Like some other Clark Lake families, the Timberlake’s go way back—to 1895. To get an idea of why Clark Lake has meant so much to Charlie Timberlake, you’ll find it helpful to learn something about his family, including the career of his father-Clare Timberlake. His service in the U.S. Diplomatic corps took the family all over the world, with no one place the family could call “home.” Read Charlie’s My Clark Lake Story to find out how youthful summers spent at Clark Lake took on lasting importance.
Clare Hayes Timberlake was born in Jackson Michigan on October 29, 1907, the firstborn of Wilbur B. Timberlake and Dorothy Silsbee Timberlake. Clare’s sister, Josephine, was born five years later. After graduating from Jackson High, Tim, as dad had become known to his friends, entered University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and set his sights on seeing the world. He took the Foreign Service examination and passed with flying colors, and set off to distant lands: Toronto; Buenos Aires; Aden, where he spent much of his time ferrying to Addis Ababa and befriending Emperor Haile Selassie; going on safari a la Ernest Hemingway throughout Africa; Washington DC at the Department of State; Bombay, New Delhi; Hamburg; Lima; Buenos Aires; Bonn; Leopoldville (Kinshasa) Congo; Maxwell AFB Alabama; Washington again; Geneva Switzerland; and finally Washington DC as Chief of the Board of Examiners of the Foreign Service entrance examination. That’s 40 years of service to his country in a simple paragraph, and it culminated with his attaining the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.Clare Timberlake was posted by President Eisenhower as the first American Ambassador to the newly constituted Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) upon their independence from Belgium in June of 1960. He also served as the US Delegate to the United Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva Switzerland from 1964 to 1966.
Along the way, Clare Timberlake amassed an address book of notables and foreign dignitaries that would burst a Rolodex, but he never forgot his roots in Michigan–and especially his boyhood enjoying the summers, and some winters, at Clark Lake. That stayed with him throughout his career. Whenever his home leave would come due, usually after 3 years abroad, my father would pack the family off to Clark Lake for two to three months of R and R. He’d obtain for himself perhaps three weeks or a month of respite between consultations at State in DC.
Our family consisted of my mother, Julie, nee Julia Francesca Caterina Bevilacqua Lazise DiNogarole Meehan. She was the daughter of an Irish American father from Geneva, New York, who parlayed a professional career as a boy soprano into a position as a major in the Red Cross in Italy at the end of the First World War. My mother’s mother was an Italian noblewoman, Contessa Bevilacqua di Lazise of Verona Italy. I (Charles, Charlie or Chas) was born in Washington DC in 1946. My brother, William (Billy or T) was also born in DC, two years later. My sister, Frances (Francie or Fran) was born in Bombay in 1950. Katharine (Kathy) was born in Lima Peru in 1955; and Mary Anne was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1959. Along the way, my maternal grandfather, Charles Michael Meehan, became part of our immediate family after his wife died in 1954. He traveled with us and watched over us kids with stern but benevolent authority until he passed on in Geneva, Switzerland in 1965.
My earliest memories are of Bombay and New Delhi, primarily the vibrant colors and strong incense of curries permeating the atmosphere, emanating from the garage where our chauffeur and his family lived and cooked their meals of curry and chapatis. I recall how they invited Billy and me to sit with them and feast on their simple fare that we much preferred to the bland (to our palates) offerings at our parents’ table in the main house.
Then came other images to make an indelible mark in my memory. That included Alstersee central lake of Hamburg, and skating out upon it in wintertime; playing bicycle polo and baseball in Lima; sailing the Rio de la Plata with our parents in Buenos Aires all the way out to Montevideo Uruguay; playing Little League baseball and participating in bowling leagues in Bonn at the American compound recreation center. But the standout in my memory was always the wonderful summers that we spent at Clark Lake, enjoying the cottage that had been constructed by my great grandmother around 1895. It had been named “Windward”. It was quite common that owners named their cottages during that period. The “branding” might have helped owners rent them out to families from Jackson, Toledo, and Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Northern Railroad had turned Clark Lake from a sleepy rural outpost to a major recreational destination.
