In reading my grandfather's journal, I found a copy of this letter that he had written in the summer of 1941:
Mrs. H. C. Johnsson, [sister of]
c/o Mrs. M.D. Lane
4333 N. Monitor Avenue,
My dear Mrs. Johnson,
We were very glad to have your letter and to hear from it, and from the one to Snells, something of what you have been doing and thinking since you left. We were especially pleased with the suggestion in one of the letters that Mrs. Lane may come back. You were such splendid neighbors, just about the finest we had ever known anywhere. We had enjoyed our informal and friendly contacts so much, that we accepted you, not as intruders into our paradise here, but as one of the very nicest things about it, and the thought that you might not return has been deeply disappointing.
Lois has missed Alice even more, the first playmate she has ever had summers. John used to spend his whole time up at Snells', never coming home for meals or anything until we went for him, but after Danny came he hardly went near the farm and it was such a comfort to have him around where we could call him. Since you left, Lois has found little to do but play with Snells' kittens, and John once more is gone all day. I went for him last night at 7:30, the first we had seen him since breakfast. They gave him his lunch, but he was hungry, tired, and as usual, smelling like a cow stable. We have very practical reasons, you see, for wanting Mrs. Lane to return. We need and want her here, and will do all we can, if she comes, to help her win her way again to peace and happiness.
It was indeed welcome news, Mrs. Johnson, to hear about the doctor's report. I did everything in my power for him, everything I could think of, and fought with utter determination to save him somehow. There was no doctor for miles, even if we had been on shore, and whatever was to be done for him, I alone had to do, there and then. I tried so hard, and it means a great deal to know that it was not due to some stupid failure of mine the outcome happened as it did.
There isn't much to tell about the trip down the lake and the time when we were fishing. A running outboard makes enough noise to prevent casual conversation. As he ran up to our dock and cut his motor he greeted me with a pleasant "Good morning," and commented that the lake was so calm it would be nice for trolling. He helped load my things in the boat, and seemed pleased at my comment on its roominess and safe, high seaboard. I mentioned that such a boat would be safe even in Traverse Bay and he asked about the trolling there, but seemed to feel that Crystal Lake was a better guess if any fish at all could be taken here. He asked where to head and seemed a little disappointed that we had to go so far before starting to fish. This end of the lake, being nowhere more than 35 feet deep, is not the best place, as the trout seek the deeper water, about 165 feet, west of Glen Rhoda.
As soon as we reached that point we started trolling and he slowed down the motor. It was too powerful and wouldn't go slowly enough, so he let the stern anchor out and had me put out the bow anchor. These held the boat back to a satisfactory pace, but every few minutes the motor would stop and it finally refused to start. He sat down to rest after a bit, and laughingly told me he had had an old Neptune motor before which made a lot of trouble. He got enough of it and bought a good one, paying a good price. "And now," he laughed, "look at it. It's no better than the other one. Well, maybe a little. I knew that one wouldn't go, and this one does sometimes. I just traded a certainty for an uncertainty."
A breeze had come which was taking us away from the north shore and I had taken in the line and started rowing. He began cranking again, and I urged him to take it easy, that the motor would start all right after it cooled off, that we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere. He sat down then, and relaxed a bit. He told me about the trip he had taken with the family the day before, and commented on the beauty of the shoreline he was facing, compared it with that at Glen Lake, giving the edge to Crystal. He said, "We should have brought Danny along. The motor seems to run all right for him."
I liked him better all the time, and thought of asking his first name, but put it off, as of course, we expected to be out several hours. We were getting acquainted, however, and I was quite willing to make a friend of the man, drew him out and kept him talking. I asked if he had taken the trip down Platte River. He had not, asked if he could do it in that boat, about the fishing there, the scenery along the river and the distance down.
He got up to try the motor again, and I asked to do it this time, so he took my seat and began to row. I gave it a half-dozen fruitless twists, and was discouraged, suggested that I had started mine sometimes by setting it up ashore, with the propeller out of water which allows one to spin it more easily and faster. He was willing to try it, and headed for shore. It was stony and shallow where we first approached, and we drew out again, heading for a sandy spot further down. I asked him to take the oars again, as he seemed to be doing more than his share of the work. He gave them up, but instead of resting, went to work on the motor again. To our surprise, it coughed and ran about a dozen explosions. We both exclaimed with pleasure and encouragement, and he cranked rapidly a dozen times or more, but nothing further happened. He sat down with a rueful smile, and a moment later, I noticed a strange, drowsy expression in his eyes. Then, without a word or sign of any distress, he fell back in the seat, instantly and completely unconscious.
He was so close, right within reach, that I caught him before he could touch the water. Although startled, I was not seriously alarmed, believing only that he had fainted. "Probably came without eating breakfast" was the first thought that occurred. I supported his head, shaded his eyes and splashed water on his forehead, temples and throat, finally slapped him a couple of times. He was breathing in a labored manner, and this presently stopped.
"Here," I said aloud, "This won't do," and began to realize then that something might be seriously wrong. I drew him down on the boat floor and began to give artificial breathing, and he took in a big breath. But no others followed at once so I went on working, thinking furiously, "What can it be? What should I do?" Cars were passing on the highway ashore but it was a long way out of hailing and I dared not stop to gain attention and row within speaking distance. I realized there was no possible help for him except what I could give him right there, and worked with all my strength. Twice more during the first minute or two he drew in a breath, and then there were no more, but I kept on and on. The little hairs on his arms prickled into gooseflesh, and I covered him with his jacket. His color deepened and darkened, and at last, needing encouragement, I felt for his pulse. Then I rowed ashore.
There was no telephone at Hurdman's. One of the men working there went to Glen Rhoda to call a doctor and the coroner. I sat down, weak and shaky and waited. Perhaps I should have gone with him and done the telephoning myself, after which it would have been possible to let you know sooner, but the men at Hurdman's were total strangers and it seemed better to stay.
They came in about an hour, followed by a man with the hearse, by the undertaker and the sheriff. They took him out of the boat, covered him on the cot, and carried him to the hearse. Then the coroner took me home.
Mrs. Reed said, "We must go at once to Mrs. Lane. That's what I'd want Mr. Lane to do had it been you." The rest you know, and though it has not been easy to relive that day in memory, if it has done anything to assuage the sorrow of Mrs. Lane, I am well repaid.
Our association in this tragic misfortune has brought us closer to her. We hope that time will heal her wounds of spirit and that our future acquaintance may be marked, not by sad memories, but by many occasions of pleasure and happiness. To you all, we send every assurance of our deepest and kindest regard.
Maurice L. Reed
1940 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, enumeration district (ED) 103-2612, sheet 14A, page 37814 (stamped), dwelling 287, Malcolm D. Lane; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 20 Nov 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 1004.
So who was this man, first name unknown, who had died while out fishing on Crystal Lake? I went online to Ancestry and did some research, and concluded that he was Malcolm D. Lane, a newspaper accountant, who lived in Chicago with his wife Hilda and their two children Daniel and Alice. Their address on the 1940 census was the same one that my grandfather wrote to, and I also noted that Hilda's parents lived with them. I hope they were a comfort to her after she became a widow.
I don't know whether Mrs. Lane ever came back to Crystal Lake. Somehow I doubt it - the United States was heading into World War 2, and gasoline rationing was becoming more strict, ruling out pleasure trips. The Ancestry Family Trees that I've seen online don't seem to have Malcolm Lane's date or place of death. Perhaps this letter, written over 70 years ago, will fill in the blanks for his descendants.