By Steve Sears
“I hope somebody out there likes it,” says Denville based author, John Stibravy, about his third and recently released book, The Last Pretty Lake in New Jersey: Cedar Lake. The 200-page offering covers the 67 years from 1954 to the present. “Maybe it will bring back some memories.”
Stibravy, who has an M.A. in English with a core in Fiction Writing from Wichita State University, began writing the book 27 years ago back in 1994, but it remained in the backburner until 2020. “I actually started this in ’92,” he says, “and when I got to ‘94, I just was not happy with how it sounded. I tried to decide if it should be two halves, the lake half and the people half, or put it together, which is what I finally did. And you know, there’s no point publishing something that the writer knows is not very good. It just didn’t have any spark. So, I put it aside, and said, ‘I’ll be back someday.’”
“Someday” was late last year, but gone were many of the folks who lived at Cedar Lake in the early 1990s. “But their families are here,” Stibravy says. “It’s a unique lake, because around here there’s fourth or fifth generations that never left.”
Stibravy, the author of both Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Back from the Dead, and Aortic Heart Valve Replacement: Through the Dark Curtain, faced unusual roadblocks when revisiting the work. “Technically this got expensive. Do you remember the old tractor feed paper?” he asks. “Well, that was the only readable version we could find. We didn’t have the computer; it was a MAC 512k. That’s what it was written on. We had one copy, too faint to scan.” The entire manuscript had to be retyped at the editors’ location in Los Angeles, which took a little over a month. The professional typist was Hedy Wolfe. “My editor out in Los Angeles got her lined up to retype the whole thing,” Stibravy says. “I can’t imagine that – all those hours!”
Stibravy recalls the early 1950s and the then 90-minute drive from Elizabeth to Denville in a 1954 Buick. Route 80 (and a future 20-minute drive) at that time was non-existent; Routes 24, 10, and 53 were used. He adds, “In the winters, I lived in my grandparents’ house in Elizabeth because this house (their Cedar Lake cabin) had no winterization. Every winter the pipes would freeze and bust. My job every spring was to crawl under the house and resolder the copper pipes.” That original house sat on rock pillar and was like many on the lake: a hunting and fishing cabin. The home was eventually winterized in 1970, and two years ago Stibravy renovated the structure to double the size. “The original house is here, with all the remodeling on the lake side.”
When asked which is more exciting, his prior two books about his cardiac events or revisiting the current one, he responds immediately. “This one. Because as time passes, I hope some of the cardiac memories will fade away. They’re not particularly pleasant. Whereas here, there’s an awful lot of nice memories. I can remember what is under the rugs; it’s green linoleum. The fireplace is original granite. There’s a lot of memories of the family, especially my grandparents. I can remember us eating dinner, I can remember fishing with my grandfather, and we used to have a lot of yard parties up here. It was a different world here in the 1960s. There was a lot of yard parties, badminton, horseshoes, cookouts, and it does bring back a lot of memories, even though it’s been remodeled.”
Stibravy’s fourth book, which he will soon release, deals with counseling those who have survived cardiac arrest.
The Last Pretty Lake in New Jersey: Cedar Lake is available through Amazon, Goodreads, and eventually all local bookstores.