So what are some of those memories of summers at Clark Lake? Some will surely sound familiar–hunting turtles along the shores and sneaking out on the docks supported by weathered wooden sawhorse underpinnings to catch a few rubber backs unawares, flying tethered model airplanes on which you had to spin their small but powerful propellers to fire up the gas engines with a 9-volt battery attached to ignite the glow plugs, bearing the scars on my knees for failing to heed the warnings of my father that I should read the model plane instructions (without today’s 30 page disclaimer), heading down to the Eagle Point Hotel to play pinball in their lobby, hanging out on the white wooden porch and sitting in the rocking chairs watching the sunsets over the head of the lake with the fiery golden and pinks and purples that fascinated and riveted and saddened as they waned–only to know that tomorrow we could start all over again. Oh, the joy of knowing that kept me going all summer until the sudden snap one morning in August announced that fall was sneaking in the back door. Very soon this reverie would end, and we would have to pack up and start out on a new adventure in a new land that we couldn’t even find on a map. We didn’t want to leave. And we couldn’t leave without savoring that special Clark Lake aroma one more time that was something like a day at the ocean without the stinging salt–but clear, direct, and instantly recognizable. To this day it means I am home, back where I always wanted to be.
My freshman year in high school found my brother and me displaced to a boarding school in Maryland. There were no schools past 6th grade in Leopoldville/Kinshasa where our family was headed. But the summer of 1960 at Clark Lake prior to that was a most memorable one for me. Dad had listened to our pleading and traded in the small green and mahogany runabout with the Johnson 15-hp motor that couldn’t do more than tow us around on an inner tube. The new boat was a 16-foot fiberglass Crosby with a 40-horse Evinrude that yanked us right out of the water on our skis. Billy and I could now spend hours every day, getting up at daybreak to drink in the flat-calm mirror of the west end of the lake and run back and forth on the slalom course set out in front of the Vermeulen compound near Mud Point. Pine Riders Water Ski Club had also put out a new wooden jump complete with the latest in safety–cowcatchers on both sides that formed the underpinnings of the structure that held up the heavy ramp. We would beg someone, often Buzzy Belcher, to come out and man the water bucket He would sit on the little deck that ran crosswise under the far end of the 5-foot high ramp, chucking round after round of lake water up onto the surface of the ramp. That allowed me to get an extra 5 feet of distance out of my adolescent attempts at a world record.
All our practicing that summer got us a couple of Pine Rider trophies, but something bigger was ahead. On August 31st at the Cit Pat Tournament, I competed in my first major tournament on skis. I was part of a heated boys division contest with about 12 other participants who were very good. I battled it out on the slalom course against Phil Curtis who was second only to Lynn Vermeulen in the waterskiing pantheon of the day. In a very choppy finale, I managed to make it through all the gates on my final run at 32 mph, and added another 3 buoys on the runback before succumbing to the waves. But I spotted Lynn Vermeulen’s grin from the towboat and knew that I had bested them all. To this day, I keep that little Bakelite trophy with the golden plaque, engraved with my victory data on it, over the mantel in my den. It doesn’t look like much against the bookcase full of my son’s baseball, basketball and soccer mementos and signed autographs, but it means far more to me than all the participation medals and banners that pile up in kids’ rooms these days. I may have been young, callow, impetuous and brash, but I did something that will never be taken away from me. It keeps me tethered forever to Clark Lake no matter how far away I have roamed nor how long the hiatus between my visits. For a brief, shining moment I was somebody!
Numerous other images stand out from those four early 1960s summers during high school–chocolate milk and orange juice delivered to our back door on Eagle Point Drive, the slam of the screen door as we ran out to grab them and taste the sweet cream that congealed at the top of the glass bottles just under the cardboard stoppers with the tabs that we always pulled up carefully so as not to spill a drop of the precious milk; the strong iron-rich assault of icy water from the natural spring down at the box next to our boathouse at the edge of the lake; the echoing thud of footsteps on the wooden dock, quieted only if we saw turtles hanging out on the sloped supporting joists; cruising across the water to Hopkin’s Lakeside Grocery at the public dock at the head of the lake to buy Sip Stix, black licorice twists and caramel popcorn; relaxing in the boat on the hot cushions out in the middle off Kentucky Point, careless and fancy free and thinking only of the incredible clouds drifting overhead interrupted by an occasional gull that would screech by, scolding us as it flew over to the Point to join its mates.
