Chilblains

This is the 17th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

 

Notes taken from Mom’s letter of October 15, 1962 to her sister Margaret.

Put my two little boys in the local school yesterday.  Little one room school–one teacher for 38 boys ranging in age from 5 to 12.  Don’t know how much they will learn, but it’s enlightening for them.  Frankie came home quite horrified with the sanitary facilities–just a hole in a plank! Doesn’t know how he can potty–no toilet paper even.  Probably end up a mixed-up little guy-learning to read and write Spanish before he can read English.  They start them in writing without practice in printing, and their letters are formed enough differently from ours that I don’t know how to help him.  School hours 9 to 12 and 3 to 5. They do seem enthusiastic about it, which is more than I can say for the girls.  Every Monday I take them down to the bus with Jan in tears. If nothing else after six days in the convent, they certainly do appreciate their home and family.  Did I tell you what it costs to send them? $30.00 a month apiece, room, board, tuition, everything.  Cheaper than if they were home.  Course I’m not counting all the hoard of fruit, cookies, candy they stock up on to take back with them.

Carl, too, is going to a local school and finding it a bit of a challenge.  Math, Spanish grammar, French, geography, technical drawing. With all the textbooks in Spanish, he will at least be able to read the stuff before he’s through.  Sue’s boyfriend is one of his teachers.  It’s too bad there can’t be a happy medium between our system of education in the States and the European systems.  No time wasted over here in all the malarkey of social adjustment, etc., they take it for granted that a child is born with brains and should use them.  If only they had just a small portion of the money we spend in the States for education.

Henry appears to be going to end up with correspondence courses from the States.  Tommy has just been classified 1-A, so I don’t know where he will end up. 

……..

 The tall, ornate ceilings and tile of the Catholic convent boarding school where my sister and I attended school all week seemed to absorb and hold the frigid weather from outside.  The school had no central heating.

 My heels were now at the bleeding stage, but I refused to go to the school infirmary.  The two pair of socks under my nylons didn’t keep my feet from freezing.  We weren’t allowed to put anything over our uniforms including socks.  The clunky, ugly, brown saddle shoes rubbed my heels raw, but the nuns wouldn’t let me put on my slippers.

Most of the girls in my class had the fingers of their gloves cut off so they could hold on to their pens and still keep their fingers warm.  My scabbed knuckles hurt from the cold because I didn’t have any gloves or mittens. Mom didn’t realize just how cold we would be at school.  Playing the guitar for my lessons became so painful I wanted to cry, but I remembered Mom’s “Pequeñas cosas” and held my tears.

I imagined the nuns had on more clothes under their habits than they allowed us to wear.  The only warm place was in bed. Once I pretended to be sick just to stay in bed, but the nuns sent for the doctor.  He prescribed some medication that one nun administered.  A suppository, I never complained of the cold again.

 When mom told Jan and I that we would have to attend a boarding school for girls on the outskirts of Palma, the capital of Mallorca, it devastated us.  We didn’t want to leave Puerto.  Mom had matriculated my younger brothers in the local school, but Jan and I were too old for that school.  It was a Catholic convent school where the nuns lived and taught classes.  We boarded there all week, but got to go home to Puerto most weekends.  I didn’t realize until then just how cold it could get in Spain.  We missed our friends in Puerto and the warmth of our house.

Suzy and Jan in school uniforms

Our Spanish speaking and comprehension was still basic when my sister Jan and I started boarding school.  On our first day at theColegioa nun took us to meet La Madre Superior.  I told her I was embarazadabecause my Spanish was so bad.  A look of shock flashed across her face, then she laughed. The words for embarrassed and pregnant are almost the same in Spanish.

We studied Spanish and French grammar, along with courses in math, art, typing, shorthand, poetry and history.  One of our teachers, we called her “Senorita,” was not a nun. She was a day teacher and came in each morning and left early afternoon.  Two other American girls, who were sisters, and one English girl, also attended the Colegio. The nuns put the five of us in a separate bedroom from the other girls.

