.

The tiny, towel-wrapped bundle was passed tenderly to her mother, and Ralph held Cynthia close and wrapped her in a blanket. Before rejoining his family, the girl’s father approached me with tears of gratitude streaming down his face. I introduced Ralph as Cynthia’s husband. The father ignored Ralphs offer of a handshake, insisting instead on a hug. “I commend you on your choice of wives, Sir.” He told Ralph, patting him affectionately on the back, and Ralph sleeve-groomed his teary cheeks and beamed with pride. 

See and Hear here: https://youtu.be/E68TflIe6YI 

 

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