I received some really bad news last night. I have a good friend in Canada who ran an outfitting camp, where I have been many times to go fishing. He is probably about 50 years old. He was a big, strong guy. I have seen him use a chainsaw with one hand and push a tree over with the other. He was a wonderful, generous fellow.
Two or three years ago, he suffered some sort of stroke. He bad been drinking pretty heavily, and some thought that may have brought it on. After the stroke, the drinking got worse. I heard last year that the place he ran was closed and up for sale. Last night I received word that he will be going into a nursing home in March or April. They say his mind and his body are nearly gone.
I cannot explain to you the devastation that I feel. Obviously, at my age, I have lost a lot of friends. I only got to see him one week a year, when I went up fishing. But we shared so many things. We both loved the outdoors. We both loved hunting and fishing. We both loved music. He was, at a younger age, the drummer in one of the first fusion bands to come along.
I never had the chance to go hunting with him. But he was good enough with his bow that the larger manufacturers gave him all their new bows and equipment, as an advertisement, of course, directed at the many people who came and hunted out of his camp.
In the camp that he ran, there was a restaurant and bar, and on one wall was this gigantic moose that he had taken with his bow. On an adjoining wall were all the different bows that he had used throughout the years. On that wall, in a little black frame, was a poem I had written years ago and sent to him. I sent it because it reminded me of him.
I have sat in that bar and played my guitar and laughed and joked and probably told a few lies with some great people who loved the northern outdoors. He was the best. When I took a very young son and one of his fishing pals to that camp, my friend made sure that we had everything that we needed and he also made sure that I knew which lakes were producing and which ones we should fish. He was seldom wrong.
One year my wife and daughter went to Canada with me. In the middle of the summer, it doesn’t get dark up there until 10 or 11 p.m. One evening, just before dark, my daughter decided to go kayaking by herself on the lake that adjoined the camp. The lakes up there are connected by all different kinds of passages and streams and places where you can go through a very narrow piece of water and come out on a completely different lake. It is easy to get lost, even in the daytime.
At midnight that night, my friend learned that our daughter had gone out in her kayak and hadn’t returned. He immediately got in a boat and went out to look for her. He would have found her, too, but she got back soon after he started his search. And, somehow, he knew it, and returned to camp.
We mostly did our own cooking in our little cabin, but one day, we had all been to this huge lake and he shared his secrets for catching walleye, or pickerel, as they call them. We returned to camp about dark, and by the time the fish were filleted and all the revelers had a few adult beverages, my friend decided we should have a fish fry.
My wife was with me, and she immediately struck off to our cabin to make a big batch of cornbread, which we always have with fish. In the kitchen areq of the bar and grill, my friend set to work with two gigantic stainless steel bowls. He made two different dry mixtures to roll the fillets in. One was spicy and one was plain. And in two skillets, each about the size of a top to a bushel basket, he had a couple inches of cooking oil. When the oil was hot, he dropped those fillets in by the handful. The oil bubbled and boiled like it was going to explode.
By the time my wife got back with the cornbread, the fish were ready. We sat in the dining area and ate the best fish I have ever had. He made such a fuss about how good the cornbread was you would have thought he had never had it before. We washed it all down with Canadian beer. I don’t remember all the details after that, but I know we didn’t go fishing very early the next morning.
I don’t quite know how to end this little story. I have enough tales about him to fill this newspaper. My heart is so heavy for my friend. I shall pray for him, of course, and a word or two to the Man Upstairs from those of you who can identify with this story wouldn’t hurt a thing. I shall remember the good times and try to understand and accept the bad times. But, I shall never forget my friend.
Finally, I would like to ask you to mark your calendar for Saturday, March 4. Our Methodist Church and our fire department are having a breakfast to benefit the Relay for Life. It is at the Flint Hill firehouse, of course, and will run from 7 to 10:30 a.m., and you already know all the good things there will be to eat, especially the sausage gravy.
If it has been a bad winter for you, come on anyway, and you can eat for free. If you have it, we suggest a small donation of $6 for adults and $3 for children 10 and under. Contact my cousin, Mary Frances Bywaters at 540-675-1566, or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join us. There may even be a little live string music from time to time.