One summer I spent at least 25 days attending rehearsals of the Clark Lake Player’s production of South Pacific. The venue was Eagle Point Pavilion that once had been home to our beloved roller skating rink. I think I learned every song by heart and would mouth the words as the players interacted and went through their lines on stage. Oh how I longed to be a part of that unfolding panoply–but I never had the gumption to approach the director to ask if there were any place for a boy like me in their production. (Both of my sons are now actively involved in stage productions, musicals, drama, you name it. Ryan in fact spent 8 years in middle and high school on the boards, and went to Muhlenberg College on a partial scholarship, and now has decided that film is where he wants to make his mark, and is in L.A. trying to make that happen).
That same summer I spent time with friends I learned I could count on. Larry Faling was my sidekick and dream catcher, always keeping me grounded. His father, Harry and mom, Shirley, must have spent a fortune feeding our adolescent tummies after we had spent hours waterskiing and racing around the lake. And there were others—Larry’s brothers, David, Danny and Gary; the Ligibel’s, Mike and Ted, and their sister Angel; and their cousins the Belchers, Rick, Buzzy and Amy. The Belcher’s lived next door to the Ligibel’s and were right down the walk that went in front of the houses along Eagle Point. So we could just cruise by, ask them out to play or ski, and off we would go. There were the Ogden sisters, Karen and Linda, who lived across the lake near Pleasant View. We visited them by boat as often as their parents (and they) would put up with us. Part of the group was Flip Reynolds and his sister, Joey. I had a crush on Joey for a couple of summers, but I guess she wanted nothing to do with me. All of these people, distinct in memory, were part of the assorted motley crew that seemed to congregate each summer out of nothing more than a common love of sun, turtles, waterskiing, jumping, slaloming, and generally finding trouble before it found us.
Once we had driver’s licenses, the drive-in at the corner of Ocean Beach and Jefferson was a popular spot. One night we watched as a couple of hotrodders showed off only to end with a big crash right at the intersection. One of the cars flew off the road into the ditch. Luckily, no one was hurt. The cars and drivers managed to skedaddle before the cops showed up, after which it was a round robin of “Don’t know nothin’!” The evidence left behind suggested otherwise. There were swerving tire tracks and plastic taillight debris from one of the cars all over the intersection.
Another time, an 18-year old friend managed to drive his pickup truck through a dead end intersection, into a ditch and finally into a wall. The impact sent him through the windshield (nobody had, nor wore, seatbelts in those days). He landed in a field where he was found by the responders. Despite their warnings, he apparently insisted on standing up. In doing so, something gave way, and he fell dead at their feet. That was a stern lesson for me at the beginning of my driving career–but I’m not sure what I learned from it other than not to get up if EMTs were telling me not to.
Let me illustrate. Larry Faling and I were driving in a friend’s little sports car, possibly a Triumph, when a couple of guys from Brooklyn came by the Beach Bar and yelled something at us. Whereupon Larry flipped them the bird and the chase was on. We raced around the dirt roads on the north side of the lake for what seemed like half an hour, though more likely 5-minutes, and fishtailed our way in the maze. We lost sight of them, and then pulled up into a driveway hidden a bit from the back road. The homeowner came out and asked what we were up to. Normal kid response? We backed out and hightailed it, only to meet those Brooklyn boys coming the other way. We raced off toward the west end before they had a chance to get turned around. They must have lost interest, figuring we probably knew our way around better than they–which of course we did.
Coming back for a sort of 50th reunion this past summer was quite a treat. I managed to find two of my long-lost buddies, Mike Ligibel and Rick Belcher, as I planned this first trip to Clark Lake in 17 years. I brought my wife Pat, who had joined me in 1997 when last we ventured north, and our son Skyler, 11, who was on his intro trip to “the Lake”. What a fabulous time was had by all. Mike had already written on this website about a particular red letter incident. It involved a ride in a VW beetle with Mike, Fred Cagney and me that could have ended much worse than it did. And this occurred only 4 days after getting my full driver’s license. Mike accepted my apology with his usual modesty and grace, and made light of the event which had haunted me for many years. Thanks, Mike, you were, and are, a really good man.
