When you’re a kid, vacations can be amazing escapes to enchanted places with new foods, materials, and experiences to be consumed. You’re literally a victim of awesomeness, having family and friends take you to a whole galaxy of cool locations.
When you’re an adult, vacations can still be amazing escapes to enchanted places with new foods, materials, and experiences to be consumed. However, you tend to provide that environment to everyone else while suffering anxiety about money, gas, food, clothing, sickness, airplane crashes, weather, shark attacks, hostage situations, and having a good time. The high level of stress involved with traveling can sometimes turn the friendliest of adults into crazed ogres bent on smashing mead halls in some distant Nordic land. Having become a father, I can pinpoint this stress and understand it, unlike when I was a child.
Every year from age 11 – 18 my dad and I would go opening fishing with my uncle Doug, and my cousins John, Chris, and Matt. We’d use my father’s fishing boat, a blue sixteen-footer with blobs of rust pushing out the paint along the hull. My father affectionately nicknamed this boat: “The Blue Bomber.” The boat was about twenty years old when my dad bought it twenty years ago. It was a sturdy little craft, even when it was filled with five large men. The water level would be just a few splashes away from spilling over the side of the boat.
We’d store the Blue Bomber at my grandparent’s farm in Long Prairie in a giant, spaceship of a shed. Mice and other rodents would make nests inside the engine parts, and chew through the steering cables, which cause a variety of mishaps while out on the water. Often times, under this deluge of teething varmints, we’d be forced to use an electronic trolling motor to push the Blue Bomber around. It was probably faster to swim across the entire lake.
One year, we went to Sarah Lake for opening fishing. The lake was about an hour out of the Twin Cities. We arrived at the Sarah Lake pretty early in the morning, since it would take a very long time to put the boat in the water due to the strips of carpet meant to gently ease the boat into the lake. Over time, they’d become warped and glue-like, requiring a titanic force of muscle to pry the hull of those landing strips. My dad would often rock the Blue Bomber back and forth while balancing on the trailer hitch of the van and trailer. He would let loose a blushing-string of profanity, which if heard around strangers would have caused the local law enforcement to be summoned. My cousins and uncle wanted to help my dad with the landing, but he was too terrifying to approach during the sequence.
Sarah Lake was a beautiful broken puddle in the budding woods of Minnesota. It was early May when we went fishing. The lake was a flat piece of melted sky, with lines of blooming trees spiking its weedy edges. It looked like a half-finished painting. There weren’t a lot of houses along the lake, and even fewer people fishing. Pretty soon we were on the water, and the Blue Bomber was buzzing froth up against a sour stench of gasoline and engine oil. Everyone was in good spirits, even when the engine died in the middle of the lake. This wasn’t a new phenomenon. It happened at least once a fishing trip. It was a beautiful day on the water. It wasn’t a big deal.
After about twenty minutes bobbing up and down, my father, who was looking more sweaty and deranged by the second, sat down and leaned back in his chair behind the steering wheel.
“Well, good thing we have the trolling motor,” he said, flipping a small black switch behind him.
Nothing happened. The small splashing was absent. The situation went from comical to dire in just a few seconds. My dad flipped the switch back and forth furiously like a child walking into a basement. No sounds or sparks. An eagle cackled overhead. I was worried it was a vulture. After about twenty minutes tinkering with the wires and switch, my dad gave up and sat down exhausted. We’d only been on the lake about an hour.
“Oars, we’ve got oars, we’ll take turns with them,” he said, jumping up.
“The wind is blowing us towards shore, we could just wait,” my uncle said.
My dad didn’t listen and pulled the ancient oars out from the side of the boat. A whole skeleton of spider webs followed with them, which tangled our fishing rods together like a fiberglass puzzle. The oars were so old, they looked like age had bleached the wood into a pink plastic. My dad gave them a mighty swing, like he was about to go raid a monastery in England. The right oar promptly snapped in half like a broken bone. My dad lunged for the body part, but it slowly drifted away into the black deep just out of hands reach. My dad sat back in his chair and looked at the sky.
“Well, we’re screwed, I guess we’ll be out here for a while,” he said.
“Let’s just fish,” my uncle said.
We slaughtered the fish. We caught large-mouth bass and walleye every 20 minutes. It was some of the best fishing I’ve ever had. I could’ve been out there for a week fishing, but my dad couldn’t be at peace with our situation. He pulled the top of the motor off, and began to monkey with the fly wheel, a round gear at the peak of the engine that helped start the mechanism. He dug through the front of the boat trying to find a chord to help. Meanwhile, we all avoided my father like some sort of rabid gorilla, which was difficult on a small boat with five other people. Also, we continued to catch fish, even by accident, which filled the airspace above the boat with flopping fins, hooks, and rods, all of which managed to tangle with my father. Eventually, he found a chord with two plastic handles he could wrap around the Fly Wheel to potentially make the motor run. He coiled it around the contraption, let out an agonized grunt, and pulled the rope.
It flew out of his hands like a Frisbee.
It plopped in the water where the broken oar had fallen earlier, and sunk to the bottom of the lake like a piece of haunted gold from Pirates of the Caribbean. My dad sat down astonished. Everything felt a little more ghoulish.
My uncle approached him carefully and put his hand on my father’s throbbing shoulder. A beam of sun highlighted our boat between the shadowy waves. The earth stood still for just a second.
“God took that from your hands,” my uncle said deeply.
A grinding sound bit the air. A boat was approaching us from shore. It was the DNR, out to check our licenses. His boat looked so fancy against the water, especially in-comparison to the derelict Blue Bomber. The DNR officer looked like he’d just a fought a foreign war, and was ready to wage a new one on nature. He was narrow, tight-lipped, and wearing giant sunglasses. He checked all our licenses, with the lone exception of my dad’s which was sitting on the dashboard of our van. The DNR officer looked at my father’s wild curly hair and quaking shoulders. He stared at the boat that was barely classified as one, and the quiet motor, which looked like an open wound.
He shook his square head.
“I’ll let you go this time without a license. Don’t let it happen again,” he said in a semi-robotic voice. He then shot away in his little speed boat before we could even ask him for help. Clearly, he took pity on us for our situation. We were already miserable enough without a citation. At the same time, he didn’t stick around to tow us to shore. It was like giving us break with the law scared him away.
We spent the entire day out on the lake. My dad eventually got the motor running with a piece of rope from the anchor line. He tied it around the Fly Wheel and held onto it. Of course, removing that piece of line caused the anchor to sever, and sink to the bottom of the lake, which was by far the most popular spot of the trip.
My father just wanted us to have a good time. Even though, he was one.
(Note. I’m going to try and write funny things once a week to even out my flash fiction and depressing stuff. Enjoy!)