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What the heck is a Stehekin anyway?

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I have a confession to make.  I used to hate fly fishing.  That may sound a bit harsh, but  I do come by my aversion naturally.   My dislike of fly fishing started on my tenth birthday when my dad wrenched the fiberglass Fenwick pole and Mitchel 308 reel out of my hand, pressed a bamboo 7 foot rod into it, tossed my Folgers can of worms into the water, walked me to the edge of Ward Creek and told me to wade into the freezing water and start casting.  I stood there shivering,  pitching a line into the water over and over and over in order to learn the finer points of the single-handed cast.  “It’s like throwing an apple off the end of a stick!” my dad yelled at me from the bank, as if anyone had ever put an apple on the end of the stick to throw it.  I never really got it.  Oh, I got the casting and stripping and all that because I am, after all, a very, very handsome and naturally gifted athlete with God-given superior hand-eye coordination, but I never really understood the appeal of it all.  I wasn’t catching, I was casting, and it felt a bit to me like the fish had the advantage.  Standing waist deep in a swirling river that was trying to swamp me so the fish could peck at my eyes as I washed down river never felt all that enjoyable or natural.  It always seemed to me that I should be pulling fish out of the river and not the other way around.

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I’m the one in the Xtratufs

It just wasn’t  all that fun, and not only wasn’t it all that fun, I always felt that there was way too much to learn to even begin to think it WAS fun.  The sheer volume of skill and knowledge my dad said a fly fisherman must possess to cast a line to catch a fish far outstripped my persistent ADD and I always found my mind wandering to the question of why can’t I just put a worm or an egg onto the end of the hook and pitch it out into the current?  If the end goal is to catch fish, this is certainly easier and by far more effective.  Silly me.  If a fly fisherman were to do that, not only would he be looked down upon by the other men dressed in waterproof, yet breathable, lederhosen, he would be called a BAIT fisherman by those same angry men, held down, and have his special card forcibly removed from his wallet, torn into pieces, and cast upon the fetid, stained and tainted bait-fishing waters of his shame and no one wants that.

If done correctly, however, fly fishing is an art form and one that even a bait fisherman can appreciate.  It is beautiful to see a fly fisherman use a whippy stick to cast a line onto calm water.  But there is science behind the art and it’s not just any old fishing line being cast, mind you, but a special fishing line that can either fully float, fully sink, partially float or partially sink, be weight forward or double tapered and all fly fishermen are required to know the difference and when and where each is to be used.  There are also countless types of leaders and tippets that attach to the floating or sinking line and multiple knot variations used to attach each to the other.  The line also has to perfectly match the size and weight of the rod (do not call it a pole) if you want it to actually work well.  These rods come in different sizes, weights and pieces ranging from a two piece, seven foot, one weight to a four piece, nine foot, fourteen weigh.  There are multiple variations on this theme and you must know what it all means and which to use to catch whichever species of fish you plan to target (notice I did not say catch, because that rarely happened in my experience).  Pair the wrong line with the wrong rod and disaster could strike or, at the very least, you will look like an idiot.

A skillful fly fisherman must also have expert entomological skills (not to be confused with etymological skills, though using the proper swear words when your line wraps around the same miniscule tree branch for the third time in a row is important too and very useful to have in your personal bad word tackle box) so he can identify every single living creature in the water, know its life cycle and how to mimic it using nothing more than elk hair, twine, tinsel and parts off a dead chicken.  The mimicking part is much different than the fishing part and is a special kind of torture enjoyed by a wide range of people as they sit in the dark recesses of their basements and “man caves,” or “she sheds,” (yes, women tie too) illuminated by a single light, only coming out long enough to wander down to the coffee shop in hopes of getting into a discussion with other masochists about whether a purist would ever use rubber legs on a stone fly or if using an egg or worm pattern isn’t actually really just bait fishing.  It’s different than voodoo, but not by much.

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The reward also seemed so, how do I say this… unrewarding compared to the sheer amount work one has to put in to get a fish to even look at the mimic (also known as “the fly”).  This imitation of the real is attached to the end of the tippet and used to attract, or in most cases, amuse, the fish when not tied correctly.  I guess if you enjoy the skill of it one might find it enjoyable, but if you actually wanted to catch fish, I used to think that you’d get better results trying your hand at bow fishing or noodling.  I thought fly fishing was akin to hunting for geese, but before you got into the field you had to build your own shotgun, make your own shell casings and gun powder, and pour molten lead into tiny molds to make your own shot.  When all was built you then went into the field blindfolded and if you happened to bag a goose, you ran to it in the hopes that you hadn’t killed it.  You then hold it in your arms until it catches its breath, take a picture of it and let it go.

This last part is called catch and release and is akin to dating in high school and is considered honorable among fly fisherman, but is a source of contention between Dream Crusher and me.  I catch big fish, but if they have an adipose fin still attached the law requires that you release them back into the wild so they can make wild babies (as opposed to hatchery babies), but for the life of her she cannot understand how I can spend an entire day catching fish and not bring home anything to put in the smoker.  She questions my manhood and the truth of my stories and swears up and down that I keep showing her the same picture of the same fish I caught on week one and that I really only go out on the boat to smoke and drink with my fishing partner, Dave, which isn’t the whole truth because I quit smoking years ago.

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Smoking is my passion

However, something happened to me a few weeks ago that changed my thinking.  I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve repented and that my change in heart has sent me scouring the interwebs for things like double tapered floating line, net magnets, felt-soled wading boots, head cement, and hackle capes.   I’m blushing a little, however, because I wasn’t even an agnostic, I was a full blown, unbelieving skeptic, but on that day, as I heard the preacher preaching what he was preaching, a beam of light fell upon me out of the stormy clouds as the wind whipped violently around me.   I jumped out of my seat, ran the aisle, and fell at the altar of the single handed cast and asked what must I do to change my evil ways and catch fish like man was meant to catch fish?  And Doug said, as he looked kindly into my eyes and placed his hand on my shoulder, “My son let me introduce you to the Stehekin River – a river so beautiful and so clear that it takes the breath away – and to fish so big that when they rise out of the water to take the dry fly, the echo of its body crashing back into the water will sound off the canyon walls for a full two minutes.”  I bowed my head and wept silently.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in January I was approached by my friend, Aaron, who works for an amazing ministry called Family Lines.  You might remember Aaron as the omni-competent guide from my post a few years back when Allison and I went on the Owyhee River together and I tasted death multiple times and found God.  He asked me (Aaron that is, not God) if Molly and I wanted to go on an amazing fishing trip and talk about our father/daughter relationship, along with two other father daughter pairs.  We agreed and off we went, neither of us knowing much about fly fishing, who we were going with, whether any of the Family Lines staff had any weird diseases (they do spend weeks on end in the wilderness), where we were going, how we were to get there, or what on earth we were going to talk about.   All we knew is that we were going, that we were going to talk, and we were going to fish.

None of my kids had ever really fished growing up (although Allison did catch a number of big fish in her college years with Dave and me, and if she’s around, I still rub her head when we make a run to the river) and by every stretch of the imagination I would have been considered an Idaho dead-beat dad because I live in the most huntable, fishable, campable state in the union and never did any of it with my kids.  We never went hunting or camping or fishing except for that time when Idaho had a free fishing day and I took the boys and we caught one hatchery raised rainbow trout on a piece of corn and we got free orange hats, but the girls never fished once.  The closest they came was the time we went crabbing at Rockaway, which was fun, but not fishing, and so I really had no idea that Molly even liked to fish (I’m not sure she knew either) until Dave and I took her Steelhead fishing last year.

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First Steelhead

As we were slowly backing the boat into the glory hole on the Clearwater River (it does have a name which I am not at liberty to divulge), Molly sat on the engine cover and talked to me as I ran the kicker.  “How you doing, honey?” I asked.  She had just moved back from Boise and I was thrilled to have her on the boat.  “Good.  It’s really nice to be out in the fresh air.  It’s really nice to be out in nature. This is pretty.”  She said all this with a kind of wistful voice and a sigh as if she was fine, but bored out of her mind.  Then all hell broke loose and a huge Steelhead grabbed the plug – aptly named Dr. Death – and she grabbed the pole and the fish tried to drag her off the boat and down the river.

