Lake of the sky
Thumbing through the pages of her family’s history, Vesta Avis Mandeville recalls growing up along the shores of Lake Tahoe when there was little more than the lake, the sky and the forest.
Despite the hardships that came with living in the high Sierran wilderness in the early part of the 20th century, the 87-year-old said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I liked what we had – we had freedom,” Mandeville said of her family’s pioneering spirit. “We were on our own and had to figure out how to survive.”
Shortly after her birth in Truckee in 1914, Mandeville’s father, Sydney – a Sierran lawman and forest ranger – packed up his family and moved to the Boiler Point homestead on the north shore of the lake.
In the preface to her book published last year, “Survival at Boiler Point, Lake Tahoe,” Mandeville wrote that her family’s survival depended on the good Lord and their own abilities, ingenuity and good sense.
“I do believe my mother (Mary Alice) was the bravest lady this side of the Rockies,” wrote Mandeville of her courage to move her four children and a newborn baby girl to a house in the wilderness with “no electricity, no phone, no store, no neighbors, no hospital, no doctors, no nurses and no roads. … She dedicated her life to making a happy home wherever she was.”
In winter, the family got around on skis and snowshoes. Their only communication with the outside word was the mail boat, which came from the south shore once a week, weather permitting, Mandeville said.
“Dad taught us all how to ski at the age of 3,” she recalled. “You had to learn to ski to get around … you were on top of 3 or 4 feet of snow. Dad always said, ‘At Tahoe, we have July, August and winter.'”
In summer, the family rode horseback or walked. Mandeville’s father covered up to 20 miles a day on foot while patrolling his territory as a forest ranger.
Looking back, the trials seem to fade fade away, and it’s the good times that stand out in Mandeville’s mind.
Her most fond memories can be traced to the “Lake of the Sky.”
Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Mandeville said. “It’s a reflection of the sky, that’s why it’s so blue.”
From the brilliant emerald green of the shallows to the royal purple where the waters deepen, Mandeville recalls gazing over the lake for hours, bonfires on the beach and swimming with her brothers on warm summer days.
“I have witnessed days when everything was still; the lake was like a mirror, without a spot or wrinkle,” Mandeville wrote. “I could feel the hush, my spirit would reflect the calm peace of the Lord, and I would think, ‘All is well with my soul.'”
Sitting at her kitchen table near Chicago Park, Mandeville recalls the reason she wrote the book, her first writing endeavor.
“My grandkids kept pushing me,” Mandeville said. “‘We want to know how it was’, they said.”
In particular, she said she has a granddaughter eager for history.
“When I’m writing, I think I’m talking to Evon and I just tell her everything,” Mandeville said. “The Lord has been good to give me recall.”
Life has changed from Boiler Point to Chicago Park, but over the years, Mandeville hasn’t lost her pioneering spirit.
“It’s a remarkable life she’s lived. This girl is very resourceful,” said her husband, Jack. “If there’s something wrong with the car, she’s out there getting just as greasy as me.”
u Vesta Avis Mandeville sells her book directly. To purchase a copy, call 272-8426.
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