Dad loved to fish and with eight kids, he usually took a couple of us with him every time he went because he knew that if he didn't, there'd be a lot of sulking at home when he returned.
He was like a man who'd won the jackpot when Uncle Pete gave him a green canvas covered Old Town canoe and he'd carted that dilapidated thing home like he'd won the biggest lottery in the world. He'd gone over the canoe from stem to stern and not finding too much to worry about, reinforced a couple of ribs, gave the canoe a couple of coats shellac and as we are fond of saying in "the county," "shit-ah-God-damn, good enough!"
In the spring, after the water had gone down a little on the Aroostook River, he'd rush home from his daily job at the potato house, hurriedly eat supper, grab his fishing gear and head down the dirt road for the river. He'd back his battered old pickup down to the riverbank and then he'd slid the long canoe off into the swirling water. He'd step in and hold it in place with his paddle until we kids had jumped in and then off we'd go.
An even older Johnson motor, that had been used and abused long before he'd got it, had accompanied Dad's canoe. He'd torn that motor apart and try as he might, it never seemed to work properly. If he even got it started, it might take off like a bat out of hell and then just as suddenly, it would sputter a couple of times and die. Many's the time that he'd have to paddle in the Aroostook River all the way back around Uncle Hal's island to where he'd parked his truck. I'm sure that if he'd had the slightest notion that someday he'd be able to buy one that worked all the time, that old Johnson would have found itself lying on the bottom of the Aroostook River, especially after he'd had to paddle up-currant about five miles to get home.
He just never knew if that motor was going to start. Sometimes, he'd pull on cord of the motor until it gave a few feeble coughs, choke it a little and it would come roaring to life and in a cloud of blue smoke, off we'd go, around the island and out into the swiftly flowing Aroostook River.
Then Dad would head for his favorite fishing place, Trout Brook, which was located on the Garfield side of the river. Just before we got there, he'd turn the motor down to low and we'd slowly cruise into the mouth of the crystal clear brook. He'd reach over, grab a branch of river birch and tie us up. Then he'd quickly thread a brown angleworm onto his hook and drop it into the water.
If he didn't catch anything right away, he'd quickly take off the worm-encrusted hook and tie on one of his special homemade flies. His tackle box was filled with new flies that he'd spent all winter and spring making and he was anxious to try each and every one. Ever since his father has found the brook way back when Dad was a little boy, he'd always had good luck at Trout Brook and considered it his private fishing hole. And he always got a little testy if he happened to be cruising by and saw anyone else fishing there.
In the early spring, after the water had gone down on the flats, Dad would always leave the heavy canoe on the riverbank across the bridge on the island side of the river. He had a strict rule for us kids and that was that we weren't ever to touch his canoe. But, like all the other rules that he had made, that didn't stop us either. We'd wait until we knew for sure that he'd be working up to the Masardis potato house all day and he wouldn't be driving by our house, then we'd rush down to the river, drag the canoe into the water and we'd be off. We never touched his motor but we stole that old canoe so many times, that Dad would have killed us if he'd known just how many times we took it. Most of us couldn't swim and we didn't have any life preservers and we didn't care either.
It was about a mile and a half around Uncle Hal's island and the current, especially if the water was high, could be quite tricky at times but we didn't worry about that. We'd slide the canoe into the crystal clear water and off we'd go. Happy and carefree, we floated down that river just like a feather on the water, oblivious to the dangers that lurked only a couple of inches away.
One time when I was about eight years old, Dad took me fishing with him. When we got down to Uncle Hal's island, he parked the pickup and then he carried all of our fishing gear down the bank to the canoe. He always left the canoe in the same spot and he could tell immediately id it had been moved. He eyed it closely for a couple of seconds and satisfied that apparently we hadn't touched it, he reached down and tipped it over and a small garden snake wriggled out of the canoe and across my feet.
I was deathly afraid of snakes and I did a "holy conniption fit" dance at the sight of the snake and it took Dad a while to convince me to get in the boat. And then it took Dad a while to convince me to stop crying and that the snake wouldn't hurt me. Sniveling and snuffling with a few hiccups thrown in, I asked Dad if he was ever afraid of anything.
Dad looked at me for the longest moment and then he replied, "Sure Toots, there have been lots of times that I've been scared, scared to death as a matter of fact."
"When were you ever scared Dad?" I asked him.
He had a faraway look in his eyes when he finally answered. "Well, I was nineteen years old and I was scared the day I opened the wood box at home and found my father inside with his head blown off." His eyes slid away from mine and he looked off in the distance at the river for a while, remembering that day all over again. Then he looked at me and asked. "Do you remember when Uncle Herbie died?" I nodded my head. "Well, I was scared when they were dragging this very river down around the bridge in Ashland for his body. And I'll never forget the morning up there at the potato house, when I unlocked the door and felt two feet brush against the side of my face. Old Charley Eastland had hung himself there the night before. I was always scared to go back into that potato house after that. And I was really scared when your cousin Herbie accidentally shot your brother Walt when we were on a hunting trip up to Moosehead Lake. I had to carry your brother Walt, who was bleeding like crazy, on my back five miles down out of the woods. So you see Toots, I've been scared more times than not. Always remember, you're not a fool to be scared sometimes, you're only a fool when you're not scared."
I still remember Dad's words but they didn't help all that much, I'm still afraid of snakes!
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.