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Maniacal gleam

There is something magical and terrifying at the same time when you have a Steelhead on your line and it tries to rip the pole out of your hands.  They fought to the death, literally, for ten minutes and by the end, when Dave netted the fish and said “It’s clipped,” we all cheered and Molly turned to me and she had that maniacal gleam in her eye that I had only seen once or twice before (see the Allison comment above).  She held the enormous Steelhead up so Dave could take a picture and it was huge and so was her smile.  At the end of the day I asked if she wanted to clean it and as she gutted it I heard her giggle a little and then my licensed cosmetologist, make-up artist, fashion-forward daughter held up the pile of fish eggs in her perfectly manicured hands so I could take a picture and I realized at that moment that she was hooked.

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So, I wasn’t all that sure she was going to like fly fishing.  In my experience fly fishing produced miniscule fish and the chase always seemed to be more important than the actual size of fish you caught.  The fish I’ve seen are pretty, dainty, delicate creatures that “fight” for a while and then roll over and sit quietly while they are taken out of the bamboo net to be photographed and no matter how close you hold them to the camera everyone can tell how small the fish is by comparing it to the size of your hands and unless you have Manute Bol hands no matter how close to the camera you hold the fish everyone can tell exactly how big the fish is and no matter how much you want people to think you’re holding a raging beast between your thumb and forefinger everyone knows that you are actually only holding  a very tiny smolt no more than a few inches long.

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Manute Bol hands

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against smolt. In fact, without smolt, Molly wouldn’t have caught that Steelhead.  Smolt turn into big fish that I use a big boat (it’s actually Dave’s boat and he runs it) and large rattling lures to catch and then muscle up to the net and hold  close to my body because they are too heavy to hold out to the camera.  Then I  (sometimes Dave does this) whack them on the head (if they’ve had their adipose fin circumcised) and throw them in the fish box, grab my steaming mug of hot tea (I only drink tea because coffee does bad things to me) which is almost as manly as drinking thick, black coffee (okay, it’s not, but it tastes really good, especially with sugar and cream – okay, non-dairy creamer, actually, because dairy does bad things to me – and besides no one can tell that I’m not drinking coffee once I take the little baggie out of the cup using the cute little white paper flag), take a swig, push the button on the TR-1 (sometimes Dave pushes the button), let out the lines, and then I am (and Dave is) fishing again… for large angry fish.

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Dave and me and an angry fish

So yeah, I was a little worried that Molly might not like fly fishing and, after a long ferry ride and her first afternoon on the Stehekin, I was worried doubly so.  As she sat on the rocks waiting for others to get tired of catching nothing and start back to camp, she looked for all the world like she wished she had cell reception.  “It’s beautiful, it’s nice to be out in nature, it’s nice,” she looked as if she wanted to say; only this time there wasn’t a S0teelhead to break into her reverie… or any fish for that matter.   She probably wasn’t exactly bored, but tall majestic mountains and a beautiful, rushing river are good things to look at for a while.  They are good things, but they are not fish things.

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No cell reception

Fly fishing is challenging on a calm day, and any kind of fishing is difficult on a windy day, but fly fishing on a very windy day is almost impossible because no matter how hard you fling the line it comes shooting back at you like a wispy ball of tangled yarn.  If by some miracle the wind lets up a bit and you do get your fly line to lay down on the water, the wind whips the trailing line and drags your fly down the river like it’s got its own engine and the natural presentation of the fly is ruined and more than likely so is fishing for that day and we had wind in spades – high, gusty winds like you hear about in the scary tales of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Stehekin River is quite possibly the most beautiful river I’ve ever been on and I’m from Alaska where big beautiful rivers are a dime a dozen, but as we forded the same stretch of the river on the morning of the second day and the same high wind was trying to push me over and the river was trying to lay me down, I really couldn’t see the beauty in it and started wishing for my spinning gear and a flat calm lake while sitting on Gertrude McDudieface, my Boston Whaler.  However, Mindy, our excellent and faithful guide, pushed us on and kept up her cheerful banter and patiently switched out flies and leaders in hopes of getting us on the bite and though I had one fish rise to my strike indicator neither of us caught any fish and as we trudged back through the turbulent waters a quote from Nacho Libre came to mind, or a variation thereof, “The Stehekin is a lie, Steven… A LIE!”

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Casting into a headwind

It wasn’t as though I was in a bad mood.  I wasn’t.  After all, I was on a trip with my daughter in a location with no cell coverage.  I was surrounded by great people in a great place with great food and as we sat around the dining room table waiting for Jon and Doug (two amazing guides and friends) to get back from scouting our new afternoon fishing location, we warmed up, ate a good lunch, and had some really good conversation.  I was in good spirits, but the hope of catching any fish was quickly waning and even though I was told that the Stehekin was better even than the rivers of Montana and the rivers in Montana are so legendary that they wrote a book and made movie about them, I had never heard of any books written about the Stehekin.  At the end of the meal I was beginning to wonder if the scenery, the food, and good conversation was really all that I had to look forward to for the next day and a half.  I was mapping out my plan to make it a five pound week if it was.

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After lunch I squeezed my skeptical, well fed and breathable wader-clad-body into the van and in my food induced coma I almost missed the fact that we turned the other way on the road coming out of the ranch.  It was warm and my less-than-toned-and-tanned body jiggled merrily away as the van rattled down the road, trying to lull me to the point of sleep.  The banter going on in the van was pleasant and as I watched the river slide by I realized that I shouldn’t have had three cups of tea and a glass of water at lunch.

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As I trotted off into the woods to take care of some business, Mindy got our gear ready.   When I got back everyone was already halfway up the road to our fishing spot and as I caught up to them I realized that Doug had been assigned to our little band of The Three Amigos and I was kinda sad that our little troupe couldn’t have just wandered off to make our own way.  However, I figured that Aaron thought that we were so hopeless that we needed two guides instead of one. There were no fish in this river anyway so what did it really matter if we had one or two guides, but Aaron knew better.  Doug is an amazingly kind, soft spoken and gentle man, but he WAS the one who said the Stehekin was better than all the rivers in Montana and so I looked at him with a wary eye and as we walked I lagged behind and, to my shame, I abandoned Molly to the guides and fished another patch of dead water that I thought looked promising.  I really had no clue.  Little did I know our education was about to begin.

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I was a little discouraged, but mostly resigned to not catching fish and as I wandered over to where Doug was teaching Molly the finer points of how to let the line swing to the end of the float and use the pressure of the water to bend the rod and gently lay the fly back upstream in one fluid motion, I prayed “Lord, please let the daughters catch fish today.”   It might seem like an odd thing to ask for, but I know my God loves to give good gifts to his children and so I thought I might just bring it to His attention.  I would have been happy either way, but much happier to have caught fish.  I’m kind of selfish that way.

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I know this will be hard to believe, but moments after I said that prayer and on the very next cast, Molly caught nothing, and on the next cast she also caught nothing, but on the next cast she caught the biggest nothing I had ever seen.  No fish, nada.  However, Doug calmly continued to point to the water and teach and take a few steps upstream, teach and move, teach and move until Molly was in a fly fishing rhythm with every cast falling more or less where Doug wanted it.  Mindy and I just kind of watched and listened.  Then it happened.  Molly’s cast landed in a seam in the river about three quarters of the way across.  She stripped line and lifted her rod to keep the strike indicator moving at a natural pace.  It was a beautiful thing to watch and I might have teared up a bit. She had just dropped the tip of the rod and was about to pay out line when it hit.  Her rod bent double as the huge Cutthroat tried to pull the rod out of her hand and she set the hook like she had a giant Steelhead on, and, in doing so, yanked the fly clean out of the fish’s mouth.   I can imagine that the Cutthroat at that moment must have thought, “What the heck was that?!”

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I whooped, then wheezed, as the air went out of me and I went from elation to dejection in the span of a few seconds.  It was like an entire baseball stadium heard the crack of the bat only to realize that it was just a very loud and long foul ball.  The rod dropped to her side and we all kind of groaned… everyone that is except Doug who took a few steps upstream and told her to try again, only this time to use a bit more finesse if she hooked another fish and reminded her that these weren’t Steelhead.

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A few steps and a few casts later she laid her line onto a beautiful pool in the river and let the fly swing through the tail out.  Moments before she was going to flip the line back up stream a solid Rainbow crashed her fly.  She didn’t panic, but raised the tip of her rod and with gentle pressure set the hook.  It fought hard and tried to get tangled in an old tree snag, but Molly moved quietly away from it, holding the line tight and with what looked like a practiced hand, guided the fish to Doug’s waiting net.  I’m not sure who had the bigger smile, the student or the teacher.   I could see Doug talking to her as he unhooked the fish and left it sitting in the net which he had also left in the swirling water of the river so the fish could continue to breath.  She nodded, wet her hands, then gently lifted the rainbow out of the net and both of them turned to me and smiled for a picture.  Then she lowered her hands into the river and the trout bolted for freedom either to be caught, or not, another day.