There was a French African girl, Simone, from Algeria who attended classes and boarded for several months. It surprised me to learn that all Africans weren’t black.   It was during this time that the Algerians were rising up against the French occupation and Simone’s family sent her to Mallorca for safety.  One day, we found out that her parents had had to leave Algiers overnight.  They left their home, friends and family.  Simone soon joined them in France, but she cried all night, knowing she would never to go back to her home in Africa.  That summer, many of the French Algerians fled to Mallorca for safety.

The Senorita kept asking me questions about President Kennedy.  Would he declare war?  Was the nuclear threat real?  I didn’t understand what she was talking about.  My sister and I became worried that something serious was happening in the US. Senorita was our only link to the outside world, as the nuns didn’t allow televisions or radios at school. We struggled enough with our understanding of Spanish and it was difficult to grasp world events.  When we arrived home for the weekend, we learned about the Cuban missile crisis.  Kennedy had averted a war with Russia and the Spaniards revered him as a hero.    I realized for the first time what it meant to be located geographically between the US and Russia.

After several months the nuns moved us to the regular sleeping room with the other girls and our lives took on the same routine they had.  I think the nuns found out that Susanna, the English girl, had been opening our window at night and conversing with her boyfriend who waited outside below our window.  The nuns wouldn’t tolerate misbehavior, thus our removal from the separate bedroom.

In the mornings we got up and took turns at the sinks in the bathroom.  We washed our faces in ice-cold water, brushed our teeth and combed our hair. Showers were only for special occasions. We had to make arrangements in advance so the nuns could heat the water in the gas water heaters.  This also cost more, so we showered at home on the weekends. Our breakfasts of bread provided by the school, peanut butter and fruit we brought from home, started our days.

Around 10:00AM we had a break from classes for a snack and our paseo outdoors.  The frigid weather cut to the bone, and our teeth chattered as we ran around trying to keep warm while munching our morning snack, which consisted of a thick slice of bread and a chunk of sweet, Spanish chocolate. The afternoon snack was horrible. Another slice of bread, but this came with a thick slice of raw bacon.  Jan and I refused to swallow the fatty bacon and feared throwing it up. “Pequeñas cosas.”

The nuns patrolled the dining room with a stick. Jan and I kept getting our arms slapped because the nuns thought when we put our left hand in our laps, that we were hoarding food in our pockets.  The soups at lunch were the only meals that arrived warm.  Everything seemed colorless and plain.  No spices or aromas to whet our appetites.

At bedtime, we had to undress letting no one see us naked.  This required some antics and the need to be almost double jointed.  First, we put on our nightgown over ALL our clothes.  We then took off our shoes, socks and nylons laying them neatly on the chair by our bed.  The space between our beds was only enough for two chairs, so we had to undress while sitting on our beds.  Next we had to reach behind our back to unbutton our smocks.  Off it came, next the uniform itself, and the blouse followed. Everything had buttons, including our sweater, so nothing had to go over our heads.  By the time we undressed our bodies warmed up to where the cold sheets didn’t bother us.

I hated being away from home all week, missing my friends in Puerto, especially Juan.  I missed the warmth, good food and the relaxing atmosphere where we could speak English all the time.   Pont d’Inca was 60 miles from home.  It seemed like 500.  Most of my friends went to the military school on the base in Puerto, so they didn’t have to board away from Puerto.

© 2019 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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AnnaLeah’s Too-True Story

By Marianne Karth

AnnaLeah was a particularly avid reader with a colorful imagination. She had a myriad ideas written down on random pieces of paper tucked into drawers, filling notebooks, or emailed to herself. She had, in fact, already created in her own mind numerous literary worlds peopled by characters with names and personalities.

AnnaLeah, writing

One Saturday morning, AnnaLeah, who was just two weeks short of her 18th birthday, got on the road with her younger sister and brother — headed from North Carolina back to their former home in Texas. With their mom driving, the three were excited to be joining up with their dad and six older siblings to celebrate four college graduations and their oldest sister’s wedding.

