Remembering fine partnersAn old “The Born Loser” cartoon I still have somewhere shows the little bald fellow in a small boat on a pristine lake. He expounds on the beauty of the place and talks up the experience while his grumpy wife sits silently in the boat, facing away. Finally he ventures, “What do you think of it?” She answers, “Sort of like being in jail with a chance of drowning.”
An old “The Born Loser” cartoon I still have somewhere shows the little bald fellow in a small boat on a pristine lake. He expounds on the beauty of the place and talks up the experience while his grumpy wife sits silently in the boat, facing away. Finally he ventures, “What do you think of it?” She answers, “Sort of like being in jail with a chance of drowning.”
When I read the punch line, I can hear my late mother Emma and her friend Velma Thielges laughing out loud in agreement. Mom and Velma agreed that their men folks were all crazy to make the long drive to Saskatchewan every June to fish. They hated the mosquitoes and the outdoor “biffies” and the water that got too rough sometimes.
But they still went along every year, decade after decade with Jake and Palmer, Velma’s husband, greased up against the sun and insects, wearing their outlandish straw hats and bundled up against the chill. Jake, with his inimitable sense of humor, called them “boat people.”
The Thielges’s and my parents got along uncommonly well for coming from different backgrounds — Palmer, a successful Republican businessman, and Jake a retired railroader and incorrigible Democrat. Still, I never once heard a bad word between them, nor did I ever hear my father utter a single negative statement about Palmer or Velma. It is difficult to imagine a more treasured friendship.
“They are nice people,” Jake would say. “… wonderful people.”
I still have to smile at the time Jake and I ran out of toilet paper on a Stone sheep hunt. In describing the ordeal to Palmer, he said, “It was just like Republican days.” Palmer just smiled and chuckled.
None of the four were any great shakes as anglers — neither am I for that matter — and you could count on several of them getting a line tangled in the propeller of the trolling motor on a given day. I’d tip the motor out of the water, lean over with a tightly-gripped pocket knife, and cut loose the line. Then we’d resume fishing, with no harm done. Their company made up for any minor distractions with the fishing.
There was a time Emma dropped a stringer of walleyes overboard and was distraught about that for days. She’d be snagged while thinking she had a fish on the line. When she did catch a fish, it became a big production. We’d net the fish for her, she would don her rubber gloves and get the fish unhooked, put it on a stringer, then go to work, removing the hooks from the netting of the landing net. It usually took 20 minutes or longer for her to get her line back into the water. One time my brother Jim sardonically said, “Mom, it helps to catch fish if you have your line in the water.”
I have an old picture in my slide collection of Jake, Emma, Palmer and Velma in their fishing garb, resting on the rocks in McKenzie Bay. Jake has on a bomber hat and high-topped boots, Emma wears insulated underwear and a scarf, Palmer has on his “NVA pith helmet,” as I used to call it, and Velma has on a raincoat with what looks like several layers of clothing beneath it.
They are all gone now, and I think of that while I pack for this Amisk Lake trip, and I’ll remember them every day I am on the water. As always, I will miss their good humor and conversation, their sturdiness and reliability. You can’t find such traits in just anyone.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974