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This may sound dumb and simplistic, but as I stood there I realized that fishing is a great analogy for fatherhood.  To someone who loves almost nothing more than catching fish, watching Molly land her first large trout, I realized that, simply stated, being a dad means you find greater pleasure and enjoyment out of watching your daughter catch a fish than you do from catching one yourself.  It’s very simplistic, but I think it correlates pretty well to the father/child relationship.   As a father almost everything I do for my children is because of one thing and that is that I find more pleasure in seeing them succeed than I do in my success, and I do love to succeed.

Molly caught a lot of fish that day and as we were getting ready to head back to the ranch Doug told Molly that not many other people had caught fish and if anyone asked how many she had caught, just tell them “a few.”  Well, he didn’t tell me not to say anything and so after we got back to the ranch and someone asked me, I did a toned down version of my victory dance, then lifted my shirt just enough so they could see the ten tiny hash marks I had etched into my belt with my knife and I just smiled as they whistled through their teeth.  Okay, that last part isn’t perfectly true, but she did catch ten and they were beauties.

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The next morning we made a b-line for the “Magic Kingdom” as it was dubbed, and for a full day we did nothing but catch fish – and magic it was.  The river was teeming with life.  There were thousands of red, spawning Kokanee that scattered as we walked through the water and large spawning Chinook that shot up the river like wild teenagers looking for a date and the sheer number of big trout looking for an easy meal gave the place its name.  We were sheltered from the wind and the sun shone through the fall leaves making the water sparkle and we never wanted that day to end.

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Thousands of Kokanee

We were late to dinner that night and the wait staff wasn’t all too pleased that many of us ordered off the menu instead of the hotline, but we were satisfied with the day and didn’t really care that our food might have not been treated with the best hygiene by the unhappy cook.  We lined up at two picnic tables and ate our meals and drank our hot coffee (tea for me) and our weariness was tempered with great peace.  I listened as everyone recounted their highs and lows of the day and there weren’t really many lows.  As everyone was talking I leaned over to Doug and said, “Thank you so much for teaching my daughter how to fish.  She had a great time today.  I’m a little worried though because I think you might have created a monster.”  He just smiled and shook his head a bit.  “I didn’t create a monster.  I just released the monster that was already in there.”  No truer words were ever spoken.

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Cast of characters

That night the skies opened up and dumped a deluge of biblical proportion onto the ranch. The wind whipped and howled so that I thought the trees would fall upon us.  As we packed the next morning for the long ride home, the canvas on our cabin roof and windows snapped and popped in the wind and I added an extra layer.  We ate quickly and loaded our stuff into the van and as we pulled onto the road, the clouds broke and the sun came out and reflected off the swollen, muddy and unfishable Stehekin River.

After two glorious days on the best river in the world, the window of opportunity to fish it had slammed shut.  Had we arrived a few days earlier or a few days later, the fishing would have been very different.  As I said, my God loves to give good gifts to his children and He certainly gave a great gift to us that week.  As we drove home Molly and I talked for the entire five hours about the trip and the friends we had made and what was discussed on camera and about the fishing.  We were both tired, and each of us had a pretty good load of caffeine on board, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.  We were experiencing the warm afterglow of an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip.  We both want to come back to the Stehekin again next year, but one never knows what a year will bring.  As I sat there, the nose of the Tacoma pointing east on I-90, listening to my beautiful daughter talk and laugh, it struck me how much our relationship had healed and I realized in that moment that this trip could never have happened a year ago.  It was a beautiful gift that God had given to us, but especially so to me.

Clackamax Drift “Whaler” For Sale – $9500

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Excellent condition, but does get a bit gamey in direct sunlight

Hi, I got your email address from Benson and I’m contacting you regarding your item posted on Craigslist.  My name is Dennis Petit! I’m a creative Underwater Photographer. I’m also a warrior who fights for the sake of protecting and saving sharks, whales and other creatures living in the earth’s oceans. I’m presently on assignment and I spent most of my working hours underwater, photographing scuba divers and marine life that is why I am unable to make or receive calls at the moment so I will be available via email, so can you assure me I won’t be disappointed buying this from you? I have a hauler that will be coming for the pick up and i also have a few questions for you about it.

 Any damages?
Are you the original owner?
Why are you selling it?
Send me some pictures of it
Do you have an account with PayPal?
Do you have any offers yet?
What is the final price of it?
 Looking forward to read back from you.

 Wow, Dennis, it sounds like you live an amazing life!  It is ironic though that my family is in the business of harvesting whales and sharks for the Asian markets.  We don’t really use all of the shark, just the fins.  We do catch, cut off the dorsal fin, and then release the shark.  I guess you could call us Eco-Warriors, too, since we try to practice sustainable shark harvesting.  We are in the process of developing an artificial fin that we can strap on the shark, post-harvest, that will eventually graft onto the shark’s own spine.  We are going to place a radio beacon in the fin so we can track its progress. We’ll also be coloring the fin bright orange so we know not to try and harvest the same shark twice. LOL.  The name of our new shark orthotic is called Addafintome.  Expect to see this sometime mid year.

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Beta testing Addafintome

 

We still haven’t found a way to safely catch and release whales for their parts, so we only try to harvest the sick and the weak. I mean, the whole harpoon thing sticking out of the side of the whale makes some pretty bad flesh wounds and makes it hard to remove AND release.  We have been trying out very large suction darts, like the size of a Volkswagen, and with some of the smoother whales we have had some success, but even then the huge hickie it leaves tends to make the whale really embarrassed and it wants to wear a turtle neck… I’m only kidding.  We have never tried the suction cup thing.  That’s just a little Eco-Warrior humor.  Culling out the weak is our way of trying to make sure that only the strongest gene pool survives, too bad your family didn’t practice some of that culling… haha.  JK LOL.

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Is this one of your pictures? No Shark Fins! LOL

My guess is that we have probably met at one time or another across the water and didn’t even know it.  Do you ever ride around in that Green Peace boat?  That thing is the bomb.  If I can get my boat sold I’m thinking about getting one of those… except not the one with all the unwashed people with long hair on it… that’s just gross.

The boat is in excellent shape except for the blood.  Shark and whale blood is very hard to scrub off.  I’ve tried power washing it with Oxyclean, but even that doesn’t take it off (Don’t you love the Australian guy that sells Oxyclean? G’Day Mate! I just love that).  It doesn’t affect how the boat works, but it does tend to get sticky and kind of gamey smelling when it’s been out in the sun too long.  There are no teeth marks in it, but a slight rubbing where we’ve dragged the sharks over the edge of the gunnel – shark skin is really tough and sandpaper-like… as you well know. LOL

I’m the original owner

I’m not sure what PayPal is, having barely just figured out the whole World Wide Web and Electronic Mail thing.  It sounds like something my mother used to have to do when I was a kid… Pay other children to play with me.  Get it, Pay for a Pal? LOL. I’m on a roll today!  I wasn’t the most attractive kid or the most pleasant after the shark cleaning incident, but I think I’ve persevered pretty well for a person with only one good eye and half an ear.  My half ear is on the same side as my good eye so if I stand just right you can’t even tell I’m missing my other parts.  In pictures I can actually look pretty good.  If I comb my hair over the missing part of my ear I look almost as good as Jimmy Shirell.  Do you know him?  He works in the industry too.  I’m not a huge fan since he married my old girlfriend.  Oh well.  Stuff like that happens.

I’ve had an offer from my cousin, but he wants to give me his old Buick as a down payment and then make $50 per month payments for the next umpteen years.  He’s good for it when he’s working and not drunk, but I was hoping to get a lump sum payment and besides, who even drives Buicks nowadays?  I’m all for those Japanese imports. They are amazing and run forever.  If I can get him to throw in some of the elk he got this year I might consider it though, so you should act fast.

Since we’re on the opposite side of the whole Eco-Warrior thing my bottom line for you is $12,500.  Let me know when we can meet face to face and I can take your cold, hard cash from you.
Thanks,
Lefty

 

Thanks for your understanding and swift response,

I do appreciate the way you answered my questions!. I’m satisfied with it’s condition and i believe i wont be disappointed. I want you to know am serious in purchasing it and am sure he’s gonna love and enjoy it more than you did. Well it a very good idea to see what am buying my self but am a very busy type i have a private courier agent that will come for the pick up after the payment and sign all necessary documents transferring the name of ownership and signing of all paperwork will be done by the hauler agent on my behalf also i would love to assure you that it wont leave your side until the money is in your account and clears i will be patient with you as am an honest man and a man of my word so once all this is done then we can now both schedule the pickup time and date.