All of their hopes and dreams came to a screeching halt when a truck failed to slow down, hit their car, and sent them backwards into the rear of a tractor trailer. The rear underride guard came off the truck and the car slid underneath. AnnaLeah, in the back seat had the breath of life knocked out of her — killed by blunt force trauma and mechanical asphyxia. Her thirteen year-old sister Mary suffered life-threatening injuries and died a few days later in a hospital.

Any road fatality is tragic. This was all the more so. The girls’ mother and brother in the front seat were spared such catastrophic injuries because their part of the car did not go under the truck. This wretched circumstance gets played out over and over on our roads — some live, some die all depending on where they’re sitting in the car. It’s called truck underride.

How could this be? Well, the basic problem is that there is a geometric mismatch between trucks and cars. The bottom of a truck floor is generally around 41 inches. In contrast, the bumper of a passenger vehicle is closer to 36 inches. When there is a collision between the two, the smaller vehicle easily slides under the truck and the first point of impact is at the windshield, which, of course, is not built to stop a truck.

What occurs next is too horrible to even imagine ever happening to someone you love. The truck enters the car and there is NOTHING to protect the occupants. None of the car’s crashworthy features — crumple zone, airbags, seat belt tensioners — are triggered. The people inside the car are left vulnerable. Who could survive such a thing?

It could all be prevented if the federal government would tell the trucking industry: You must install equipment on all of your trucks to prevent underride. In fact, Congress can make this happen by passing the STOP Underrides! Bill. Truck crashes will then become more survivable. Families will no longer face unimaginable grief due to this preventable problem.

But that hasn’t come about yet. What happened to Mary and AnnaLeah will be the reality for too many others. Grief will fill countless hearts with love that has no place to go. 

AnnaLeah’s stories will never be written for us to read. Her laughter will never be heard again. Who she was and what was in store for her has ceased to be. It is more than I can fathom.

Her mom, Marianne Karth
October 22, 2019
annaleahmary.com

© 2019 Marianne Karth

Mother of nine children — each with their own unique set of gifts and passions. Problem-solver. Vision-caster. Wordsmith. Unexpected advocate for underride victims. Lover of nature, beauty, song, belly laughs, simple creative efforts, shadows & reflections, and Abba Father, God Almighty, Son of God, Blessed Comforter.

 

Marianne’s ever-creative daughter loved ideas and stories. She especially wanted to encourage others, like her niece and nephew, to be well-read. Books were her passion. What books might AnnaLeah have added to her booklist if she had had the chance? 

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Family Holiday Recipe Blog Share

This week I’m happy to participate in a blog share with Catherine Lanser. I met Catherine this summer in a Remember to Write! memoir workshop I taught in summer 2019. We agreed on the topic of Family Holiday Recipe, inspired by Dawn Roode’s post on her blog at Modern Heirloom Books.

My post about my first exposure to true “foodies” at an epic holiday dinner appears on her blog. Enjoy Catherine’s post below. It was fun to work on this writing challenge in tandem. If you are moved to write about it on your own blog, let me know in the comments, and I’ll share with Catherine. And if you’d like to submit a holiday family recipe to True Stories Well Told, please do! Guidelines here.

Instructions to the Past

by Catherine Lanser

My heritage lives in my stomach. It is the taste on my tongue when I close my eyes and picture the oval table where my mom and dad fed my eight siblings and me. My legacy is the weight of a heavy foam plate balanced on my lap while I sit cross-legged on the basement floor surrounded by more than 30 cousins. And while I am of big pots and doubled batches, the story of my familial food is told in two remarkably slim volumes.

My mom has given me two collections of family recipes. They mingle with the rest of my cookbooks and my own recipe clippings so that when I need, I can pull them off the shelf and taste my original palette. Though what I crave may change, I always have a place for these recipes, pulling them down when only a sample of the tried and true will do.

