A Day On Lake Erie With Uncle Ralph; The Summer of ’62, Episode 16

Rich woke the next morning to sound and scent of eggs and bacon crackling in a frying pan. The aroma of coffee filled the cabin, Uncle Ralph had already been awake and preparing breakfast. Rich sat up in his bunk and rubbed his eyes. A stiff rush of wind blew through the cabin door and replaced the bouquet of coffee with the odor of the lake. He shivered and pulled the blanket around his neck and stared out the window at a shimmering lake and a pink sky.

Good morning Rich,” Uncle Ralph said happily. He was hunched over the burner preparing breakfast. “Breakfast will be ready in five minutes.”

What time is it?” Rich yawned.

A little past five,” Uncle Ralph said.

I don’t remember coming to bed,” Rich said.

I went out on deck at one and walked you in. You was out of it,” Uncle Ralph said. “I didn’t want you to fall in.”

I don’t remember a thing,” Rich said and suddenly remembered, “Oh yeah, I caught a few more fish after you went to bed.”

What were they?” Uncle Ralph said as if he didn’t believe it.

Perch.” Rich said and indicated the length half way up the forearm, “One was this big.”

I suppose you’re going to tell me you threw it back,” Uncle Ralph quipped.

I cleaned it and put it on ice. I thought we could have it for lunch,” Rich said.

Where’s it at?” Uncle Ralph said.

In the cooler,” Rich said. “It’s big enough to feed a family.”

Uncle Ralph ducked through the cabin doorway and went out on deck. He opened the chest and looked in.

Don’t lie to me, Rich,” Uncle Ralph said, “that looks store bought. Did you sneak that on board?”

You got out fished last night and you don’t want to admit it,” Rich teased.

Out fished, phooey!” Uncle Ralph said. “You didn’t even clean it up very good.”

It was dark,” Rich said. “So you admit it is a fish I caught.”

Jumped in the boat,” Uncle Ralph retorted. “Ate everything off your line and figured he could come on board and eat everything right out from underneath your nose. Out fish me – that will be the day.”

They ate breakfast and fished until nearly noon.

Rich peeled a couple of potatoes. Uncle Ralph fried the fish and potatoes in the bacon grease left over from breakfast. Uncle Ralph had a beer and Rich drank a Pepsi.

That’s some pretty good fish,” Rich said.

It’s all how you fix it,” Uncle Ralph said. “I bet you never had fish that tasted this good.”

This is the best,” Rich said shoveling a fork-full in his mouth.

How’s them spuds?” Uncle Ralph said.

Best potatoes I’ve ever had, too,” Rich said.

After they ate and cleaned their plates, they tossed their lines into the water again.

Soon Rich became nauseous. Rich didn’t know whether it was the fish, potatoes, the sweetness of the Pepsi, the hot sun, the constant rocking of the boat, or a combination of all.

You feeling okay?” Uncle Ralph said looking into Rich’s eyes and placing a hand on his forehead.

I’ve got a stomach ache,” Rich said.

You don’t feel like you have a fever,” Uncle Ralph said. “Go lay down for a while and if you’re not feeling better we’ll go to shore. You just might be a little seasick. Take the bucket with you.”

Rich slowly staggered into the cabin with a bucket and laid down.

It was warm and perspiration gathered on his neck, above his lips and rolled from the brow to the cheeks. Rich was thirsty but did not want to drink anything. He fell asleep for a while and woke. He sat up on the bunk and breathed the air coming through the window. He felt better and went on deck.

Uncle Ralph turned around from watching his poles. “How ya feeling?”

Okay,” Rich said. “Actually I feel pretty good. How long did I sleep?”

About an hour and a half.”

Rich grabbed his poles and baited them. “Did you leave any for me?” He said motioning toward the lake.

I think they’ve all gone to the Canadian side,” Uncle Ralph said waving his hand toward the Canadian waters.

Let’s sneak across and scare them back,” Rich said.

Not on your life,” Uncle Ralph said. “There’s nothing those Canucks would rather do than pull us in and take my boat away from me for not having a Canadian license. Canadians are always slipping across and fishing over here and our government’s too afraid to do anything about it.”

How do you know when you’re in Canadian waters?” Rich asked.

You’re just supposed to,” Uncle Ralph said. “They say they’ll just slip across the border and claim you are in Canadian water. I just try to stay away. I make sure I don’t fish anywhere near Pelee Island. I’ve only been beyond Kelleys Island a couple of times. That’s close enough for me.”

Rich’s pole dipped, he tugged on it and reeled in a bluegill.

That’s a good panfish,” Uncle Ralph said and then pulled a nice size perch out of the water. “Now that’s a fish.”

That was one I caught last night,” Rich said. “I saw you take it out of the cooler and put it on the line and throw him in. Look at him, he’s half dead.”

Uncle Ralph reached over and ruffled Rich’s hair. “I ought to throw your butt in the lake.”

I’ll pull ya in with me,” Rich said and wrapped his arms around Uncle Ralph’s neck.

Uncle Ralph laughed. Rich released his arms. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and tapped it against his arm until one popped out. He lit it with a match and tossed the match overboard. He held the cigarette tightly in his mouth, baited his hook, and swung the line overboard. He removed the cigarette and slowly released the smoke from his nostrils. He leaned relaxed against the boat. Suddenly he jumped to his feet and moved slowly to the starboard side looking at the northwest sky. “My god,” he said slow and firm. “We got a storm coming our way.”


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