I would have loved to send the pick up agent with the cash or cashier check but they don’t deal with cash transaction between buyer and seller and i want you to know that PayPal is the best online payment and they protect their customer the both seller and buyer. My mode of payment is PayPal because i don’t have access to my bank account online, but i have it attached to my PayPal account. Since I’m requesting this transaction to be done via PayPal, I will be responsible for all the PayPal fees/charges on this transaction, if you don’t have an account with PayPal, it’s pretty easy, safe and secure to open one. Just log on to www.paypal.com. I hope we can make this transaction as fast as possible. As I look forward hearing from you with your PayPal information as requested below.

Your PayPal e-Mail Address :
Firm Price:
Home Address/ Pickup location Info:
Cell Phone#:

I am ready to purchase this, so you can take the add off Craigslist.

 Hi.  You sound so serious about this.  I really appreciate you telling me that you’re an honest man and a man of your word.  What I’ve found as I’ve gone though my short life is that I never know whether someone is honest unless they tell me so.  I’m also really glad you told me that you are a man of your word.  There are so many liars and cheats and scammers out there that I would hate to have someone take my boat AND my money and then be left with nothing.  Thank you for letting me know that I can trust you because I really do!

I have looked into PayingPals.com and it looks legit.  Too Legit to Quit if you ask me, so I’ve signed up and I’m ready to go.

However, it doesn’t sound like you’ve got a very good agent if he won’t work in good ol’ American Cold Hard Cash.  I have a friend named James Hoffa who is a good friend of mine, though he’s really hard to find sometimes.  If you would like me to contact him, I know he would be willing to to be the go-between us.  He would hold your cash and my boat and then make the switch for us, just don’t make fun of him… He does not like that, boy, does he not like that.

So, is there any way we can do a cash transaction?  I would even be willing to clean the boat some more to make sure the blood is off the oars.

Lefty

PayPal is the best option for me and I’ve been using it for several years without any regrets, I know you will be glad at the end dealing with me if you can proceed with me via PayPal. It is safe and secure for online payment, since you have set up an account with PayPal feel free to get back to me with your PayPal information as requested above so as to proceed.

Wow!  Good!  I thought for a minute that our deal had fallen through.  Oh, I forgot to ask.  Were you the one taking pictures of the whale that saved the swimmer from the Tiger Shark?  If you were, then we have met because that swimmer was me.  It’s a weird story, but we had just attached a prototype of the addafintome to the Tiger shark and released it back into the water (Tiger sharks look nothing like real tigers, BTW LOL).  Well, the fin wasn’t quite straight and the shark kept leaning to the right.  It had this terrible list and I felt bad.  Well, dad pulled the boat next to the shark so I could straighten the fin and the stupid thing turned and bumped our boat really hard (I guess it couldn’t tell I was trying to help it) and I got knocked out.  Well, I still had his real fin in my hand and when he saw it he tried to get it back from me.  I’m not sure what he thought he was going to do with it since it was already severed from his body, but he wanted it.  He came at me and was about to bite my leg when out of nowhere this enormous Humpback whale (that’s kind of a dirty name I think, don’t you?) took me in it’s baleen and pushed me out of the way.

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Me falling in

I grabbed the harpoon sticking out of its neck and held on as tightly as I could until the shark went away.  I felt really bad harvesting the whale, but I guess man is supposed to dominate wildlife, right? LOL.  Haha.  I just realized that you might not like that story, because you are an Eco-Warrior.  Sorry.  What I meant to say was that after the whale helped me, I released it and it went back to its homeland.  You can write that in your papers.  Haha.  I’ll take a 1000 off the price of the boat for killing the whale that saved me.  Does that make it better?

Do you still want to make this deal even though I’m a whale killer?  You’ll probably put the boat to better use I guess.  Haha LOL JK.

I’m ready to send my PayingPals.  Are you ready for it?  I just want to make sure because my cousin said he would give me half his elk if I sold the boat to him.

Sincerely,
Lefty

Yes!  Send me Paypal information now. I am ready.

Okay. Whew.  Thought I might have made you mad.  Okay.  My address is a little weird, but I’m an honest guy and a man of my word (We are so much alike! It’s like we could be brothers).  I’m just saying that it’s all legit.  Also, if your agent tries to call, just let him know to keep trying and that my number sometimes takes a few tries to go through.

The Phone number is actually for my sister Jenny Jenny (we all have two first names, my name is actually Lefty Lefty) since she’s the only one that knows how to use the Flipper Phone.  Her number is 867-5309. I’m glad she’s got this phone, because she’s the only one I can turn to in situations like this.

My new PayingPal address: mommadidntraiseafool@gmail.com
Price $11,500 ($1000 less than I said originally because of the whale incident).

The boat is at my mom’s diner.  The address is:

new-orleans

Lefty Lefty Hekknow
C/O Your Mama’s House
2020 Hindsight Lane
GottaBeKiddinme, CA 90015

 

I Fish! Dr. Marvin, I Fish! I’m a Fisherman!

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The boy in the boat

A little bead of wetness clung to the end of my dad’s nose like a drip of golden honey – only it wasn’t honey.   Light refracted through it giving it the look of a droopy diamond as we sat under the canopy of our Glasply in the bitter cold sunlight and watched the end of our poles drag herring through the black water out by the old Ketchikan pulp mill.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  The tension was killing me.  It felt like the time I watched my great aunt Hazel smoke a cigarette down to the filter without flicking the ash.  No matter how many times she brought the gasper to her lips, completely covering the filter with old woman lipstick, the ash valiantly held forth.  When she finally flicked the ash into the tray and blew the last remnants from her lungs, I breathed a second-hand-smoke sigh of relief.

Fishing for King Salmon has been described as hours and hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror, but I think this is a gross overstatement.  It wasn’t as if we were harpooning whales from a kayak.   We put little fish onto a little hook to catch bigger fish.  I guess if our big fish got eaten by a bigger fish, like, say a Killer Whale, that would be terrifying, but sitting in a boat, eating Snack Pack pudding and Zots and reeling in a fish now and then wasn’t terrifying – it was actually, a little slice of heaven.

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Dick and Peggy and bait

My sister, Betty, hated fishing almost as as much as I loved it.    The problem with fishing was that it required her to spend hour after hour with my dad in a small boat.  It’s also a lot more fun if you actually catch fish, and, no matter how much she tried, my sister couldn’t catch fish.  I  would reel in three fish from the starboard side of the boat and dad would make us switch sides.  Then I would catch two from the port side and we would switch back.  Then we would switch poles and switch lures, but none of it helped.   If Ketchikan had had a county fair, I would have come home with ten goldfish and she would have had a bag of wax lips.   As I got older I realized there were other reasons Betty dutifully sat on her side of the boat catching nothing: chocolate bars.  The little bar of Hershey goodness was enough to keep her coming –  that is, until she realized she could stay home, with a good book, and eat the bars in complete comfort.

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Mom and Dad and BIL Pat

My mom, on the other hand, liked to go fishing, but I never once saw her reel in a fish.  She hooked hundreds, but as soon as dad realized that she had a fish on he would take the rod from her.  Exasperated, once again, she would say, “Earl!” and then go back and make sure Betty had enough chocolate bars.   It seemed her only jobs aboard the boat was to hold the pole until dad took it away from her, dole out chocolate and hold my belt loop when I needed to pee over the edge of the boat.

“Dad,”  I said after watching the drip roll back and forth with the rise and fall of the boat for what seemed like hours.  “You’ve got a drip of snot on your nose.”  I reached my finger up to my nose to show him where.   In an instant his tongue came out and the drip vanished like a chameleon catching a fly.  In that moment I felt my personal space bubble expand to exclude hugs from my dad and I also felt the urgent need to wash my mouth out with soap.

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Dad and his best friend Clarence

The Clearwater River is about as far away from Ketchikan as it is from New York City, but as I sat in the cold metal drift boat hooking plugs to snap swivels and arranging my gear for the day, I had a strange feeling like I had done it my entire life.  I blew on my fingers to get my 50 year old circulation going, but I felt 12 again.

I moved to Idaho when I was in my third year of college and never had the desire to fish.   I went once with my roommate and that evening he went on and on about the 13 inch trout he had caught that day.  After about ten minutes of his diatribe, I told him that in Alaska we used fish like the one he caught for bait.  I’m sure it was a nice fish, as far as trout fishing goes, but I could not see the enjoyment in reeling in a fish the size of a woman’s slipper.