Recipes from Mom
I believe I received the spiral-bound issue first. It pictures a simple blue and white place setting on the front with the words, “Recipes from Mom,” printed on the plate. Each page holds a list of typed recipes starting with one page of appetizers and then eight pages of desserts. Following that there is a mixed page that includes my mom’s famous Butter Horns, Instant Potato Casserole, Egg Dressing for Potato Salad, Barbecue Sauce for Chicken or Spareribs, and Goulash.

The next page has four dinner recipes, followed by a page saucy flavors I would not recommend eating together including Best In The World Pickles, Rhubarb Jam, Spam Sandwiches, Barbecue, and Thousand Island Dressing. The final page has a recipe for Pizza Burgers which again calls for Spam.

I do not remember eating Spam. Since I was at the baby of the nine children, I am told I had it much better than my older siblings. They would say I never had to eat Spam as they did, but I don’t think that’s true.

Lanser Recipes
This volume is packaged in a slim blue binder. It must have come after the first book as the desktop publishing skills are quite advanced, with scrapbook designs that became popular as home computing advanced. There are two pictures on the cover, one of my dad pinning a corsage on my mom and another of my brothers and sisters and me at our parents’ 45thwedding anniversary mass.

This book takes a more archival approach to our food lineage. Recipes appear alongside photos of our family. There are scans of the original recipes written in both my mom and dad’s handwriting, which in many cases is faded or hard to read, next to a typed version of the recipe.

We learned the importance of keeping family recipes as many families do, after my dad suffered a stroke and became severely disabled, later dying. Some of my dad’s recipes, like his pickles, made it to the book on scraps of paper. Others, like his famous apple flat, were recreated by memory.

Like the other book, this book goes heavy on the desserts, starting with Poppy Seed Torte, a recipe that was served at family gatherings and funerals long before I was born. Alongside the recipe are pictures of relatives I never met and my parents welcoming people through the receiving line at their wedding.

Page two features what has become my mom’s featured dish: butter horns. This recipe starts with a yellowed Refrigerator Dough recipe from our church cookbook, and then continues on with instructions written of scraps of paper, finishing with this handwritten note from my mom: “Here’s the times of the year that I make butterhorns, Easter, Bake Sales, First Communion, All Family Celebrations, Christmas.”

As you can see, as her signature dish, butter horns are wrapped around our history as well. This pastry, which is rolled into horn shapes and filled with walnuts, cinnamon and sugar, and frosted with icing, is one I have never seen anywhere else. It is uniquely ours as are the stories and the table we eat it around. Protecting the recipe, along with the others in the book is imperative. Without it, it seems all that would be lost.

But whatever the recipe, the book is not good enough for the treasures it holds. It should be printed on fine paper and bound in leather. It tells the story of a family. And any family is made up of what they eat. Any family deserves a record of what they were made of. It’s part of family lore and instructions to recreating the moments that have shaped us.

© 2019 Catherine Lanser

Catherine Lanser writes about growing up as the baby of a family of nine. She is looking for a home for her memoir about how she found her place in her family, told through the lens of her brain tumor and her father’s stroke. She has published numerous essays. Learn more at www.catherinelanser.com 

 

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Danger Growing

By Sarah White

I wrote this in one of my memoir writing workshops in response to the prompt, “childhood danger.”

 

We slept in cribs with slats that could trap our heads, springs and latches that could pinch our fingers.

The pill bottles in our houses did not have child-proof caps.

We rode in cars without seat belts, slept carelessly tossed across luggage behind the back seats of station wagons. Some of us stood between our daddy’s legs and spun the giant wheel. Those big cars piloted like boats.

Our playgrounds were paved in asphalt and pea-gravel. The  equipment was metal and big. If we fell from the jungle gyms and swings and slides or flew off the merry-go-rounds, we got bloody.

We went trick-or-treating in flammable costumes. We ate whatever was given us, including apples and home-made treats.

We rode our bicycles without helmets. We put on roller skates without padding our elbows and knees. We rolled all over town and no one kidnapped us.

As we reached our teens, we turned toward danger like flowers toward the sun. We confused “intense” with “good.”

