The Back Porch

                          The Tree House Candle Shop And By-The-Way Gardens (Cabin Tales #20)

                When I was a youth, I was blessed to spend the summers at the family cabin “up north.” Among the many things that made the area unique was the presence of several one-of-a-kind gift shops within walking distance of our little slice of Heaven. It may seem unusual that a young boy, especially one enthralled with contact sports, fishing, and the outdoors, would be smitten with “gift shops,” but if you’ll read on, perhaps you will come to understand.
                The Tree House Candle Shop was just that. Located down a paved road about a half-mile from our cabin, this was a retail store in a massive tree-top. Really. To enter this boutique, one had to climb up a couple of flights of stairs connected to the ground and the trunk of the giant oak. The emporium itself was roughly fifteen feet square, complete with an ancient cash register and shelves filled with every type and size of candle imaginable. The floor and walls were made of thick, sturdy wood, buttressed by large branches, which was comforting when I was inside the shop with five or six others at the same time. (Amazingly, to my knowledge, the store never received severe storm or wind damage).
   I found it exciting enough just to be in an actual store in a tree, but some of its wares were truly remarkable. The shop was not just an outlet, it was a virtual wax museum. It sold candles of every color and size, individual candles and sets, from candles to adorn a birthday cake to giant candles suitable as stand-alone centerpieces for a large dining table. On one visit, the shop had a number of huge, multi-colored candles that the proprietor said were made underwater. These candles were circular, about 10 inches in diameter, with one-foot high wax walls topped by five or six wax spires reaching even higher, and had a hollow center where another candle could be placed and lit. The walls had openings through which the light would pour out. My family purchased two of them and had them for decades thereafter. As with my youth, I wish I still possessed them.
Another memorable gift shop was By-the-Way-Gardens. As you may have guessed, this shop was surrounded by lush gardens. The owner, an older, cherubic, silver-haired angel named Ann Fisk, made sure that her store was enveloped in a riot of color throughout the warm months. Something pleasantly aromatic was always in bloom on every side of her store. Inside, there was no end to the knick-Knacks, bric-a-brac, collectibles, cards, scented flowers, giftware and…toys. Toys! Her shelves were so full, there was something unique and amusing behind every other thing.
This shop, too, was roughly a half-mile walk away from our summer home, though in a different direction. Many was the evening my mom, and her best friend Pat, would stop in at By-the-Way Gardens on their daily walk. At least once a week, I myself would walk or bike there to peruse the merchandise or just sit on the bench out back overlooking the large wishing well. The grounds were so beautiful and magical, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see unicorns frolicking where one often spotted deer.
            Sadly, both of these places are no more. If I knew then what I know now, my last wish, upon tossing a final penny into that enchanted well, would have been for these two places to continue to exist in perpetuity, frozen forever in time, as they are in that place in my mind where we are all still young.                                           



                                                                       "Harry"

                Harry was a heron. Might still be. A great blue heron. And he was also a thief. And, if he still is, he still is…of that I am sure.
                I first encountered the long, lanky bird from afar. One day, several years ago, I was pondering how it was that nice-sized crappies had been escaping from my fish pen recently, something that hadn’t happened in the past. A couple of my neighbors had mentioned that they, too, had experienced the same phenomenon.
We all had large, sturdy pens comprised of four stout wooden legs with chicken-wire wrapped around them, forming four sides. Thick wooden boards formed the bottom of the pen, with heavy gauge wire mesh stapled snugly to them, in case a board should rot or come loose. We made spikes out of the bottoms of the legs, so they could be driven securely into the sandy lake bottom. The pens were likewise secured to the dock, so they couldn’t come loose in wavy conditions. They had no covers, so as to provide easy access and egress, but the top of the pens stood well above the water, so the fish couldn’t swim—or jump—out.
One day I was looking out the front porch of the family cabin at my fish pen about 50 yards away, enveloped in the unusually calm waters. I slowly realized I was not, in fact, the only one looking intently at the pen. There was a nearly four-foot-tall bird staring down into it, standing stock-still on our dock, a mere three feet from my Crappie Casa. He stood mesmerized…as did I…until finally his neck shot out, then retracted and he took to the air, a foot-long crappie wedged in his lengthy beak. Mystery solved. I’m sure Harry was a popular bird in the heron community. (“Stick with me, baby, and you’ll eat like a queen!”).
This meant we had to crown our pens with hinged trap doors and handles. This put an end to the thievery, at least for a few years. Then, last year I saw “him,” or a reasonable facsimile thereof, from our deck at the front of the cabin. He was sauntering down our dock, from shore towards the lake. He got to the “H” section, hung a sharp right, walked 10 feet until the dock turned left, executed a near-perfect 90-degree spin and strolled out to our sundeck, body leaning forward, looking all-the-while like Groucho Marx. If he had had hands, they would’ve been clenched behind his back as he strode forward, bent over, beak like a long, sharp cigar protruding from his face. He exuded a studied look of insouciance as he moved, casually looking at nothing in particular.
Until he took off, flying low to the water and dove at the minnow bucket I had hanging off the other side of our dock. Without hitting the water, or alighting, he somehow thrust his big beak into the bucket, prying open its door as he did, extracted a large sucker minnow and, in Houdini-esque fashion, escaped with his booty, scot free. The last I saw of him, he was flying towards “the bluff,” a large hill topped by mature trees, that rises from the earth about a half-mile to the west of our cabin.
It was a remarkable sight, and a truly spectacular performance, I must admit-- worthy of ESPN’s “Play of the Day.”
Now we put rocks in our minnow buckets and sink them to the bottom of the lake.
The ball is in his court, so to speak. Let’s see what Harry comes up with next.                                      


                                                              The Crab Caper

                One cool, misty day when I was 12-years-old, I was fishing off our neighbor’s dock, as I was wont to do. I usually caught perch, bluegills, and rock bass, but occasionally landed a large-mouth bass, as well. On very rare occasions, if I was particularly blessed, I would hook into a northern pike or a walleye, not a common occurrence out of only five feet of water. I even caught a sucker or two over the years, though that isn’t much to brag about.  
                Something would happen on this day, however, that I still can’t explain. It was weird, oddly exciting, but more than a little traumatizing. And totally inexplicable. I was kneeling off the end of the dock, rod and reel in hand, enticing the panfish with part of a nightcrawler dangling off a small hook. I had caught a few fish by this time, and now again felt a slight tug. I waited a moment and then lifted my rod-tip, feeling a weight, but no real fight or movement. I reeled in a foot or two of line and lifted my rod up to see what, if anything was attached to my hook.
                There, staring me in the face with beady little eyes, was a crab. It was hanging on with one claw. Not a crawfish, with which I’d already become very familiar, but a nearly perfectly disc-shaped crab, quite red of body, about four inches in diameter. It kept staring at me, I kept staring at it, both of us in shock.
                There are numerous species of freshwater crabs, but virtually all of them live in tropical or subtropical areas, not in a lake that is covered by thick ice four months out of every year.  I would have been less surprised-- though a bit more anxious-- to have seen a polar bear strolling down the dock.
                That was forty years ago. I have never heard of another such catch, before or since, from any lake in the region. Perhaps someone dropped their pet into the water and the hungry crustacean just happened to be under my offering at that fateful moment.
                Pulling a crab out of a 13,000-acre chain of lakes in northern Minnesota is akin to finding a needle in a haystack…if the haystack were the size of Canada.
                After a full 30 seconds or more, the crab let go and fell back into the water, its life story thereafter unknown.
 I sat in silence for a long time. Then I picked up my rod and bait and walked back to the cabin.