Little did I know that only an hour away flowed a river of milk and honey, bursting to the banks with fish – real fish.  Fish that a man could be proud of.  Fish that broke the water when you hooked them and danced and flailed in the air trying to spit your hook.  Fish that battled you and fought you and tired you and tested you and needed to be knocked out with a stick when you got them in the boat so they wouldn’t damage anything.  Fish that bled on you and that you had to strain to hold as someone took your picture.  These were fish you hung on the wall.

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Freaking wild Steelhead!

It only took 30 years for me to discover it, but less than an hour to fall in love.  The Clearwater isn’t a misnomer.  It’s big and wide and clear as air.  It’s old and thinning in places where you need to lift your feet and hold your breath as you float over it so you don’t scrape the bottom, but deep and dark in other places with channels and holes that hide big fish that strike out of anger instead of hunger.  Angry fish, who knew?

“Keep your tip up!  Don’t loose it!  Let it run!  Check your drag!  Don’t give it slack!”   Every new fisherman gets on the job training.  I knew these words by heart and smiled warmly when I heard them.  When your body reacts independently of your mind and heart you have become, if not an expert, at least very comfortable and in tune with what you’re doing.  I hadn’t caught and landed a really big fish in 30 years, but holding the pole as the fish tried to rip it from my fingers felt natural and homey like wearing an old baseball glove or a favorite hat.  I felt relaxed and in charge.  The fish didn’t stand a chance.

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Dave’s lunker.

Catch and release is like dating in highschool.  You chase, you catch, you have a short relationship, then you release.    The hook fell out as the Steelhead flailed in the net.  I reached carefully in and grasped the fish by the tail and throat and lifted it up for its photographic debut.  He smiled and I smiled.   He was beautiful and bright, a wide band of color running down both flanks.  I knelt by the stern and carefully lowered him into the water to let the oxygen flow through his gills and bring him out of his stupor.  After a few moments of lolling from side to side his wits came to him and he fought out of my grasp, powering back into the depths.

The yuppie with the Spey Rod and the Orvis fly vest looked on with disdain as Dave and I thrashed around in the drift boat like a couple of school kids, hollering and high fiving like we had just won the lottery, which in a way, I felt  like I had.  I knew in that moment that I would be buying walnuts for Dream Crusher at Costco (you’ll have to ask her about this) and getting a boat.

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Man, I was unattractive, but boy could I catch fish. Dream Crusher and me before we were married. She only agreed to marry me AFTER I caught these beauties.

When the poles were once again dancing above the water,  Dave touched his nose and nodded in a way that confirmed, without actually saying anything, that I had a bit of snot dew clinging to the end of my nose.  Without thinking, my tongue shot out and firmly lodged into the corner of my mouth as I searched my pockets for a Kleenex.  I blew my nose and as I put the tissue away I thought to myself that maybe I was not my father’s son after all.

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The Clearwater and Dave.

 

Four Days Shy of 67 Mother’s Days

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January 31, 1926 – May 7, 2014

Her children rise and call her blessed.

My mom passed away just four days shy of her 67th Mother’s Day.  She was 88 and she was a saint.  If you have read any of my stories about my dad, you will know that no truer words were ever spoken.

It might seem odd, but I like to read obituaries.  They are sobering and give one perspective on how tenuous life really is.  Rarely are they ever completely truthful or give the entire story about what kind of person the deceased really was.  In every obituary the deceased family member was loved by everyone, loved life, always had a ready smile and never got angry.  Invariably, the person will be missed by every single person who knew him or her.   It’s just what you do when you remember someone.  You accentuate the best and forget the rest.  It’s a delicate balance and absolutely to be expected.   However, there is no delicate balance with my mom.  This is the honest truth – she was a saint.

She lived the last years of her life in a community of retired people (the last eight years in a nursing home) and outlived most of them.  Few of her friends are left to remember her.  But, her kids remember.

I would like you to meet my mom.

Gertrude Lorraine Bentley was born in 1926.  I don’t know much about her life because she never really talked about it, and I never asked, but what I’ve pieced together is that she was born into a migrant farm family that moved west during the Depression.  They were a family of dusty, fruit-pickers out of The Grapes of Wrath.  Her home life wasn’t ideal: her father drank and her mother slept at a friend’s house because of it.

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Mom and Dad and my brother Dick

Mom was a teenager when she and Dad met.   They were polar opposites and  I can only assume that he swept her off her feet with his enormous personality.  He must have seemed like the brass ring in an otherwise mundane merry-go-round. By the time I heard the stories of my dad getting into knife fights and brawls at bars with his then pregnant wife (my mother) in the fray, I couldn’t imagine it.  This woman with graying hair, who loved nothing more than to sit and read James Herriot novels and drink coffee or play endless games of cribbage with her son, didn’t seem capable of wanting to smoke cigarettes, while sitting in a bar watching her husband fight.  All I can imagine is that he must have seemed like an amusement ride compared to the life she previously led.  She must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to my dad.

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Mom and me.

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Mom, with her mom, and my sibling before I was born

I met her when she was 38.  I had just been born and from everything I pieced together later in life, I was a huge accident.  But in her mind, I was not a mistake.  She told me one time that even though Dad was really, really mad about her being pregnant (why he would be mad when he had a part in the process is beyond me) her arms ached to hold me.  It truly is all any child can ask of a mother – to be loved so much that her arms ached if you weren’t in them.

I remember bits and pieces of my childhood.  I remember helping her make cookies.  I remember Swedish pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon juice squeezed out of a plastic lemon.  I remember one-eyed Egyptian eggs.  I remember sitting with her in a rocker.  I remember the squeaky sound of her cleaning our huge picture windows and walking up and down Madison Avenue with her lifting my arm up so I wouldn’t trip going over the curb.  I can only see dimly the moments of her caring for my needs, but I am left with a vivid and overwhelming sense, like a technicolor hand-crocheted afghan, of how much she liked me.

Most kids know that their parents love them.  It is an entirely different thing to know that your parents like you.  I know that my mom liked me.  This is especially telling because in my mind I wasn’t a particularly likeable kid.  What an amazing thing for me to come home from school knowing that even though I may have had a really, really bad day, there was someone at home who couldn’t wait to see me and actually liked being around me.  She was my refuge and there is no greater blessing than that for a kid.

There are life lessons to be learned from my mother if we are wise enough to listen.  She never read any books on how to raise children.  She was permissive in her parenting, she never physically disciplined me, she was a good cook, but still allowed me to eat all the things that weren’t good for me, and she was virtually incapable of helping me or my siblings get through those awkward years where you don’t know why your feet are suddenly huge or why funny bumps are breaking out all over your face.  But, the one thing she was capable of doing she did in spades – she loved us.  Her love seemed to erase all the things she wasn’t able to do otherwise and it had a profound impact on all of us.  Her children have risen up because of it and called her blessed.

I never heard a single complaint about having to take care of any of us, and, in all my years, I never heard her say a harsh thing about me or any of my siblings.  She just didn’t have it in her.  She built up her children and never tore them down. She worked tirelessly to make sure we were well fed and clothed and had what we needed.

Mom was happy being at home.  Dad wasn’t.  He always wanted to be doing something.  She wasn’t particularly fond of going places, but she went.  If we picnicked, she packed, cooked and cleaned up when we got home.  If we fished, she processed the fish.  If we clammed, she cleaned them all.  If we crabbed, she cooked them.  She held our coats when we got hot and our shopping bags if we didn’t want carry them. There were times she was so overloaded that she looked like a Sherpa going up Mount Everest.  She bandaged my cuts and washed my wounds. She watched over the treasures that I found on the beach so no one would take them.  I took great advantage of her kindness, but that was Mom.  She gave and gave, but never required anything in return.  She was a saint.

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Yes, that’s a football. Yes, I did share my sister’s room for years.

She spent her entire life putting her children first.  Her arms ached to hold me as a baby, but her arms ached to hold all her kids.  All of her children have the same sense of kindness and affection towards her that was gained when she rocked us to sleep as children or read to us when she put us to bed.  She wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest (though she was both smart and pretty), but she loved us unconditionally.  This love kept me from doing some really stupid things as I grew up.  In my world, the worst thing I could do was hurt my mom and the first thought that came into my head when I was tempted to do something stupid was, how will this make mom feel?  I feared disobeying my dad.  I felt self-loathing when I did something to hurt my mom.