We put things in our mouths we didn’t know where they’d been. We went spirit-traveling out to edges we couldn’t describe when we got back. On the good trips we held each other’s hands amid spiraling stars. On the bad trips we held each other’s hair back as we puked.

We had sex with people we’d barely met. Sometimes seeds were planted and we had barely-legal abortions. We held onto each other then, too.

Through danger we grew with feigned nonchalance toward adulthood. We were rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

© 2019 Sarah White

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Love Arrives

By Suzy Beal

This is the 16th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

Notes from Mom’s letters to her sister Margaret – July 14, 1962

Young Tommy has a shop featuring Majorican paintings, ceramics, crystal and wood carvings. Has done well enough, but keeps branching out.  Just published a little paper ostensibly to give out information for tourists, but it seems to be filled mainly with advertising.  He’s also doing a bit of wheeling and dealing in real estate.

Hank has just arrived in England aboard the yacht “Trenchemere” skippered by one of England’s top sailing men.  We met him when we were in Puerto Andraitx.  In May he asked if Henry would like to sail up with him, learning to sail on the way.  Of course, Hank jumped at the chance, and spent several weeks working with him, getting the boat ready. Yoiks, this kid has a chance of meeting all kinds of people. The skipper, Bobby Somerset, is the brother to a Lord, and several of his friends in England, Lord this and Lord that have invited Hank to stay with them.  There are also some people from Scotland whom we met here who have asked him to visit. We had several letters from him in Gibraltar, where they were for several days, and he has apparently had a grand time sailing.

Suzy, too is managing to keep busy.  Goes to work at 8AM at a little pension, serving breakfast till eleven.  Then she goes and works in a beauty shop till seven in the evening.  With the wage scale here, she’s not exactly getting rich, but it means clothes and spending money, anyway.

Carl sold one of his paintings to an American who is here waiting for his boat to be finished.  He thinks Carl should be having art instruction and has offered to have Carl live with them in Madrid and go to school.  We’re not quite ready to give him up and feel that he’s not yet ready for formal instruction.

The little guys spend all day down on the beach and in the water, when they aren’t riding around on their bicycles.  It’s certainly an ideal place from their point of view.  And not the least of the attractions is the fact that the ice cream men come by twice a day, so we always get hit at one time or another. But, luckily, the cones are measured according to how much the child is clutching in his grubby little paw. 1 peseta, 2 pesetas, etc. A five peseta (about 8 cents) cone is a luxury indulged in by only the most affluent. With 23 children in our house and the one next door, you may be sure the ice cream man is always stopped by one watchful child or another.

One good result of this venture has been that the girls are taking an interest in cooking, which they didn’t ever seem to have time for at home.  They have been preparing dinner in the evenings for us and doing a bit of baking.  Jan just brought in a big platter full of donuts.

 

Standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom, while getting ready for work, I brush my hair.  Who is this person looking back at me?  I don’t feel like an American, do I look like a Spanish girl?  I want to look Spanish, so I put my hair up in a moño (twist).  I want to speak the language without an accent, and I want to fit in. How can I do it?  My jobs require my speaking Spanish, a little French and English as I work with the tourists.  I want them to think I’m a Spanish girl.

I’m in love. Juan shows me how he feels. Even though we can’t tell each other many things, I know when he reaches for my hand or puts his arm around me he feels the same way. My Spanish is getting better, and he tries to learn words in English. We laugh. Dancing is our favorite pastime. We can be close without raising eyebrows.

The blood rushed to my cheeks as he advanced with his hand out for a dance.

He enclosed me in an embrace. I suddenly forgot how to dance and stepped on his toes.  What could I say? No words came. He pulled me closer, I thought, to help me get back my footing, but I knew differently. No words only movements. The music was fast, but we weren’t keeping up, we didn’t care. With our hands together and his strong grip on my back, I wanted the music to last forever.  No words, only a smile and a leaning of his head to touch mine. An aroma of soap and his smooth skin on my cheek. No words, only being. Amor.