             I have eaten several lobster tails since then, but have told only one crab tale.                                                   



                                                                Duke (Part II)

                 Duke was a German Shepherd who lived across the street from my family’s cabin when I was a young lad. Duke thought highly of himself. And of a Siberian Husky named Kita who lived across the lake. He’d frequently visit Kita via a lengthy land route that he’d discovered. (In those days, Duke was allowed to run free and was usually outside from mid-morning until supper time). His owner, knowing where to find Duke if he hadn’t been spotted in the neighborhood for a few hours, would often go and pick him up in his classic old wooden Century runabout. On the way back, Duke would sit proudly erect in the boat's front passenger seat. He carried himself with an air that clearly showed he thought the occasions of his amphibious arrival, even though they occurred with some frequency, compared favorably to General Douglas Macarthur returning to the Philippines during World War II.  (“As you good people can see, I have returned.”).
                He would hop out of the boat onto the dock with the grace and power of Willie Mays turning towards third base. Then, he would magnanimously stop and let people pet him as he slowly strolled homeward.
                Duke was gregarious, and there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. However, he was not a coward, had high standards of behavior in others, and seemed to be everywhere. Once, my eldest brother Rob was walking down the beach when a strange dog came at him snarling and baring his teeth. Startled, he looked up, quickly running through his options. Even more suddenly, Duke came out of nowhere, a black streak aimed directly at the dog menacing my brother. Duke caught the crazed canine in mid-air just a few feet before it reached Rob-- and sent it sprawling. The dog slunk away, slightly worse for wear. Rob, who was a Golden Gloves boxer, didn’t have to put up his dukes to protect himself in this fight. A single Duke went up to protect him, unbidden.
               A “duke” is defined as: “a male holding the highest hereditary title in the British peerages; noble.” Duke wasn’t British, he was German. But he was all of that…and more.

  He must’ve been. People are still talking—and writing-- about him.
               
                                           


                                                      The Fishing Tournament


              I love to fish. Always have. Back in the halcyon days of my youth, one of my brothers, a good friend of ours, and yours truly entered a fishing contest on a whim. (Which was pretty much how we did most things). The multi-species tournament was sponsored by a local radio station, and was open to any lake in the area, highly unusual for a fishing contest of any type. This was the first such event any of us had ever entered, and, given the unconventional parameters, we had no idea if there would be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of contestants.
 After submitting the entrance fees, we took a moment to strategize. The tournament was for walleyes, bass, and northern pike. There would be $50 payouts for the biggest fish of each species weighed-in every hour from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. (though entrants could start fishing at 6 a.m.), and a $500 prize would be awarded to the single biggest fish in each category legally caught during the contest. We decided we would fish for bass on a lake we knew of that was lightly fished and harbored good-sized largemouth bass. We would get up at 4:30 a.m., grab a quick breakfast, load the boat and set off on the 45-minute drive to the lake. The plan was to launch the boat and head to our first spot in time to make our first cast just after 6 a.m., right at daybreak. We also decided if any of us caught a qualifying fish, we would split the prize money three ways. This seemed fair, as I would act as the guide, our friend Al provided the boat and motor, and my brother…would give us a third lure in the water.
Needless to say, it is very important to properly prepare for any tournament. Focusing on the challenge at hand, developing fishing strategies, visualizing success, and getting the rest one needs to perform at a high level are all vital aspects of pre-tournament preparation.

I spent the night in a van with a local gal, assuring that I was properly hydrated.

When local gal dropped me off at 4:30 a.m., in front of the cabin in which my brother and our friend Al was staying, I was very concerned that it might prove exceptionally difficult to wake the lads. This being nearly 40 years ago, they too were partial to a little late-night carousing. (In fact, on one occasion, another friend and I very nearly couldn’t wake them up, as they had apparently passed out fallen asleep without properly shutting off one or more of the gas burners on their stove. We grew concerned when there was no sign of them by mid-day and went to investigate. We opened their windows and literally shook them awake…at about 3:30 in the afternoon).

“Biggun’, is that you?” I heard from inside just before I started to knock on the front door.

 I was stunned, but pleasantly so. That pumped me up and was the first moment I thought to myself, who knows, maybe we have a shot at it.
“It’s me, Al. Are you guys ready?”
“Well, we just have to get your brother up.”
We eventually succeeded in doing so, grabbed a bite, loaded up, and hit the road almost on schedule. My brother fell back asleep almost immediately.
Arriving at the rather primitive launch after several miles of traversing wet gravel roads red with iron ore, we rousted brother Mark again, slid the boat off the trailer, and headed diagonally across the lake to Spot Number One. Mark promptly lapsed back into unconsciousness. I made a mental note to check into early-onset narcolepsy while piloting the boat towards some flooded timber as the first rays of the sun appeared on the horizon. After about five minutes, we arrived at a spot I thought held great potential…a large tree sticking out of the water at a 45-degree angle, right on the edge of a steep drop-off.
We re-rousted my brother, and I told him to cast his buzz-bait past the tree and retrieve it close to its trunk. In a few seconds there was a slurp and a splash and the fight was on. It was quickly apparent that he had hooked a big fish, and on our first cast! Fully awake now, Mark did a pretty good job fighting the fish. However, when it was most of the way to the boat, it got stuck, and he couldn’t retrieve any more line. We all thought: Oh, crap, that’s it…it’s gone. Slowly motoring towards where the fish was snagged, we peered into the clear water and saw a large bush attached to the bottom of the lake. Shortly thereafter, we saw a very big largemouth bass inches away from the bush, shaking its head, trying to free itself from the lure, line and shrubbery. Glad that it wasn’t already gone, but in a state of panic that it might well get away soon, Al used the landing net- and his long arms- to chop at the offending brush. Part of the soggy plant came loose and Al was able to simultaneously get the net under the fish…and the fish into the boat. He reached down, grabbed the bass, held it up and shouted, “It’s the money! It’s the money!”
We all joined in the happy chorus, while jumping up and down in the small green craft. Even before the first weigh-in of the day, we knew we had a good chance to win given the nearly 6-pound bass that we had just taken hostage.
Upon leaving the lake to travel to the official weigh-in site, Al and my now pumped-up brother were finishing up stowing their gear when I took a cast from shore. I caught a small northern and released it, thinking it too small to win even an hourly prize. They both told me I should’ve kept it: “You never know,” they said, “maybe no one will register a northern the last hour.”

The bad news? I released $50, not a pittance 40 years ago. No one registered a northern the last hour.
The good news? We won the tournament and split the money. Then we retired from competition. We will forever be one-for-one, a 100% winning percentage.