Rick Belcher on the other hand, was a fount of information of all stripes about things Clark Lake. This brought back so many memories for me, with pictures and stories, found on this wonderfully curated website in which so many of these incredible life stories are found. He joined Pat and me on a couple of dinner excursions. One of them was particularly memorable–at the Common Grill in Chelsea. I had no idea that the area had a full service place such as this, much less this one that could have thrived in New York City–it was that good. Rick peppered me the whole evening with questions–what was it like to live the high life around the world (not how I would characterize it, though). And with my questions of him, I tried to fill in the gaps (many) in my recollections about people, places and friends in Columbia Township, and what had happened to them over the last half-century.
To cap of this trip down memory lane, after taking a couple of rides on a raft that I rented from Eagle Point Marina for the week, Rick offered to take us waterskiing in his beautiful 343-horsepower Ski Nautique. OMG, just thinking about trying to get up on skis for the first time in 25 years gave me palpitations, but I knew I had accepted a challenge that I just had to live up to, or I would never be able to come back again! We suited up and Pat grabbed her iPhone to record the momentous event. I jumped in the water with slalom ski under foot and proceeded to confront that demon. In the first three tries, my lead leg just wasn’t strong enough to lift me out of my crouched position. Once the boat got going, I wobbled my way for a few feet and fell like any novice.
On the final try, I said to myself “I am not going to blow this one”. I straightened my lead leg a bit and leaned back as I remembered I had always done, and lo and behold I was up! I skimmed the surface, got my right foot in the rear pocket, and got outside the wake and was FLYING once again!! A few cuts back and forth and the old muscle memory started to kick in again. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, I just did it. I managed a long turn past Kentucky Point, around the west end of the lake and back up almost to Eagle Point before I figured I had better take it a bit easy or I would suffer for the next three months. Plus I was so high that I couldn’t breathe; I was actually hyperventilating, and I haven’t done that in years.
So then it was Rick’s turn, but my driving was so rusty that I could not get him up and out of the water on the slalom, so he switched to two skis and that was fine. We tooled around the lake, went back to our dock, and congratulated each other on still being able to show up the whippersnappers 50 years later!!!!
Disclosure: I could not lift anything nor squeeze my wife affectionately, for at least 10 days afterwards. I had forgotten how much of a toll slalom skiing takes on your upper body if you haven’t been doing it for the past 3 months, much less 25 years! The legs are fine, because I have been snow and heli-skiing for the past 35 years. That part of me is in pretty good shape. But the arms, chest and shoulders, oh boy! Felt like somebody beat me with a baseball bat for about an hour.
My last two days at the Lake were spent closing up the house for the winter (it still has not been winterized at all, even after 115 years or so). This was quite an experience, one that my cousin Carlos, and my brother Bill (“T”), have been familiar with for the past many years. There was so much to do. It took three typewritten pages of instructions sent to me by my brother and my brother-in-law Pat. Following them to the letter literally took all of 1-1/2 days to complete. There were pipes and systems that I had no idea even existed that had to be turned off just so, drained perfectly, caps placed, valves left open, windows bolted, shuttered, drapes drawn, toilets emptied and anti-freezed. I had no clue what a job it was.
We left, exhausted, on a Tuesday around 1.30 pm and arrived back in Connecticut around 3 am the next day, with Pat taking some of the driving chores so that I could get a little shuteye. Then I took over again and drove straight through.
Postscript: After we got back to Connecticut we took Skyler in the next day to have two titanium rods removed from his left forearm ulna and radius which he had managed to break severely a year ago. He is healing nicely with only a couple of scars from that one. A couple of weeks later, I flew to the UK for a short business trip, spent a day with a close friend, S. Francis Smitheman. He’s a noted British maritime painter of early sailing and warships of the 16th-19th centuries. I then spent a weekend on a nostalgic trip to Fribourg, Switzerland, where I had attended university from 1966-67. Two friends from those days had planned to meet up there, and I surprised them with my visit. We spent two days reliving that part of our distant past.
On that trip abroad, I witnessed what that reunion meant to them and shared in it. The experience deepened the meaning of my visit to Clark Lake this summer. The visit this year and the memories of my youth at the lake always be a part of me—always fondly remembered and always cherished.
Editor’s note: Some additional Timberlake family history. The first two center on the Timberlake’s competition in an early sailboat race on Clark Lake (1901) that they won. The sailboat had been christened “Dorothy”.