We moved to the North Shore when I was twelve, recently shot up in height to look Mother in the eye. She didn’t like that, and in case increased size would make me truculent, she went to greater pains to keep me in my place. I was used to it, and besides, there wasn’t a humiliation I could conceive able to diminish the glow I felt with every breath at my ascension into the lofty rank of manly outdoorsman. Having outgrown my city shoes, I finagled my pennywise parents into a pair of stout leather boots. Those boots plus a flannel shirt made me into as much he man as a lad accustomed to singing in treble clef in altar boy robes could be. I wasn’t yet ready to face the fact that it took more than desire to accomplish things. In a psychological sense, I saw myself as Paul Bunyan, able to drop a tree with a single axe swing. My efforts to duplicate his feats were sure to inspire mirth in the tree kingdom while leaving me spent after a few feeble hacks with an axe that grew ten pounds heavier on every hit. It would take more than desire to become a woodsman, but desire I had, plenty of it in fact, so I ran with what god gave and hoped for the best.

Our move to northern Minnesota was welcomed by numbers of relatives and family friends. They came north as regular as a railroad timetable to give us a hand, which after a while looked an awful lot like the “free vacations” Mother called them because our guests did more eating and fishing than helping. I believe they approached being a helping hand the same way I was Paul Bunyan. It was all a matter of desire, because the reality of an actual endeavor was exhausting. You won’t break a sweat giving moral support. Saying you’re there to give someone a hand is a darn sight easier than picking up a hammer—plus, for a true practitioner, the saying of it supplies all the reward of the actual labor.

Some of the visitors to our mom and pop resort (actually too grandiose a description of our two-bit attempt) pitched in and were useful. Eddie and Lennie (called Little Lennie because he wasn’t) were exceptions to the rule of satisfaction through moral support. In my life I never called either of them Ed or Len. If I wished to continue life upon Earth, I knew well enough they were Misters Kamark and Kosabowski (pronounced Cush-above-ski). Dad’s habit of buying broken things cheaply because he could fix them (he could repair darn near anything) had a positive side that was about cancelled out by being surrounded by non-working junk. The garage was a virgin in terms of auto storage. I never saw a car in it. There was no room amid all the to-be-repaired outboards, mowers, saws, vacuum cleaners, etc. that Dad accumulated. We never visited relatives in the city without Dad being swept into the garage to look at a balky car or basement to resuscitate a faltering washer. Our family didn’t throw things away because “Uncle Steve will fix it.” There was plenty for Len and Ed to help with, and they did.

A few days of Frankenstein operations creating the Hoover-Lux vacuum cleaner or May Pool washer earned our guests a reward of fishing on the Swamp. I don’t recall why Dad declined to lead, but his “you take them” to me were welcome words, asserting my arrival in manly land. I was thrilled despite overhearing Dad’s comforting words to our guests: “Don’t worry. He can’t get lost. No place to lose to on the Swamp.”

Men or boys fishing fall into two groups. There are those who love fishing and those who go out to get away from “it.” The from-it group usually aims to do little as possible. They will drag a lure behind the boat so long as it doesn’t interfere with lifting an elbow to swallow beverage or food. Ed and Len were from-its who added to the larder Mother packed us by stopping at a local store to load on another cooler of drink and enough chips and other snacks for a New Year’s gathering. Unless they planned to eat all that themselves, things were looking up for me, and right they were. The men hadn’t asked what pop I preferred. They provided in simple faith that anything with sugar would do. I wouldn’t select it, but I’d drink anything, even spinach soda if it were sweet and available. As captain of our vessel, I did a proud job imbibing once we were underway and I was told, “Don’t be bashful, help yourself.”

After guzzling two sixteen-ounce sodas (opportunity = greed), I needed to unload, and as captain I aimed SS Swamp River to a piece of riverbank. Lennie asked, “Where you going?” I explained. He shook his head. “Wastes time. Go over the side.” I had no desire to comply, but obedience to adult dictates was mandatory. I angled away for as much privacy as possible and was soon engulfed in relief more necessary than I realized. I was thinking, “Whew, lucky thing I” when Little L shifted weight. What I was hanging onto gave no support and was of no aid in swimming as I pitched overboard to hit face first. I bobbed up quick enough, but my prize boots were foot anchors, pulling down as I fought, slowing losing way, up until Ed grabbed my neck and dropped me back aboard. I stood paralyzed as water poured from me. Sympathy for my plight was “You’re getting the food wet” followed by “Don’t just stand there, undress.”

Items were snatched from me to be wrung over the side as quick as they became available until the SS looked like a laundry barge, with all I’d been wearing spread to dry. There was no captain’s dignity in looking like plucked fowl in the poultry section of Coco’s Market. It didn’t help that Len and Ed were all but dying from the effort to not roll on the boat floor laughing after Len plopped the wet captain’s cap I’d been wearing back on my head with a grin needing no translation. It was a sad end for so noble a beginning. On departure days later, the pair gave me a five-dollar tip I expect was based on my ability to amuse more than guiding ability. Mother grabbed the five. “I’ll keep that for you.” Of course I never saw it again. If I dared to ask I’d have been told, “You’re wearing it.” Life was simple then.