As someone once wrote, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven.”
                                             

                                                                        Rattled
                    
                  For years we had an outdoor bathroom at our lake property. I don’t mean an ‘outhouse’. In fact we were the first, or among the first, in our area to have running water and a flush toilet. We just plateaued at that point... for about… sixty years.
                 Late one sunny summer afternoon I responded to nature’s call. I entered our outdoor facility, locked the door and sat down, assuming a fully functional posture. Settled in for the duration as it were.  I Grabbed a local newspaper’s sports section left nearby for just such an eventuality, and sought to make the most of my time.
                After a minute or two, I warmed to the task. Unfortunately, at this point, things took an ugly turn. The medicine cabinet-attached flush to the wall-started shaking and rattling. I was keenly aware that medicine cabinets are entirely incapable of shaking and rattling of their own volition. Therein lay the problem.
                We did have a military installation about forty miles away, and at times through the years live-fire excercises would cause the ground to tremble and  our windows to rattle. I was fervently hoping that this was the case now. I soon realized, however, that the ground wasn’t trembling and the bathroom window wasn’t rattling. There simply weren’t many other logical possibilities that I could think of for what was happening.
                I asked myself if I had accidentally ingested any hallucinogenic drugs. No. Eaten a bad plate of clams? No. I was literally questioning my own sanity. ‘Freaking out’ as we kids said then. Was it some odd, mosquito-borne illness coming over me? I was desperate for answers as the shaking and rattling grew ever more pronounced.
                And then I got one.
                It was not a good one. A thin, bony black wing started protruding from the back of the cabinet where it rested against the wood-paneled wall. More and more of the wing came out, stretching and flapping.  I was transfixed by the sight. And unnerved. And not done with my original task. ‘Pants on the ground’ as the saying goes now.
                Soon, the entire cabinet started flopping around crazily. Then a largish black bat dropped out of it and took up station about thirty-six inches away from my feet. It was hopping around lightly and opening and closing its mouth while still flapping its wings occasionally. Mighta had a little spittle around the corners of its mouth.
                I was stunned. (The bat may have been somewhat non-plussed as well). I ran through what I could then see as my entire range of options. In about two seconds. I didn’t particularly care for any of them.
                I hitched up my pants as quickly as I could, all the while watching the winged rodent looking back up at me. I took the two steps to the door, turned the deadbolt and threw the door open wide. I headed out of the bathroom at a dead run, my left hand still trying to hold my pants up. That was as far as my plan went.
                I looked back and didn’t see anything flying out of the bathroom. We had a fence on our property line that extended directly out from the bathroom. It was about five feet from the only road serving our area of the lake. As was our bathroom. I trotted around the fence and came back towards the still open bathroom door. I leaned over the fence and craned my neck to peer inside the loo, still- and just barely- holding my pants up, left hand just under my navel.
                Still rattled by the whole episode, and wanting to make sure the bat was gone from the biffy, I hadn’t properly considered appearances. The juxtaposition of my person, my pants and my appendages while staring into an open bathroom... from a roadside... in broad daylight... may have given some pause.
                Well, actually it did. A car came by, slowing dramatically as it approached the scene. Then it stopped…right before me. This is when I properly considered appearances. I nodded and yelled “bat…bat in the bathroom!”

              I made my way into the cottage.

                (In retrospect it was worth it for the story. It’s almost always- in retrospect- worth it for the story).

                                    
                                          "Cabin Series" #8---The Crazed Angler and the Fish

                One Labor Day weekend many years ago, I was fishing on a small lake with a friend of mine from Oklahoma. It was a beautiful day, partly cloudy with light breezes and temperatures in the mid 70’s. Better yet, we caught a lot of fish, some decent size bass and northern pike among them. I, for various reasons, do not use leaders when fishing. This does lead to me being ‘bitten off’ occasionally by toothy, aggressive northerns. Unfortunately, on this day I was losing ($5 apiece) ‘crankbaits’ at an alarming rate. Worse yet, I have a particular favorite ‘crankbait’ that is hard to come by, and, after catching numerous bass and northerns-and losing several of the latter- I eventually was down to the last of these ‘magic’ baits. I figured I had a fair chance of hanging on to this one , however, as we would only be fishing for another hour or two at most. So I tied it on. And made a cast.
                Half- way back to the boat, a fish hit it. It soon became apparent it was another northern. I fought it for a bit and it surfaced about twelve feet from the boat. I have often seen northerns do this. They will pause to rest a moment before  quickly diving down on another power run. My treasured lure- the  last of its breed- was nowhere to be seen. It was entirely in the fish’s mouth. If the line broke on this upcoming dive – or a following one- my lure would be gone. I had a mere moment to process this information and make a decision on how to proceed.
                I stepped on top of my (elevated) portside storage compartment, the one farthest from the northern that was glaring up at me intently from what was now effectively fifteen feet away. (Before going further let me note that I was fully clothed. I had on a cap, sunglasses, shoes and socks, a tee-shirt,  and shorts with pockets containing a comb, handkerchief, keys, my asthma inhaler…and my wallet).
                “Al,” I said urgently, “hand me the net!” He did. I took it, and, ignoring the four foot long handle, put a hand on each side of the circular frame and held it out in front of me.
                I jumped across the boat to briefly put one foot on the starboard side storage and the other on the outside of the gunwhale. Pressing off with both I jumped up and out in an impromptu Greg Louganis imitation. I had the net in front of my head, arms outstretched so it would enter the water first and possibly entrap the befuddled pike as I entered the lake to partake of his realm.

                I hit the water head down and went under. I immediately turned the net over 180 degrees just in case it somehow contained ‘my’ fish, which would surely just swim away in any case. I now realized I had to get my arms up and head facing the surface as well. If I hit the ‘piscatorial lottery’ and the fish was miraculously still in the net, this would be my only chance of keeping it there…and of allowing myself to eventually make it to the surface as well. (In retrospect, this probably shouldn’t have been the secondary consideration).

                It soon became clear that I had another problem. My hands were occupied and couldn’t help me get to the surface. I started kicking even harder. Inch by inch, and I do mean inch by inch, I crept towards the surface. Fortunately, just as I was getting short on air, I felt the net break the surface. I kept my arms locked in an extended position and kept rising. I felt the net vibrate and twist. The northern was in it!

                I got my head above water moments later and took a well deserved breath. I saw that by using the boat for leverage I had kicked it farther away. It was now approximately thirty feet from my point of entry. I also saw Al, with his hand over his heart, leaning over the side of the boat, incredulous.

“WHADDIDDYADOO??!” he exclaimed in a loud southern drawl. “I got him, Al!” I replied. I was able, at this point, to hold the net with one hand on the yoke and ‘sort of’ swim towards the boat and the stunned Oklahoman. The northern itself was only of ‘garden variety’ size, maybe three or four pounds. After handing the net up to Al, I was able to get back into my sixteen and a half foot aluminum fishing vessel. I eventually extricated my lucky lure from the northern’s maw and released it back into the clear water. It promptly swam away, possibly seeking counseling or a trauma center.

We kept fishing for awhile, though I’m not sure why. I believe we were slowly recovering  ourselves. To this day, that remains the only time I ever truly surprised myself with my own actions. I lost my sunglasses and my hat, and my inhaler was a goner. I had to dry out some money, etc., but it was worth it to get my lure back. And for the story. (It's almost always worth it for the story).

This was also one of the very few times I wished something I did was captured on film. Nowadays, what with all the smart-phones and portable video devices, it surely would have been. (There were numerous boats on the lake and cottages and beaches teeming with people around us that holiday weekend).

I would love to have seen it on “America’s Funniest Videos”. Any accidental athleticism aside, it was just so…preposterous.

It would have been ESPN’s “Play of the Millenium”!