She only raised her hand against me one time.  I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but to have done something bad enough to bring her to violence against one of her children, it must have been something really, really irritating.  She swatted me on my fully clothed back end as I ran by her and I cried.  It did not hurt even a single bit, but knowing that I had done something to her that made her get angry at me was enough to break me down.  In my world it was a turning point and it never happened again.

Some might say that she was living vicariously through her children and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was (living with Earl made us all want to live a different life somehow), but mostly she wanted to see her children happy.  She didn’t have much power because of my dad, but what power she did have – the power to love us – she used to great advantage in our lives.

There are turning points in a family’s history that mark a drastic change in that family.  Mom was that turning point in our family. In fact, because of her, our family tree grew an entirely new branch.   Most of my dad’s relatives were cut from a different mold and, how do I say this delicately, a bit rougher around the edges.  Had we been left alone with Dad, or Dad and the kind of woman that notoriously marry men like my dad, I know things probably would have turned out markedly different in all of our lives – think orange jumpsuits and not being able to vote.  Mom saved us in so many ways.

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Allison helping grandma

When I got married and had kids of my own I realized exactly how difficult it is to be kind and patient all the time (let me say impossible) and I always marveled at how easy my mother made it seem.  All my kids got to know their Grandma Dudie, but my boys got to know her the best.  She would sit for hours with them playing checkers or cards or listening to them tell stories or reading them books.   I could only take a few minutes of any of this, but she was content to just sit and be with them.  My girls didn’t get as many quality years with her before Alzheimer’s took her mind, but she loved them like she loved me even in her affliction.  I know her arms ached for them, too.

As we all got older, the times together as a family became less frequent, but when we were together Mom was still the buffer.  Dad would be unreasonable and demanding and she would deal with him and then come back to the game we were playing at the dining room table.  I can still see her in my mind laughing uncontrollably over some silly inside joke.  It was a constant goal to get mom going and when she did, we all laughed until we couldn’t breathe.  These were the best of times and the worst of times.

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Wesley getting some alone time with his Grandma Dudie

Even as Alzheimer’s took her mind from her, she was still sweet and she was still the buffer that kept us from the full force of Dad.  She wasn’t quite as sweet to him as she used to be and was finally able to stand up for herself (we were all secretly a bit happy about this) as the filters dropped from her mind.  But to her kids, she was still the same.  Even though she forgot things and asked the same questions over and over, her love for us still shone in her eyes and to the very end she was still one of the nicest people any of us had ever known.

Goodbye was always hard on Mom

Goodbye was always hard on Mom (and Christian always got teary)

Dad died three years ago and there was a huge sigh of relief from his kids.  I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but he was a trial and when Mom went to the nursing home eight years ago, the buffer was gone and we got the unfiltered, crack cocaine version of Dad.  Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing. It was made even more terrible for us because it took the parent that we all wanted to have around longer and sidestepped the one that made life difficult. The one who wanted nothing more than to sit and enjoy her children was taken away far too early.

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Still beautiful

It’s sad, but there it is.  Now she has passed.  As we drove to be with her during her last moments I wondered what one was supposed to do when sitting with a dying parent.  I now have a role model to emulate. My sister Betty was by her side and did the most beautiful thing.  She sat next to her, held her hand and talked about what a great mother she was and spoke the names of her kids and grandkids as she breathed her last.  What was most important to my mom in life was whispered in her ear at her death.  I am thankful that she was my mom and sad that her life is over, but at the same time I am happy and relieved for her to finally be free.  Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are her legacy.  Well done, Mom.

 

The Deep Things of Dog

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Sweet, stinky cheese, dog.

In our 25 years of marriage, my wife and I have brought into our home a total of three dogs, two cats, five bunnies, one bird, twelve chickens, hundreds of insects, dozens of fish, and none of them could ever be considered even remotely attached to my wife (except for the praying mantis that landed on her pregnant belly and wouldn’t let go).  She has this anti-animal thing going on that manifests itself in a mutual animosity.  She barely tolerates our pets and they avoid her like she’s a corpse.

Her aversion has a specific, genetic component, just like blonde hair and blue eyes.  She was born into it.  I know this because I have it on good authority that her mother used to “accidentally” let the new dog out of the house without telling anyone, in hopes that it would R-U-N-N-O-F-T.  D.C. has never just let an animal free to wander the barren land, but she has made it very clear when her tolerance for a specific animal has run its course.

I, on the other hand, grew up with parents that loved dogs and I knew that my own family would one day have a dog.  But, before you start thinking that my kids and I are shoe-ins for the SPCA caring members of the year award, I need to confess that only four of the animals ever stuck… and those just barely.  The countless others were either carted off to “the farm,” given away to unsuspecting friends, sold on Craigslist, let loose or left in the freezer to die (the insects, not the cats).

It turns out that the reason I loved animals growing up is because I never had to actually deal with the animals, other than show them the occasional attention.  My parents fed, housed, walked, washed, cleaned, doctored and scooped.  They did everything nasty and I got all the good parts.

Fast forward to me being a parent and the poo was on the other foot, so to speak. I had to do it all.  Since D.C. hated animals and made it perfectly clear that she would have nothing to do with any animal that I brought into the house, the nastiness was left up to me to take care of.  Anyone who knows me knows that I hate nastiness.

I blame the kids.  It always started with an oath,  a promise made in all sincerity.  “We solemnly swear to feed and clean up after the X” (insert animal type here).   All I can say is that I must have had Alzheimer’s from a very early age because my short term memory is only filled with good animal memories and kept promises and I am, somehow, always surprised at how quickly the shine wears off of a new pet.  At the end of two months I usually had to step in with my Hazmat suit and pressure washer just to free the animal from its tightly packed excrement apartment.  This usually led to the animal living out the rest of its life on the “farm.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are currently 108 official reasons why X animal didn’t get proper care, but that number is added to daily.  Mostly, I stand in awe at the length to which my kids would go in order to not have to care for an animal.  It would have been easier and quicker just to feed the stupid pet.  I’m also an enabler which doesn’t help.   There are self help groups I should be attending.

Since it turned out that we weren’t really pet people, the continuous circulation of animals through the house always seemed to baffle Dream Crusher.  In fact, the origination of my wife’s nickname came about because of her innate ability to cut off at the pass any request to bring an animal into the home.  The first word out of her mouth when the kids got that look in their eyes and asked for, say, a rat or a snake, was always “no.” The first word out of my mouth was always “sure.”  The NEXT words out of my wife’s mouth can’t be printed here.

I’m not saying that she wasn’t always right.  She was spot on about why we shouldn’t have had that particular type of animal in the house, or about the kids not taking care of X animal, and that I would eventually end up doing the dirty work myself.  She was always right.  It’s those darn puppy eyes that get me every time (the kids’ I mean).  I just have a really hard time saying no.

I may have never said no, but I wasn’t the kind of husband that would add another member to his household without first discussing it with his better half.   D.C. and I always discussed her minuses and my pluses before I brought our “next trip to the farm” home.  I credit her levelheadedness with keeping a good many bad ideas out of the house – like the de-scented skunk.

“Honey, the kids really want a dog.”  I brought this up at breakfast.

“No.”  She said this without looking up from her book.

“I think it would be good for them.  It would teach some responsibility. Besides, I had a dog growing up.”

“No.”

“Honey, think how fun it would be.  Think how much they would love a dog.”

“You’re crazy.  Why would we need another pet?”  She had set her book down by this point and was staring me directly in the eyes.  “We have four kids, for goodness sake!”

“It would be great.”

“No way.  Not a chance.”

“Please.”

“We already tried a dog.”

“But, that was a stupid dog.  This would be a better dog.”

(Our first dog Abby had to go for a long visit to the farm.  In hindsight the kids were way too young for an aggressive, but really cute lab/hyena cross that left me bleeding on so many occasions that I seriously got lightheaded from blood loss. When the boys and I and D.C. drove off, leaving Abby at the friends who had agreed to take her, the kids never noticed that she was missing until a week later.  It hadn’t really occured to them that they no longer had to hold their toys and food above their heads and sprint from room to room or stand on a chair when the dog was around, but Kelly and I noticed a change right away.  It was like we had been miraculously cured of leprosy and life seemed fluffy and smooth once again.)

“No way.  No more dogs.”

“Okay. Fine.” I sulked and continued eating my Cornflakes.

The next day I brought home Annie.