I worked at a pension, which was a small hotel that served breakfast for no added charge. It had twelve rooms for guests and they hired me to prepare the breakfasts. The continental fare included fresh croissants, hard rolls, coffee or tea, jams, and fresh fruit. I didn’t have to make the croissants or rolls. We purchased those from the local bakery. The part I liked best was making perfect butter balls by scraping a small curved knife across the butter. I served these with the croissants and rolls.

After cleaning up the breakfast room, I went to the peluqueria (hair salon) to work in the afternoons. Catalina’s oldest daughter, Antonia, owned the hair salon, and she gave me a job learning to wash hair and doing manicures.  It was an education in European styling for me. There were French, German, English, Danish, and Spanish women, all vacationing in Puerto during the summers. They made appointments to have their hair done, and I saw how each nationality preferred to wear their hair. I learned how to “tease” hair and make it into moños or puffed-up styles with short hair. I watched the young ladies put on their makeup before leaving the shop. I was learning how to wear makeup for the first time.

Summer stretched into fall and the tourists left. Puerto returned to the quiet little coastal town we now called home.

Antonia’s Peluqueria beauty shop. Antonia is second from right.

 

The weather changed and began to get colder.  Once the tourists left, we had the local club and bars to ourselves and we made the most of it. There was dancing every weekend at Brisas Bar, evenings of playing cards and watching “Bonanza” on the television at El Circulo. We didn’t have a TV or even know anyone who did, but the club had one we could watch in the evenings. There were fifteen to twenty of us ranging in age from twelve to twenty who met there in the evenings. We always went out in groups and never just as a couple because the Spanish girls needed chaperones. I guess I was lucky, because Mom always considered my brothers as chaperones for me.

© 2019 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

 

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Debt, Repaid

By Howard Tanzman

 

I had just returned from my father’s funeral when the landline phone rang.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Are you Howard and is your mother’s name, Pauline?” the caller asked.

“Yes. And who is this?”

“I’m your cousin,” he replied. 

I didn’t know of any cousins on my mother’s side.

It was forty years after my mother died, and I now found out that she had six cousins I never knew existed. I don’t know why my mother had no relationship with them.  One of the cousins found me through Ancestry.com. He had everything, a complete history of my mother’s extended family, more than I knew.

My maternal grandfather

I learned these cousins were very close to Mom’s parents, my maternal grandparents. The six of them were born in Minsk. Sometime during World War I, maybe during the Russian Revolution, their mother died. Their father then left for America, leaving the six behind. Did he abandon them or plan on bringing them over later once he became a citizen? They don’t know. But what they do know is that their uncle, my maternal grandfather, brought the six of them to America.

It was the 1920s when immigration was difficult. It took time and money for my grandfather to get them here, and he did. They always remembered that. My new-found cousin sent me everything, including ship manifests from their voyage to America.

I met a few of the new-found cousins, technically second cousins, a year later at the unveiling of my father’s monument stone. I wasn’t sure what to say to relations I had never met. I filled in for them a few pieces of the missing family tree, mainly the name of my siblings’ spouses and children. We now exchange annual holiday greetings and are Facebook friends. 

Aunt Fannie

My mother was the youngest of five children. In some strange quirk of fate, the oldest, Aunt Fannie, outlived all of her younger siblings. By the 1980s, she was all alone. Her husband had died. She had no children.

She was poor, elderly, living in a deteriorating urban neighborhood. My father, perhaps too hurt by my mother’s death, did not have any contact with her. My wife and I wrote occasional letters to Aunt Fannie; we could have and should have done more. But we were busy with our lives, marriage, career, children.

However, Aunt Fannie was not abandoned. I learned that out of gratitude to their uncle– my maternal grandfather–the cousins took care of his oldest daughter, my Aunt Fannie, for the rest of her life. Debt, repaid.

© 2019 Howard Tanzman

Howard Tanzman is a retired I/T professional living in Chicago, Illinois. He travels the country visiting Presidential Museums and Baseball Stadiums; you can read about his trips at https://www.parkspresidentsandparks.com/

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A Very Fair Trade

By Howard Bowman

I remember the exact moment. It occurred on the South Branch of the Oconto River a few miles south of Chute Pond in Northeastern Wisconsin. I was pushing 70 at the time. He was on the long side of 40. He casts a fly beautifully I thought, watching from above on the path paralleling the stream below.