                                                                    Doc & Pauline

                When I was younger, we had neighbors across the road from our cabin, who, unlike us, were permanent residents. Back then that was a rarity. When I was a very young lad, they were in late middle age, so by the time I was in my twenties they were elderly. And they were characters. As were their four offspring. And their dog, Duke.
                “Doc” and Pauline were well known in the area. (As was their dog, Duke). Doc’s real name was Edward, but no one ever called him that. It would’ve been like calling Babe Ruth “George,” even though I know for a fact that Doc couldn’t hit a curve ball. Doc earned his sobriquet by way of being a dentist- and a darn good one. Gentle, too. His wife Pauline was- or had been- a nurse. And a darn good one, in her own right.
                There were significant benefits to living across the street from Doc and Pauline. If you needed a tool- and nearly everyone in the neighborhood did at one time or another- Doc had it. No matter how obscure, if an implement existed, Doc owned at least one of them. And, since his two expansive tool-sheds were always perfectly organized, it never took him long to find just the one you needed. No library’s books were in more perfect order than Doc’s beloved tools. I checked out many of his contrivances over the years, from awls to zip-saws. Occasionally, I went over and asked for a tool just to see his sheds- or to see if he had one, if it was a particularly offbeat request. I was never disappointed.
                Pauline acted as a volunteer nurse for the neighborhood’s children. I sought her care and advice more times than I can count. Once, I had a very advanced case of poison ivy. I had scratched it and scratched it, apparently with dirty fingers or nails, and the oozing, open sores got infected. I got concerned when I noticed, over the course of a day or two, a red line going quite rapidly up my leg, from the ankle where the poison ivy rash had started to nearly knee-level. I traipsed over to see Pauline. She shook her head, cocked her one good eye at me, and said, “Gads! We’ve got to clean that out and bring that infection down and out.” She told me to soak the whole area in epsom salts for 30 minutes, twice a day, among other pointers. The red line- and my sores and itching- were gone in three days.
                Another time, when I was racing a friend on our bikes, my bike’s chain broke as I was standing up and driving my foot down as hard as I could on the pedal. The chain snapped, there was no resistance anymore, and my knee went into the triangular shaped gear spikes. I wiped out, pulled the bike off my knee, and looked down to see a gash, and a couple of whitish tendons.
                To Pauline I went.
                Pauline was an excellent nurse, but she really believed in thoroughly cleaning a wound out. She would scrub and scrub them directly until it almost brought tears to your eyes. I’m quite sure she wouldn’t have been allowed to treat wounds at Gitmo. It would’ve been considered torture. But, there were never any post-treatment infections when she plied her craft.
                Doc and Pauline were likely both marginal, if highly functioning, alcoholics. They hid their preferred beverages from each other. Though it’s not politically correct to say now, it was kind of funny to an outsider like me. Doc loved to putter, and was always maintaining or fixing something. Even into his late 70’s he’d have a pop or two and go up on their roof to clean it off. Once, when he went up in the winter to remove some snow and ice, Pauline tried to dissuade him from doing so. “If you fall off, I’m not looking for you until the snow melts come spring!” she bellowed.
                Doc liked to chop wood. He really liked to chop wood whilst enjoying a few Kingsbury beers. The more Kingsbury he drank, the more wood he chopped. Even into his late seventies. This was endlessly entertaining to me. He kept his axes sharp and his beer cold.
                Doc and Pauline would often play card games with my parents and others in the neighborhood, sometimes until very late at night, often with an abundance of libations on hand. If Doc needed to relieve himself and the onsite bathroom was occupied, he would sometimes go outside and “water the flowers.” On at least one occasion, he did this outside of their own home. He yelled through the open window at his beloved: “I’m watering your petunias, dear!” Pauline responded, “You couldn’t find my petunias with a map and a magnifying glass!”
                Every so often, Pauline would invite us over for dinner. Bliss was it, to be alive on those hallowed evenings. She was a truly amazing cook. It is not hyperbole to say that she could have made a living as a top chef.
                In today’s twisted parlance, Doc would’ve been considered a bit of a “perv.” The adults of the “north shore” would often gather at a certain cabin where that clan’s British-Southern matriarch would bewitch everyone with the amazing but true tales of her life (a future Cabin Tales post, to be sure). Everyone would be rapt, Doc no exception. However, Doc had the additional talent of being able to appear to read a magazine while still avidly following the current tale. What is more impressive still, he usually did this while actually looking at a Playboy magazine he had tucked into the Time or Outdoor Life that served as his ruse extant for the night’s gathering.
                One afternoon, when I was in my late twenties- and Doc was in his eighties- I brought a coworker up to our cabin for the first time. As we pulled up to the cottage, I saw Doc walking down the road with a particularly large, long flat-head screwdriver in his hand. Knowing what his response would be, I said, “That’s a big tool you’ve got there, Doc!”
                He promptly replied, “That’s what all the ladies say!” My friend was stunned.

                Doc and Pauline are both long gone now, together again for eternity.

                Here’s to their memories.

    You can bet Doc's Kingsburys are cold, and Pauline's petunias well and properly watered. 


                                                 A Peacock In The Northwoods?
                                   
                I got off work at about 10 pm on that hot Friday night many years ago. I left downtown and headed north, soon escaping the metropolitan area in my quest to reach the Northwoods, and our cabin on the lake. It was a beautiful summer’s night, and, after a two-and-one-half hour drive, I reached the last major intersection on the way to our cottage. Heaven was only 2 miles away.
                Please imagine my surprise, when, stopped for a red light at this junction in northern Minnesota, I saw what appeared to be a peacock standing- strutting- at the northwest corner of the intersection. The peacock, or peafowl, is comprised of three species, one of which hails from Africa, and two of which are native to southeast Asia. None of them should have been standing at a northern Minnesota street corner after midnight at any time of the year.
                Even more bizarrely, the one I was watching was fanning its admittedly beautiful tail as it gradually turned around, stepping slowly and stiffly in complete circles, as if to say, “Look at me, look at me! Can any of you possibly resist such an erotically delectable sight as this?!” That it is possible to appear confused and haughty at the same time, this bird proved beyond a doubt. Sad, really, given that it was dark, and, anyway, the next nearest of its kind was likely over 80 miles away, caged in a zoo. There could be no more fruitless, pointless endeavor.
                I questioned my sanity upon first laying eyes on this creature, hollowly and pathetically preening at the side of the road where normally only panhandlers ply their trade. Fortunately, the next day I read about a nearby zoo that had a few of its animals temporarily escape just the day before, including a peacock.
                All of the critters were found and re-enlisted in the zoo’s ranks within 36 hours, I am happy to report.

                I, too, returned to my urban cage shortly thereafter.


