My dad was a very stern individual.
Once in the great outdoors though he relaxed a bit but remained a strict man.
As I grew into my late teens, he had taught me the dos and don’ts of fishing, boating, and hunting in no uncertain terms.
He was always watchful and unforgiving when it came to preventing accidents out in the bush and on the water, and had a visceral intolerance for fools.
During a particular fishing trip, we loaded up the large wooden rowboat we used, an 18-foot Verchères with a 20 hp Evinrude engine, and set off into the vast Baskatong Reservoir, an immense body of water we’d fished for many years.
After some six or seven hours of trolling some of our favorite bays for walleyes with some success, we decided that it was time to head back to base camp as the sun was starting to go down, and we had some three or four miles to travel including a few log-laden areas common to the Baskatong due to years of logging.
So off we went, and all was going well as usual when suddenly our outboard hit a solidly anchored log just below the waterline.
The motor and driveshaft popped up and out of the water and slammed back down, which usually was no cause for panic, as it happened regularly in those waters.
Sadly, this particular log broke the cotter pin holding the propeller on this particular occasion, which disappeared into the depths.
Following a lengthy round of cursing, which involved many body parts and saints, my father decided that he’d go first rowing us back and that I would take over after a while.
These big wooden Verchères boats - handmade and a fisherman’s staple for some 150 years in Quebec and called “chaloupes” in French - were resilient but heavy, wide, and flat-bottomed, making them hellish to row.
Now it’s important to mention that when we hit the log we had stopped and dropped anchor for a while as we visually searched the water for the white propeller, to no avail as the water was too deep.
Settling in and grabbing the oars, with a slight windy chop against us, my dad began rowing.
After about fifteen minutes with his face quite red - he had the complexion of an Irishman - and his arms strained as sweat poured down his 59-year-old face, I noticed as I was facing forward that we weren’t making any noticeable progress.
At first, I thought it was due to the slight waves we were pointed into.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the most dreaded sight of them all, causing my soul to sink and initiating a massive anxiety attack.
The anchor rope was straining up against the motor behind me.
I had forgotten to hoist up the anchor when we set off after having stopped to look for the propeller.
Now my old man is facing me, his face now crimson and his breathing more and more labored.
At this point, regardless of the consequences, I had to tell him, because it didn’t immediately dawn on me to remain silent, take over the rowing and only discover it five minutes later having shared in the pointless effort.
So attempting to lighten the moment and possibly minimize the unavoidable and severe browbeating that was coming, I looked at him straight-faced and said “This should go much faster once we lift the anchor up” while I cringed internally as to what his reaction would be.
As the words “anchor up” hit his ears through the noise of the wind, the boat slapping on the waves and the wooden oars creaking, his eyes narrowed like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western gunfight and to my utter astonishment he burst out laughing, most likely because he was burned out by the physical strain he’d just been through.
Jumping on the anchor rope and hauling it up at record speed, I then spun around and magnanimously exclaimed, “You rest now dad, I’ll row us home.”
For years afterwards, it was a tale he’d revel in the retelling to anyone who’d listen.
Excerpt from my upcoming e-book "Recollections from my time on earth" - Snackable short stories.
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