As I approached the end of the school year at Morton I remember looking forward to the trips the family would take to visit our relatives in Maine. Of the four uncles living there I most enjoyed the company of Uncle Fred and Uncle Clair because they loved to play card games and fish.
On one occasion I remember sitting between the two of them in Uncle Fred’s long, dark green, wooden canoe casting for pickerel on Silver Lake. It was a still morning filled with the sounds of the surrounding forest’s year around residents — a beaver slapping his tail on the shoreline in an futile attempt to scare us away, chattering birds, the occasional fish breaking the surface of otherwise still water, and a barking dog or two.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I heard the distinctive call of some sort of bird obscured by a line of trees adjacent to the shore at the end of an inlet perhaps 30 yards away. “What was that,” I asked.
“That’s the call of the female Woo Woo Bird,” my Uncle Clair responded authoritatively.
“Woo Woo Bird?” I asked looking up into the trees, squinting to get a glimpse of it.
“Yup,” my Uncle Fred chimed in. “She makes that call every time she lays a square egg.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes,” Uncle Clair said. “They’re nearly extinct, you know,” no doubt pausing for effect. “Do you know what the word extinct means?”
“No,” I answered.
Uncle Clair and Uncle Fred then went on to explain how over time one species after another has disappeared from the face of the earth.
Nothing more was said about the Woo Woo Bird that day but the subject did come up again when my fourth grade teacher asked me to introduce myself and to tell the class about something I learned that summer.
* * *
On another occasion when I reeled in a rather large pickerel I managed to get a fish hook embedded through the index finger of my right hand. As I was being “rushed” to the doctor’s office, thoughts of impending doom ran through my head because the only vision I had was some faceless individual pulling the hook back through my finger in the opposite direction it had gone in.
I remember sitting in a chair with my hand in a metal bowl of warm blue water. When the doctor returned to the room and picked up my hand I closed my eyes and bit my lower lip bracing myself for the worst. As I winced I heard a strange click which led me to open my right eye. There the doctor stood, wire snippers in hand. My nightmare came to an end when I noticed the hook end of the lure sitting in the basin beneath my hand.
When I got home Uncle Fred informed me that he had measured the length of the pickerel I’d caught and told me that I had narrowly missed getting inducted into Bucksport’s Pickerel Hall of Fame. If only it had been an inch longer.
* * *
Being the youngest member of the extended family by at least three years, I remember being invited to participate in a snipe hunt in the backyard of Uncle Fred’s house. One by one my brother and cousins would declare they’d found one — making a bit of a ruckus with their paper bags — and return to the house through the back door leading to the kitchen. I can’t recall exactly how long I walked around in the dark before it finally dawned on me that I’d been punked.