                                                  The BTL Fishing Tournament Chronicles

    A group of my high school friends and I used to hold (nearly) annual fishing tournaments at differing venues around central and northern Minnesota. We would enjoy zesty pre-tournament hi-jinks on Friday nights and then slither out for the first fishing session early Saturday morning. (These tournaments were comprised of three sessions of fishing: Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday morning). Each year’s winner would receive a nice Champion’s Trophy for his efforts. In later years, we added the equally prestigious “Golden Outhouse Award” to the contestant who was the biggest ‘disruption/buffoon/incompetent mess’ of that year’s tourney. (These trophies would appear to be mutually exclusive, although, oddly enough, “Spank” or “Swilligan” if you will, almost pulled that remarkable feat off one year. Had he done so, he should have automatically been put on the cover of Sports’ Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year” issue).
                Another hallmark of these “official” gatherings was equipment malfunction- and destruction. At “BTL Tournament #1,” my boat was being pulled by a teammate in his brand new pickup truck, to another squad member’s cabin…through a rather narrow driveway framed on each side by dense woods. Concerned that my trailer and boat might be too wide to safely pass through, I opened the passenger side door of said truck to peer behind me at my rig…sending said door into the trunk of a tree, putting a shiny new dent in it. Though not especially amused, “Harley” was good enough to keep his cool.
                Which is more than can be said for two other squad members who, after a long hot afternoon of drinking, got into a shouting match over who sported the largest belly. This eventually led one to bellow the immortal words, “Get the tape measure. Get the bleepin’ tape measure!” while the rest of us fell about laughing uncontrollably. (That phrase made it onto the next year’s official tournament tee-shirt).
                Two of the tournaments were held on my lake, the largest body of water on which the tourney was ever held. The lake appeared to sense when one was imminent and the wind would come up and the waves would rise to impressive heights. This combination led to arguably the tourney’s most famous/infamous moment (which, by-the-way, is saying a lot). “The Big Man” was paired with “Davey” for Saturday morning’s opening session. They were to be fishing out of the former’s 14’ aluminum boat powered by a 20 horsepower outboard engine. The waves were over two feet high as they set out across the lake in this small craft. Roughly 100 yards out, they realized that they had forgotten their life preservers, and, since they were safety-conscious individuals, turned back towards my dock to retrieve them. The Big Man weighed nearly 300 pounds at the time, Davey not even half that. The Big Man was in the back of the boat, manning the motor…along with a full tank of gas, the marine battery…and some water. Consequently, as they turned towards shore the back of the boat was much lower in the water than the bow. This was unfortunate, as the waves now rolled gaily over the transom, flooding the boat, which eventually sank before reaching shore. (This is the only instance of a boat sinking in tournament annals, and makes for a wonderful asterisk next to that day’s box score).
                Possibly the worst part of this for the now drenched duo was that all the other boats were already out on the lake and had no idea this was happening. They spent an hour or so attempting to retrieve as much of their gear as they could from the boat, lake and shoreline, laying the soaked artifacts on towels and blankets on the ground by the cabin. The rest of the squad returned at session’s end to find them engaged in a spirited cribbage match on a patio table near the cabin, a couple of dozen empty “Special Export” cans adorning the area. (That same tournament, I started out with three functional boat seats in my watercraft, and ended up with two that could serve as dilapidated seat cushions. Large waves and large bodies are hard on boats and accessories, and Extra Large is the equivalent of BTL petite).
                The next contest held on my lake was also eventful. One of the boys was using a neighbors slip and dock to moor his boat. It was windy and wavy again. Prior to the first session, he and his partner were attempting to back away from the dock when the bow ended up getting wedged under a dock section, lifting it up and disconnecting it from the others. It sagged into the waves, making repairs necessary and delaying the start of the festivities.
                One year a couple members of the team had our likenesses all put on actual baseball cards, complete with stats, anecdotes, descriptions and the like. A good time was had by all when they graciously distributed the cards to their respective owners-to-be on opening night of that tournament. Then we went outside and officially kicked off the tourney festivities with a fireworks display. The next day saw the highest dew point ever recorded in that area and several of the boys nearly succumbed to heat stroke/prostration after session number one.
                More recently, a couple of the team members, “Hawken Loob” and “El Gordo,” came up with the idea that we should have sponsor shirts. Genius. These were to mimic the shirts that the top pros wear at their contests. We had a brain-storming session, which I was involved in, to come up with who would likely sponsor us. Sure, there were a few requisite fishing and marine companies in the mix, but we ended up with several perhaps less likely logos adorning the finished product. “Cialis,” “Charmin,” “Canada Club,” “Irish Spring,” and “Speedo” made the cut.
                We haven’t been able to have a tournament for a few years now.
                Cue Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Glory Days.”
                How I miss them.

               
                                                             
                                                                 The "Incident"

                Roughly three months before we were to be married, I took my wife out for a leisurely ride in my fishing boat. My hand on the tiller of the outboard motor, I blithely steered us across the cobalt waters of the lake. Happily afloat under the clear blue sky, we aimlessly cruised along for a couple of miles, absorbing the sun’s rays, loving life.
                Suddenly, the motor sputtered and died. I was surprised- as there were no warning signs, no clues that such a thing was possible and I knew we had plenty of gas. After checking one or two other possible causes of the current calamity, I removed the engine’s cowling/cover. I checked  the spark plug connections and then the sparks themselves. I looked at the kill switch position and checked the fuel line all the way into the carburetor. Finding nothing amiss, I put my left hand on top of the now exposed motor and pulled the starting cord as hard and fast as I could with my right hand. It didn’t start.
                Worse, I hadn’t paid attention to the exact positioning of  said hand and was unaware that its ring finger was in line with the heavy lead fly wheel’s “teeth.”
                In an instant, I was acutely aware that my left ring finger, or what was left of it, had indeed been in line with the heavy lead fly wheel’s teeth. The tip of that finger was gone, no sign of its fingernail was to be found and blood was pouring out everywhere and quickly. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it tightly around my finger/hand and sat back to calm myself and think. This had now become a particularly inopportune time to be immobile, as even I realized that I needed medical attention.
                I asked my fiancee to hand me a beer. (Next to marrying her, that was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made). She complied. Eventually we flagged down another boat and those good people towed us back to our dock. My mother was standing there and saw the bloody beach towel around my hand. She, looking stricken, asked what was wrong and I said something to the effect of, “don’t worry, just going to the hospital to make sure this cut doesn’t get infected. Be back soon.”
                My fiancée drove me to the hospital in Brainerd. We went to emergency. I was still bleeding, but was told to “fill out these forms” and was behind a couple of kids with the sniffles. Soon, however, we prevailed upon them to have a doctor see me quickly. I was led into a large white-walled room and put in a chair that reclined. A nurse poured some liquids into a small bowl and put my finger- now sans towel- in it. Eventually a doctor came in. He didn’t greet me on the way in. Instead he walked up to the bowl and grabbed my left hand and lifted it up for an inspection.
                “Tore the crap out of it!!” was the first thing he said to me. As God is my witness. Verbatim. (And it did look like raw ground beef at the end of the finger where the tip and nail had been). After asking me a few questions and taking an x-ray, he started in on stitching it up. About half way through the lengthy process, he sat back and rolled his shoulders and literally took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow. He looked up at me and said, “this is why I don’t do jigsaw puzzles at home!”
                Thanks, Doc! What a card. He should have his own comedy act at a Motel 6 or something.
                I asked him what the prognosis was. He said that the last half inch or so of the finger was gone as was the nail and the nail bed, so that there was no chance of regeneration. Simply put, that finger would never sport a nail again, and would be shorter than its right hand counterpart.
                I asked if there was any chance the finger might not  be saved, as I was getting married in a few months. He said, “well, even amputees get married!” Talk about bedside manner.
                On the way home from the hospital I told my fiancée what the doctor had said, and she started crying. We got back to the cabin and later that night had a family bonfire near the beach. I had several more beers and a good time was had by all.
               The doctor had given us a regimen we needed to follow to try to heal the finger and keep infection out. We followed his advice, and, after about two months, a nail slowly started to appear on that finger. I thought of shark’s teeth. Other than being about 1/3rd of an inch shorter than its counterpart, my left hand ring finger looks normal today. It does, in fact, even sport a ring nicely.

                In retrospect I have to say, “nice work, Doc. Thanks.”