(48 of 148)

Annie, whom one of the kids wanted to name Darth Vader,  grew up to be a 90 pound Yellow Lab, but when I picked her up from the breeder she was the cutest, fluffiest, ball of yellow excitement on the planet.  She was perfect, all paws and pudge, with a ridge of hair that rain down her nose like a long cowlick.  I wanted to name her “Ridgy.”  NB: The one concession was that D.C. got to name the dog.  Annie was her choice.

When I got home, the boys, who were always up for an experiment, immediately cornered Clark, our tabby, and introduced him to Annie.  The result was spectacular in the minds of the kids and less than stellar for the animals.  The cat was incensed. The dog was wounded.  It was the beginning of a great, long lasting friendship.

Copy of annie louis sitting

D.C. was less than happy with me and never really warmed up to Annie.  At first, when she had that new puppy smell (like freshly washed leather shoes),  I would put her in D.C.’s lap and she tolerated her just fine, but when she started to get into the teenage years (Annie, not D.C.) and lost the cuteness and started secreting that stinky, oily liquid that coats the fur of all Labs, any hint of emotional attachment flamed into resentment almost overnight.

She really was stinky.  We could have attached an oil rig to that dog and lived off  the oil she produced.  It got so bad that the spot on the linoleum near the backdoor where she slept turned from a bright white to a burnt orange and no amount of scrubbing would remove the stain.

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But it’s not like we could bathe her.  She was 90 pounds and had rancid fur that, like Gore-Tex, had been specifically engineered to repel water.  Not bathing was fine with Annie because she hated water.  It seemed ridiculous to me that an animal so well suited to the water hated getting wet.  It was a bad combination of weight, stink and aversion.  In the end we tied her up in the backyard and hosed off the big chunks and called it good.

As Annie got older it became apparent that we might have bitten off more than we were willing to swallow.  Not only did this 90 pound sweet beast of a dog emanate an awful stench that kept us from snuggling with her, her own fur didn’t want to be attached to her either.  The sheer amount of rancid hair she sloughed off on a weekly basis was overwhelming.  It got so bad that the floor in our basement looked like it had a layer of fog on it, only it wasn’t fog, it was fur.  As you walked through the “fog” it would swirl and tumble around you like weeds tumbling along the desert.

Dogs need to come with warning labels because within the first year of her life we discovered that she had magical intestines, but not magical in a good way.  Annie was a veritable poop factory.  She could eat and excrete like no dog I have ever met.  If we fed her a cup of dog food, three cups of NOT dog food would come shooting out the other end.  She averaged a three to one ratio her entire life.

No matter what she ate it came out three times as big at the other end and what she ate was the stuff of legend.  Her appetite knew no limit.  It was like the voice in her head never spoke up and said, “Okay.  Step away from the bowl.  You are at capacity.”  She red-lined her intestinal system way too often.

It was her propensity to eat that caused D.C. to reach out and touch Annie, on purpose, for the first and only time and did she ever touch her.  It was Annie’s first Thanksgiving and, wanting to participate in the festivities, she quietly pulled the turkey carcass out of the garbage and proceeded to drag it and fling it around the kitchen and dining room like it was a play toy.

There were turkey parts stuck to the ceiling, the wall, and we even found pieces years later when we moved the piano.  It was at that very moment when D.C. touched Annie.  There was so much touching going on at that point that I had to rescue the petrified animal by letting her escape out the back door.  Annie was so afraid of Turkey after that incident that we had to switch her from turkey to lamb flavored dog food to keep her from losing weight.

Her eating had nearly killed her a number of times, so I wasn’t too surprised to find her at the back door a few years later dreadfully ill.  I was sure that she had eaten poison and realized that her gluttony might have finally done her in.   I felt awful for her and when I opened the back door her head hung low and she barely made it to her bed before she flopped down, with a sigh, and lay deathly still.  Her stomach was distended and tight like she was in the throws of labor and drool was forming at her lips.  Rat poison was what I suspected.  I put a bowl of water next to her and left her for the night, fully expecting to have to bury her the next day.

I was awakened by Christian in the early hours of the morning.

“Um, Dad, Annie threw up.”

I was still groggy.   “Can you deal with it son?”

“Um, I think you should come see this.  I don’t think I can do it.”  I was fully awake now and quickly pulled on my pants and made my way downstairs expecting the worst.  What met me wasn’t a dead dog; it was the largest vomit pile I have ever encountered.  It was as big around as a garbage can lid and a full three inches thick.  It was like an enormous oatmeal raisin cookie.  I looked over at Annie.  She thumped her tail cheerfully against the wall obviously proud of the gift she had deposited onto our new carpet.

It is completely accurate to say that the pile in front of me was like an oatmeal raisin cookie because it was nothing but a huge pile of bile and horse feed.  The stupid animal had gotten into the molasses and oats that we fed the horses and had gorged herself to the edge of the abyss.  I had to use the snow shovel to scrape the epic vomit pile off the carpet.

I think this is the only picture of her wet.  I think I threw her in.

I think this is the only picture of her wet. I had to throw her in.

The Christmas Tree From the Bad Place Part Fin

img086I come by my issues legitimately.

The first Christmas DC and I enjoyed together was nothing but sweetness… except for the Christmas tree  (this yuletide thorn has festered just under the skin from the first Christmas to the last).  God had just brought us through a very difficult health issue and we had our new son, Wesley, to enjoy.  I was overwhelmed by the Lord’s kindness and was feeling well enough to get our tree.  I bought a very respectable fir of some kind, brought it home and dragged it through the doorway.  That’s when our tree issues began.

“Which corner do you want to put it in?” I innocently asked.

“I don’t want it in the corner, I want it in front of the window,” she responded. I laughed a superior little snort of a laugh.

“We can’t put it in front of the window.  It HAS to go in a corner.”  I pointed to the corner that I thought would work well.   “That corner is perfect.”  I started dragging it to the spot.

“It has to go in the corner,”  I grunted as I leaned it against the wall.  I turned to her.  It was a teachable moment.  “If you don’t put it in the corner you won’t have anywhere to tie the strings.”

“Umm.  What strings?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes.  “The strings that you have to tie around the trunk to keep it upright.  Without strings it will fall over.”

She picked up the newly purchased tree stand and pointed at it with just a hint of annoyance.  “Let me introduce you to the tree stand…  John, this is the tree stand.   Tree stand, this is my stupid husband.  They call it a STAND for a reason!”  She ran her hand underneath the words “tree stand” like Carol Merill on Let’s Make a Deal.

I was so completely exasperated with “this woman that Thou hast given me”  (a woman who obviously knew nothing of trees or stands) that I wrenched the stand from her hands, tore it open, slammed it on to the bottom of the tree and set the entire thing upright.

“Make yourself useful and hold the tree for a second.”  It was not the kindest way to speak to the mother of my child.  I crawled underneath the tree while she held it.  I tightened the screws with a smug superiority like I was just about to prove to her and to the entire world that tree stands are a farce.

“Okay, now let go and watch what happens,” I said with as much practiced patience as I could muster.  I braced myself to be crushed by the weight of the tree, but nothing happened.

“I said to let go.”  She knelt down from across the room so she could see me under the tree and waved at me.

I reached up surreptitiously and pushed on the trunk.  It swayed a little, then firmly twanged back into place.   I shook it like I was killing a chicken.   I was dumfounded.  It didn’t fall over.  The world as I had known it my entire life shifted on its axis.  Everyone knows that you have to secure your Christmas tree to the wall.

In case you were wondering, I still look exactly like this only flabbier.

Why I was decorating the tree in my underwear is still a mystery to me.  Also, in case you were wondering, I still look exactly like this only flabbier.

Growing up our trees were never plastic, but they were always fake.  Dad loved big, bulky, bulbous trees that looked like they were frozen in time, mid-explosion by high speed photography and that kind of tree wasn’t to be had in our forest – or anywhere on the planet – so Earl improvised.

Using an electric drill and a generous pocketful of screws and twine, Dad would combine the best parts of two or three trees into one.  He would chainsaw one side of the donor tree, press it against the trunk of the regular tree and then bind them together with the twine and a few carefully placed screws.  If there were any bare spots left, holes would be drilled and extra branches would be “grafted” in and then tied to the upper branch with green yarn to keep it from sagging like old skin.

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After everything was in place and the trunk had been braced with 2x4s, Dad would pound two 16 penny nails into the wall, bend them over a bit and then lash the tree to them.  It always felt a bit dangerous to me, like the tree would somehow break its bonds and hunt me while I was sleeping, chanting, “I am not an animal, I am a human being!”