NOT Howard and his son fishing–this image appears in the Badger Sportsman March 10, 2014. http://www.badgersportsman.com/issues/back/2014-issues/2014-02/2017-01-03-brook-trout

Then I amended my thought: He can cast better than me. How many years have I taken my son fishing leading to this moment? Given his age and mine, what occurred in this reversal was precisely right, exactly as it should be. There is a progression in the nature of things that we cannot and—most of the time—would not choose to alter.

I added yet a further amendment my thought: On a good day, when my arthritis is not acting up, I can still cast that well or better, but those days are becoming fewer and fewer. In my prime I enjoyed being referred to as a “fish whisperer.” But that was “back in the day.”

Casting a fly is no small matter. Finding the right place from which to cast without alerting the fish. Keeping one’s balance on slippery rocks in a strong current. Anticipating how the fly will drift over where the trout is feeding. Choosing the correct fly. Managing the line, particularly in the back-cast phase of presentation. The athleticism of getting to the right place through the brush and marsh between the road and the stream. Having the grit to endure all manner of biting insects as well as being cold and wet. All these things, and more, go into a good cast.

My son has now mastered these things. Now it’s time for me to fish less and take more ease on logs by the side of the stream and observe. There is a sweetness to this new state of affairs. Rather than parent and teacher, I can just be friend and fishing companion. We are now fellow pilgrims treading in sacred places, for such is what trout streams are.

A couple of years earlier, I had a hint of what was coming. This earlier misadventure is chronicled as “The old man takes a header in the Brule.” The Brule in question is the Bois Brule, one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful rivers, a little east of Superior. This river is a “Mecca” for trout anglers throughout the Midwest and beyond.

The documentation of this event, published in the Fox Valley (Wisconsin) Trout Unlimited newsletter, describes me as a tired old man walking through strong current back to the Forest Ranger Station near Route 2 in the town of Brule. I was feeling proud of my catch from three quarters of a mile up-stream. Thinking to myself, Yup, the old man still has it, I took a head-first plunge into the icy Brule—drenching myself, my equipment, flies and not least my proud, dignified self-image as “Dean” of the trout stream.

The reader will recall the adage, “Pride goeth before a fall…” It seems that the last foothold before getting out of the stream hides a log. It further seems that perhaps someone (could it have been one of the rangers?) strategically placed it in this spot because there is a straight line-of-sight between the window of the ranger station high above and the Brule River below. While engaged in their paperwork, this arrangement could allow the rangers to find some amusement by watching hapless old men who forget the log is there.

It also seems, that this old man’s son caught a “knock your socks off” trophy Brown Trout the next day, making my catch pale in comparison.

As I walked back into camp, looking like nothing so much as a drenched “river rat,” I had no recourse except to report to my friends what had happened. It was a pretty sure thing that there were witnesses—and all could see my clothes, inside-out waders, fly-boxes and fishing vest set out to dry by the campfire. Better to just be preemptive.

But I digress, as old men too often do.

Since the moment of reversal on the South Branch of the Oconto River, I have learned several things of inestimable value from both my son and daughter: how to make a cook stove out of a discarded can in the woods, how to tie a soft hackle fly, how to start a campfire in cold rain, how to engage adversity and live bravely, how to find morel mushrooms in the Wisconsin spring, how to be generous, how to dance with abandon (OK, I really don’t have this one down), how to be in the moments we are given.

All in all, it seems a very fair trade to this old man.

© 2019 Howard Bowman

My spouse and I enjoy the “Madison scene” and learning how to creatively write through
workshops like Sarah White’s “Flash Memoirs.” Our location also enables me to enjoy
the nearby famed Southwest Wisconsin “Driftless” area trout streams. In the years leading up to retirement, I taught philosophy courses at Mt. Mary and other Milwaukee area
universities.

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