                But keep your day job.




                                                                   The Opener

                Fishing Opener, or simply “The Opener” as we zealots call it, is, to us, the best time of year. It is a day or weekend- or week for some- steeped in tradition and memories. It is the excitement of what may yet be and the promise of a long summer to come, on, in- or near- the water. It is the beginning, the awakening of a new season with all its possibilities. It is the wonder and splendor of youth, hope and growth. Truly a time of brotherly love towards all.
                It is a cold beer and playoff hockey. It is  a lazily unfolding baseball game on the radio as you make long casts into short water for bass.
                A number of years back, it was also something quite different, although still very memorable.
                My buddy Blacky and I were coming back (in my boat) from an exceedingly enjoyable outing to some small, shallow channels where we had caught and released many bass while listening to classic rock on the “boom-box,” when things took an odd turn. As we approached my beach, we saw dozens of people standing in a neighbor’s yard and more on their beach and dock.  There were red and blue flashing lights visible on or near the road behind their property, as well. Even stranger, my brother came running over to our shore as we pulled up in my boat. I shouted at him, “What’s going on?” to which he replied by making a fist with one hand and pounding it into the other while grimacing menacingly.
                Just then, I heard a voice command, “Hey buddy! Bring your boat over here!” I turned towards the direction the voice came from and scanned the area. There was a Dudley-Do-Right figure at the end of said neighbor’s dock motioning someone over. I looked around to see who he was entreating and it became obvious he was summoning me. I don’t yield to commands very well, but I was curious as to what the heck was going on, so I pulled up to the dock and looked up at the officer in question. He said, “I need your boat for a minute, please get out.” I said, “No.”
                He then exclaimed that he needed it to apprehend someone. He said, “then let me in and you take it to that boat over there!” He pointed towards the southeast, where I saw a small fishing boat slowly plowing through the water, with its bow up high, a loan man in it. Blacky got out. The officer stepped in my boat, crunching an empty Labatt’s Blue beer can in the process.  I said, “I’ve got life vests for  all of us,” to which he replied, “good thing for you!” Gospel truth.
                Nothing special, my fishing boat none-the-less quickly caught up to the boat that Dudley was so intent on overtaking. As I pulled closer I asked the officer what he wanted me to do and he responded that I should pull up to the boat so we could grab on to it and he could board the other craft and apprehend its operator. At this point, I could see why the boat was bow up and moving so slow. It was half-filled with a pink liquid.  As I carefully navigated my Tracker, inching closer to the rogue craft, he yelled at its temporary captain, “Give me the fillet knife! Hand me the fillet knife, now!!”
                I exclaimed, “Fillet knife? You didn’t tell me about the fillet knife!” This explained the volume of pink liquid. There was a lot of blood mixed in with the lake water.
                The officer drew his gun and told the would-be captain to hold up his hands as he was going to board his boat. He said, “Don’t make this any worse than it is now.”
                The man stood down, and the officer got in his boat. Eventually they returned to my neighbor’s dock where he took the man into custody. When I got back to my cabin and secured my boat, the neighbors gave us the full story of what had transpired. The man Dudley and I apprehended had been fishing with an acquaintance from work. They weren’t friends, just knew each other from their workplace in Rochester. At some point, roughly in front of our neighbor’s dock, the argument that they had been having (over who-knows-what) reached the point that the one man started hitting the other with an oar. He then took out his fillet knife and stabbed him. Finally, he pushed him over the gunwale of the boat. The victim, battered and bloodied as he was, managed to swim to our neighbors beach and they called the police after he related what had happened.
                As I’ve often told my kids, “You never know what will happen when you’re fishing!
                      
              
                
                                                                   ************


  2/24/2015                                                  "Elkie" 

                “Elkie” was a Norwegian Elk-hound of silver, gray, ecru and black fur and friendly demeanor. She was owned by the Fleet family who had a cabin five places down from ours. (Howard, the patriarch of the clan, had won the property in a high-stakes Oklahoma oilmen’s poker game in the 1950’s, but sadly passed away only about a decade and a half later. The Fleets had been great family friends almost since that fateful poker game).
                On one occasion, Elkie was in a car with Howard’s son, Al, my brother and a couple of other friends.  One of the friends, “Fat Dick” as he was called in those politically-incorrect times, passed gas while in the vehicle, leading to groans and complaints from the other occupants of the car, as the windows were all shut and he was known for emitting a particularly noxious methane cloud. Elkie, however, gagged and then actually vomited on the car’s floor. This was unexpected, as perhaps her favorite pastime was rolling in the foulest-smelling dead fish she could find on the beach. She would lie on her back and roll from side to side atop rotting, maggot-ridden carcasses of suckers and eelpout, northern and rock bass, all the while kicking out her paws and grunting in ecstasy.
                Fat Dick’s gas, however, made her puke.
                Elkie once stayed at our place in the city, for reasons I’ve since forgotten. She was terrified of storms, particularly of lightning and thunder. One day while she was staying with us, my dad, a famously deep sleeper, was home and in bed when a violent storm hit. Dad slumbered on blissfully, until the continually increasing claps of thunder drove Elkie to hop onto- and then into- his bed. Burrowing under the sheets and attempting to snuggle, her cold, wet nose pressed against dad’s back.
                Dad, probably unconsciously cognizant that mom was not  home, yet  unaware that Elkie was staying with us, woke up. It’s  amazing therapy did not ensue.
                The most preposterous story involving Elkie, however, is no doubt the one in which she “met” Paul Newman. Our cabin is near a major resort that Paul used to stay at when he was racing at a local track of some renown. The resort tried to keep his exact location a secret to afford him some privacy. (Though a semi-trailer housing his race-cars that had “Old Blue Eyes” painted on the sides might have given some a clue that he was staying nearby). At any rate, a couple of friends and I collected beer cans at the time, a very popular hobby back in the 1970’s I might add. We had discovered that there were often many rare cans, well preserved, under the cabins of resorts in the area, protected by leaves, etc. that weren’t normally removed from under the cabins. (At that time, these were only seasonal cabins with no full foundations, sitting  up off the ground on blocks).
             One evening we were banging around with rakes under a cabin at the resort. (We would feel something solid and hear a clank and would rake leaves and cans- and anything else- out). We were just about done with this, a very successful outing for me, when mom and Patricia Fleet strolled by on their nightly walk with Elkie. (There is a path leading from the road to our cabin through the resort property to a road on the far side). Apparently the accidental banging of our rakes on the bottom of his floor caused Paul to open the door and step out. My friend and I were still lying prone on the ground, off to the side of the small cabin and he didn’t see us at first. Mom, Patty and Elkie, however, were strolling by right in front of his door. He saw them and exclaimed, “beautiful dog, what’s the name?” Patty said, “Elkie!” in her unique English-Southern accent.
                Mr. Newman said, “Oh, like Elke Sommers?”
                Patty replied, “Yes, only with an i between the k and e.”

                Author’s notes: 1) The Paul Newman story is one that was told often- and with great joy- in the ensuing years, but one not heard as  often recently. I did not want to see it fade away over time.