To say that Earl was not a perfectionist is a bit of an understatement.  He was the original Mr. 90 percent and “good enough” was his go-to phrase.  He used to tell the story of cutting stringers for the stairs he was building in our new house.  Every night he would try and fail and then bring the scraps out into the yard and burn them so no one could see his mistakes.  He was not a perfectionist, but he was way too proud to let people see his imperfection.  I think that’s the reason we covered every inch of our tree with garland and tinsel so no one could tell what he had done.

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But the tinsel and garland was no ordinary Mylar affair.  When I was young, tinsel and garland were made from glorious strands of pure molten lead.  Feathery strands of glittery lead that had the heft of a fishing weight and the aerodynamics of a jelly fish.  I was always encouraged to lay them on a few strands at a time, but could never manage it.  The real fun was to wad it up in a ball, throw it as high as you could to bounce it off the ceiling and watch it separate like a bottle rocket and fall in heavy clumps all over the branches.  They were supposed to look like icicles, but they looked more like moldy birds’ nests.  The gray lead marks were still on the ceiling when we moved.

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The lights on our tree were huge and bright and had reflectors behind them that cast a beam of light that would blind you if you stared at them too long.  You had to look at our tree out of the corner of your eye, like you would a solar eclipse, so you wouldn’t burn your retina.  Dad had to use the gas generator to power it because the rest of the lights in the house would dim every time the tree was plugged in and he was afraid it would start a fire.

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And, it was glorious.  It was like Las Vegas had come to visit for a few weeks.  Sure, the lead caused profound hearing loss and I had to compensate for the blindness in my left eye, but our tree was big and hideous and unlike any tree in the neighborhood.  It fit our family perfectly.

The Christmas Tree From the Bad Place Part 2

There was no snow this year in Bethlehem.

There was no snow this year in Bethlehem.

“Do not wrestle with the Baby Jesus!”

I’m not exactly sure when I realized that my kids had completely missed the meaning of Christmas, but I had an inkling that it had happened as I watched all four of them wrestling on the floor.  It was like the quarterback had dropped the ball – only it wasn’t a ball – it was the baby Jesus they were scrumming over.  It was a melee of screaming, crying, writhing humanity as they battled for the glory to be the one to put the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the baby with the upturned arms onto the waiting bed of ceramic hay.

I did what all good parents do: I took the baby away from them and gave it to the one who cried the loudest.  Molly got to do it.  It wasn’t that she deserved it, quite the opposite, but if she hadn’t been chosen she would have pitched a royal tsunami and to be perfectly honest, I was still a bit afraid of her at that time.  To keep the festive dog-pile from happening again, I wrote her name on the creche box and then explained to “all the dear children in thy tender care” that every year from now on we would each take turns putting the Savior of the World onto the manger.

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The decking of the halls always begins with the placing of the creche.  A pad of cotton is placed upon the piano top because everyone knows that it was snowy when Jesus was born.  I then put together the lean-to that Mary sits under and place it on the cotton pad.  Each child in turn then gets to choose and place each figure on the “snow.”  It goes round and round until the “Child of the Year” gets to place baby Jesus on the “hay.”

It used to be a sweet and touching tradition, but in recent years it has turned somewhat preposterous.   It seems that the ox and the ass are prone to wander into the manger where they try to eat the scarf off Mary’s head and the three wise men huddle in the corner, either throwing dice or trying to decide on which play to run next.  Joseph, stuck on the outside of the shelter and far away from his wife and son, looks disinterestedly at the camel like he wonders why it only has one hump.  Mary alone sits calmly amidst all the chaos and along with the cow, serenely looks at her baby as he lays on the manger with no blanket covering him even though the ground is covered in snow.

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Dream Crusher loves Christmas like no other holiday and wades into the fray with her ruler, slapping hands away from the scene with the practiced rhythm of one who would have been a good nun.  She quickly restores order and peace is to be had once again in Bethlehem.

There is Christmas music and it’s not tedious, but rather nice and soothing for the first few minutes.  The boxes are brought up from the storage room and D.C. takes out all the things she wants displayed this year and the kids get their ornaments out and ready to place on the tree.  Every year we give each of the kids an ornament and at this point in our lives we are awash in festive tree adornments.

When the kids were little they were always excited to decorate the tree, each placing their ornaments as high as they could reach.  When they were finished, the tree looked very bottom heavy, but it was beautiful and in their eyes it sparkled magically.  The next morning the kids would come downstairs to look at the tree and see once again where they had placed each ornament, but disappointment would quickly set in because in the middle of the night the Ornament Fairy had come and moved them uniformly around the entire tree.

“Mother! Why did you move our ornaments?!” they would whine in unison.

“Well, you didn’t put them in the right spots.  The Ornament Angel made everything perfect.  Doesn’t it look better?”

The tree from the bad place looked unlit even with every single strand of lights we owned draped loosely around it.  It was like a black hole from which light could not escape.  I am convinced that the National Weather Service noticed a distinct change in the ebb and flow of the tides because of the gravitational pull from our tree.   It took me over an hour to sling the lights around and over its carcass, but still I was forced to head to the store for more lights and even then it cast but a faint glow in the gloom of night.

This giant sequoia also ate ornaments for lunch.  There was such a gaping maw of greenery that once you put an ornament on a branch there was a chance that you would never see it again.  The Ornament Fairy didn’t stand a chance.  There were just too many bare spots and not enough ornaments to move them to.  D.C. was so distraught that she almost allowed me to put tinsel on the thing, which we all know is the cardinal sin of tree trimming.

When it was finally done everyone stood back and took a good hard look at it, but aside from the obvious bare and dark spots there was something terribly wrong.  The darn thing looked crooked.  I climbed underneath and undid the screws while the kids pushed and pulled on it, but no matter what we did it still listed to one side, like a ship taking on water.  There was nothing to do about it, but enjoy it as it was.  Not only was the tree big, it also rode the short yellow bus.

Everything was fine until we were about a week away from Christmas.  We were coping and had adjusted our routine to living with a tree.  We took turns using the one chair in the living room you could get to without crawling under the branches.  We watered it on the hour every hour for 18 hours a day because Dream Crusher demanded that it be hydrated.  She did not want this tree to dry out and spontaneously combust and blow the doors off of the house.  I think the thing actually put down tap roots and grew a few inches when it lived with us.

Moses prophesied ten plagues that would descend upon Egypt.  We experienced three of the ten, four if you include spiders.  There was so much entomological activity taking place within our tree that we were afraid the EPA would find out and declare our tree a wetland and never let us remove it.  The cobwebs hung from the chimney with care and spiders skittered around the ceiling like something out of a Steven King novel.

The gnats were so thick that a black plume arose from the tree if you brushed against it.  I got so used to swallowing the occasional gnat that I actually gained an appreciation for their taste.  The locusts didn’t swarm, but their smaller cousin, the cricket, made its presence known every hour of every day.  It got so bad that we almost killed an unblemished lamb and smeared its blood on our doorpost just to protect our firstborn.

On the second day of treemas my true love gave to me: a phone call telling me that the tree had fallen over.  I was at work, but she just wanted to let me know that water was everywhere and that she hoped the presents weren’t ruined.  There was a thick hint of sarcasm as she told me she “just wanted to let me know.”

I raced home and was able to get the tree upright and lashed to one of the ceiling beams.  That tree was going nowhere.  We filled the stand with water, but it was so dry that tree drank faster than we could keep up.  I must have put two gallons in it before I realized that the stand had cracked when the tree fell over and all of the water had spilled all over the presents again.

I may have said a bad word.

I won’t go into the gory details, but I bought a new stand, unlashed the tree and with the help of my son, a pair of 2x4s and some back strength, we lifted the tree high enough to allow Allison to crawl under and arm wrestle a new, industrial-sized stand to the bottom of it.  By this point I hated this tree more than D.C.  It was possessed.

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Christmas finally arrived.  We all crowded around the outside walls and the girls passed out the presents. As usual, there were way too many and the kids each piled them like a fortress.  We always open our presents one at a time (D.C. says it’s to make the day last) and as we went from child to child opening presents one thing became apparent.  The wrapping paper was sticking to everything.   It was like static electricity on a balloon only it wasn’t static – it was pitch. Everything underneath the radius of the branches was covered in it. The judicious watering had cause the thing to “bleed” like a stuck pig.  There were little ant hills of pitch, built drip by drip, rising from the floor like mini stalagmites.

I was done.  Christmas was dead to me and while the kids opened their presents in the dining room, I took what ornaments I could find off the tree and chainsawed the thing into tiny pieces and dragged them to the backyard.

Pitch burns really, really well.

This year’s tree.

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