                                             2) Presumably Ms. Sommers didn’t roll around in dead fish.
                                      ******* *** *****************************
                                                          
                                                  A  True Tale of a Nautical Neighbor
     In the 1960’s there resided-three cabins to the west of us- an extraordinarily colorful clan. The patriarch fancied himself  something of a mariner.
     One summer day upon returning to the cabin from parts unknown he was apparently caught unawares of the precise juxtaposition of his watercraft and the shore.
     This led moments later to his vessel crash-landing, indeed churning many feet up the deep beach-sand flying everywhere as the propeller continued to spin madly- until he was finally able to subdue the engine. Picking himself up and gingerly extricating himself from the boat, he briefly looked around and then back to his beloved yet now battered craft  and proudly exclaimed, “BY GOD, THAT’S ONE WAY TO LAND ‘EM!!”
     Onlookers, who claimed there was a fighting chance he’d been tippling whilst out on the waters, never-the-less claimed to be stirred and inspired by the plucky helmsman’s spirited proclamation.
       (In the politically correct, effeminate modern world this episode is not to be celebrated. Indeed there are many who would harshly criticize this method of coming ashore…J).
                                                           ****************************                                                            
                                                     My Brother And A Fish (Volume I)


     In my early years at the cabin, my favorite thing to do was to fish off of our dock. I would wake excitedly early in the morning, grab my fishing pole and some worms and head down to the lake. I did this for hours on end nearly every day. Even though it was mostly perch and bluegills I caught, it never lost its allure (no pun intended) to me, and even then I practiced catch and release exclusively!

     One morning I caught a decent sized bluegill, and try as I might I couldn’t get it off my hook. I refused to just “rip it out” as I didn’t want to kill the fish. With trepidation mounting I hit on an idea. I ran the roughly 200 feet (including the length of the dock) up to our cabin, threw open my older brother’s bedroom door…and found him fast asleep in his bed. This should not have been a shock, as I was 7 or 8 years old at the time,  it was around 1970, and my brother would’ve been about 18.

      And it was a Saturday around 7:30 am.

     In retrospect, my guess is he didn’t turn in early the night before and may have had close contact with a malted beverage. At any rate, I quickly weighed my options and decided to reach down and wake him by patting his shoulder. I had not anticipated that when I got closer and bent down to do so with my left hand, my right hand holding my fishing pole would necessarily come with.

     It did.

     The fish, dangling off of a two foot stretch of line below my rod-tip, ended up lying across his face. Chagrined, it began flopping.

     This did have the desired affect of waking my brother. “Rob” I said, “could you take this bluegill off my hook for me?”

     Sadly, his exact rejoinder has been lost to history. Suffice it to say that Rob, the bluegill and I appeared equally shocked.
                                                     *********************************

                                                        My Brother And A Fish (Volume II)


     Unfortunately (for my brother anyway) that was not the only time Rob awoke to find a fish in his face. Fortunately (for me) I had nothing to do with the other encounters.


     We had a neighbor across the road who was a friend of the family. He also had an unusual sense of humor. He would come to our windows on occasion late at night and scratch on our screens. This always unnerved my mother. Sometimes he would grunt as well. But I digress.


     My brother Rob used to enjoy taking a nap on our beach on a nice sunny summer’s day. He would often lay out a towel and lie down on his front or back, head to the side. John (the neighbor) diagnosed this pattern over time. He took to watching for Rob on the beach, asleep on his towel. On a number of occasions John would prowl the shoreline looking for dead fish. These he would stealthily place about six inches in front of the face of my sleeping brother.


     John was particularly fond of the late summer time period, as we often had many very large, dead eelpout wash up on shore. He would steadfastly walk the shoreline until he found the largest, rankest eelpout around. (For those of you tragically unfamiliar with eelpout, they look like fantastically large, ugly bullheads…paler and mottled with really long “whiskers”). He would then drag his selected carcass back down the beach and carefully place it staring directly at Rob’s face with its mouth open as if issuing a wake-up greeting.


     Great fun was had by all-well, at least John- when Rob awoke due to the stench or natural causes to find himself staring into the gaping maw of a moribund ‘pout! 
                                                    ******************************
                                                            A Dog Named Duke: Part I

       When I was a boy, I was fortunate enough to spend my summers at my parents’ cabin in northern Minnesota. At the time, across the street from us, lived a dog named Duke. (And his family). Duke was the topic of my first ever writing assignment… in first grade. My opening words were “Duke dog…”
     Duke was a dog of the people. And he thought he was one. Duke mastered the art of self-esteem just before it was widely introduced in our public schools and society in general. He was a supremely confident dog. Yet, unlike many of our youth in recent times, he was also especially competent and intelligent.
     Duke was basically allowed to run free in those earlier halcyon days. Very social, he would go house to house to see what was happening in the summer. In the winter he would trot out on the ice of the lake and go ice-house to ice-house and greet any and everyone he met.
     Duke would roam far and wide…and was beloved- and well known- everywhere he went. On occasion you might be two or three miles across the lake and spot him. Kids there would be saying, “Hey, Duke!”
     It was amazing…like “Norm!” from Cheers.
     Duke had a girlfriend at one point. She was a knockout! A stunning Siberian husky named Kita. Kita had one gray eye and one gold one. She greeted you with neck extended and a cross between a howl and a coo. She was the only  dog with total respect for others privacy that I’ve known…before-or since. Kita took a liking to me and we would always enjoy each others company. Many days I would fix myself a tuna sandwich and grab a pickle and a cream soda and put it on a tray and head down to our hammock to read a ‘Field and Stream’ magazine and relax. She’d follow me to the edge of the cabin and then…always sit down until I got to the hammock to find her not there. I’d look back and see her and say, “It’s o.k., Kita, come on, you’re not bothering me”. Then she’d happily trot down and lie  under the hammock, aware she wasn’t infringing on my personal time. Unbelievable. And the truth.
     Duke enjoyed certain pursuits. He loved to retrieve sticks and balls naturally. But he knew that a local resort held beach dinners once or twice a week. His natural instincts kicked in and he would lay in wait, stalking the wily t-bone steak on a grill. At just the right moment, Duke would dart out and grab said steak off the grill, turn and run towards home, steak flopping out of his maw in the breeze.
     The head chef for these beach dinners was an eighty-something years old chain-smoking man in an apron named Alonzo. He would see Duke running away and start to chase him, tongs clapping. Again, to recap…an eighty-something chain-smoking man in an apron…chasing a German Shepherd in his prime. He’d (Alonzo) usually stop after six or eight steps and bend over gasping for breath. What was he thinking? I mean, ‘Miracle On Ice’? Hell, it would be less of a surprise if Rosie O’Donnell won 2016 Olympic high-jumping gold then if Alonzo had ‘caught’ Duke then.
     My dad loved Duke- the feeling was mutual- and used to play with him when he could. Once, he had a rubber chew ring, maybe 8” across. I can still recall it. Was yellow. He had Duke glom onto it in our backyard. An epic tug-of-war ensued. Neither party would give in and the battle went on for minutes. Finally, dad held it over his head and wrenched the ring out of Duke’s mouth as he was way up off his paws/feet. Defeated, on the way down, Duke gave a gentle nip to dad’s side. Dad gave him the ring and Duke flipped it jauntily over his snout and headed across the street to his home…as dad laughed and laughed until I thought he’d expire.
     Duke and Kita. Dog royalty. R.I.P.
                                                        ****************************

                                                              An Evening To Remember

     On a beautiful June evening almost nine years ago, I decided to take my son Cole out walleye fishing  for the first time. (We had fished for them off the dock a bit, in the spring and fall, but never properly dedicated any time to catch them in the classic Minnesota tradition of trolling with live bait rigs). I hadn’t taken him until then, because it typically requires great patience and feel to catch walleyes. One can troll for hours and hours and not catch any. In fact, if a small piece of a weed is on one’s hook/bait, e.g., “one” will never catch a walleye no matter how long “one” tries. Such an indigo evening, however, cried out for a boat ride, and I decided to couple that with our favorite pastime.

     We hastily got our gear together and went  down to the dock, tossed the gear in the boat and took off  across the darkening water toward “The Rock Pile”, a historic, legendary, iconic structure about 2 miles straight out from our cabin. I explained to Cole on the way, that-according to DNR surveys-on average it took five and a half hours to catch a walleye in the state of Minnesota. I also stated that  since we would only be fishing for maybe 45 minutes or an hour (mom wanted him back by then to get ready for bed) we most likely wouldn’t catch anything, but that it would be time well spent on the water together breathing in the best of creation and watching the night set in.

     Memories…more precious than gold.

     After a few minutes we arrived at the Rock Pile. I watched the locator and when I was in the spot/depth I wanted, I baited Cole’s hook…putting on a delectably large and squirmy leech. As I was casting it out to get ready to troll I noticed the weight (sinker) was too large for the relatively shallow depth we were in, but figured…oh, well…we probably aren’t going to catch anything anyway and I really don’t have enough time  to re-rig. After all, this was just about sharing time together…memories with my son.

     When the bait was far enough back, I handed the rod to my son and went back to my seat and picked up my own rod. Fifteen seconds later, as I was baiting my hook, Cole said, “dad, I think I might have one”. I smiled a benevolent smile, and said, “Cole, I think I put too large a weight on your line, you are snagged on the bottom, it’s only ten feet deep here. I’ll come and help you”. I went to the front of the boat, took his rod from him with the intentions of freeing him from this snag and immediately felt the throb and tug of a large walleye on the other end of his line.

     Handing his rod back to him as quickly as I could I said, “It’s a fish son…your fish…just keep reeling”.

    Two or three minutes later-it seemed like two or three hours to me-Cole brought the fish to the surface a foot from the boat…where I netted it. While not a true “trophy”, it was twenty-five inches long- a fish many dream about! His first walleye…and it literally took fifteen seconds for him to hook it; a far cry from five and a half hours.

      Though I rarely keep fish, we put this one in the live well. Atop the silky water, through the ebony evening, we cruised quickly back to the cabin and showed his catch off to his proud grandmother among others.

     Memories…more precious than gold.
                                                   **********************************
                                                                Bless You, Steve

 
           Many years ago we had a friend whose extended family owned  a cabin near ours. Our families were friends actually, parents with parents and kids with kids… segregated roughly by age. This being back in the early 1970’s, there were some interesting and ‘zesty’ times shared by the teenagers of our clans. One summer day, several of these teens came  to believe that perhaps the already beautiful evening could be further enhanced by an alcoholic beverage or two. There was one catch, however, in that none of them were quite old enough to purchase said beverages. All of them, in fact, were a year or two shy of being old enough to enter a liquor store and buy the desired refreshments. Some head-scratching and deep thinking ensued. All the usual hackneyed attempts wouldn’t work. Would take weeks to get a fake I.D., don’t have a fake nose and glasses, can’t grow a mustache in an hour, etc. To make matters worse, the employees of the local liquor store knew them. What to do?
                Eventually, Steve, one of our friends from the neighboring cabin, hit on a truly ingenious idea. (He was  very light-skinned and fairly tall, with a slightly reddish complexion and slightly reddish hair. He was not particularly manly looking at this point). He promptly drove 15 miles into town and purchased a nun’s habit at a costume store. The full outfit head to toe, including appropriate black footwear. This he donned, and, on the way back to our cabins, he stopped at the local liquor store and was clever enough to buy a few bottles of wine. Probably wouldn’t have look ed as authentic if he- she- came up to the counter with several cases of Schlitz Malt Liquor.
                He was gratified to find that the person checking him out did not ask for I.D. At the end of the transaction he issued a simple, “Bless you my son” and departed.
                Unfortunately, since then he has departed (this veil of tears). He was a good man. I would say now what was said then…”we are not worthy.” R.I.P.
                                                   **********************************
                                                                The ‘Blacky Files’

                I have a good friend who is- like myself- a tad eccentric during normal waking hours. Unlike myself, however, he is really off-the-wall at night after going to sleep. Albeit unintentionally. He is prone to talking in his sleep…and occasionally walking in his sleep. He is also capable of combining the two on occasion, often to great effect.

                Some years ago I had him up to my family’s cabin in northern Minnesota for a one week vacation with myself and another friend. We were to do some fishing and maybe ‘party’ a bit now and again. Blacky, it turns out, had for some reason been teaching himself the German language. (I had recently completed seven years of German in school myself, so I was relatively fluent in that language at the time). We all went out the first night and had a few beers and a few laughs, told some stories, and then came home to repeat the pattern. Along about 2 a.m. we all were ready to hit the sack. Blacky had his own room and double bed adjoining the room with two single beds that my other friend and I were in for the duration of the vacation. The door between the two rooms was left open for a last bit of late night banter. Soon, Blacky’s banter was no more, my other friend was  nearly asleep and I was reading a Sports Illustrated prior to drifting off. A couple of minutes later I heard Blacky, sound asleep, blurt out “Eins, zwei, drei, fier…uhhhhhhhh…blaupunkt????” In German that meant “one, two, three, four…uhhhhhhhh…blue-point????” I actually sat up in bed after he uttered “fier” and paused, hoping I could perhaps telepathically help him get to “funf” ( five in German) as he was obviously struggling to count in German. I was a bit confused with his use of ‘blue-point’, not knowing if he just couldn’t come up with the proper term for ‘five’ or perhaps was in need of an oyster or a stereo.

                The very next night, the same scenario was in effect, Blacky asleep and myself reading at roughly the same time when I heard Blacky stoutly aver “Ayatollah, you take center field, strange days are these, wow-wow-wow-wow-wow!” I must admit to being slightly taken aback. I would’ve put the ‘Ayatollah’ (Khomeini?) in left field.

                The next night,  the eve of our taking a chartered launch out on a large local lake to fish for walleye, provided more intrigue. Along about the normal time, Blacky started taunting my other friend (Andy) from his sleep. Andy sat up in bed upon hearing these words: “Andy ain’t gonna catch no fish, Andy ain’t gonna catch no fish, no Andy ain’t gonna catch no fish.” Andy was not amused.

                Fortunately I was.

                And fortunately this was not the last time I’d be amused by Blacky talking in his sleep at our cabin. Another time I actually set up a tape recorder (a boom box function) to try to record his nightly ramblings. It worked. He, at one point, was talking about the “Soviet Red Navy” and then  went on to offer commentary on “Louis Farakhan, the bastard…and Louis Armstrong.” Oddly enough, he called me the following week to tell me that he’d almost never thought about either of them before, yet now had  heard news stories about both of them in the same day.

                The next time he was up he opined in the middle of the night that it was “a nice day, but there could be some environmentalists about, though.”

                One unusually hot late August weekend he went to bed well before me, as I was watching television. About an hour and a half after he turned in, he turned up…walking through our living room with his hair sticking out everywhere, eyes closed, mumbling “Hot…hot…hot…hot!!”, then promptly returning from whence he came.


                                                        










   
  

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