Sunday, February 19, 2006
Dad at Table Rock, 1968
Early in the week I tried to write a piece about my Dad for what should have been his 79th birthday last Monday. I couldn't; someday perhaps...
My happiest memories of Dad involve the summer vacations we spent fishing. He was bass fishing before it became "hip". He and Mom honeymooned in Minnesota at Squaw Lake in 1951, the summer after they married. He bought a Sea King (Montgomery Ward, made by Evinrude) 5 horse motor for $75, they took it and rented a boat. From the early 50's every summer had a week spent at Bull Shoals. I was fishing off the dock with a cane pole before I can remember, while Dad fished alone or sometimes with a guide or the resort owner, sometimes the owner's wife would watch me and Mom would go along as well. The biggest bass I have ever seen Dad caught with my cane pole after he came in from a days fishing, right under the dock I was fishing on. She had been there all day, he had seen her before he left that morning, and if I had caught her she'd have probably had me...she was over 8 pounds! (I was 4 or 5 at the time.) He turned her loose as she was on a nest.
In '62 I got my first casting reel for a good grade card. That summer Dad rented a camper to go on his '62 Ford pickup and we went to Roaring River and tried trout fishing, then came back to a campground called Stormy Point on Table Rock, just outside the entrance for a new recreation park called Silver Dollar City. It was one block square, it was free, you parked in front of the 1881 hotel, and it cost a quarter to go through Marvel Cave. That fall or the next I was surprised to have it show up on "The Beverly Hillbillies" and know I'd been there!
In '64 he convinced Mom that I would be safe fishing with him in a boat if she let him trade his 12' "cartopper" Arkansas Traveler for a 14' and a trailer. He had already bought a bigger outboard, and bought one of the earliest "trolling" motors to go with the new boat.
In 1967 we started going to Table Rock every summer instead of Bull Shoals, Dad and I fishing early and late; during the day we would take my Mom and sister and go to Silver Dollar City, "Old Matt's Cabin", into Branson to ride the "Sammy Lane" excursion boat on Lake Taneycomo...Branson was just beginning to grow. Uncle Ike's Post Office (from the book "Shepard of the Hills") and his house were still open; his son (a character in Harold Bell Wright's novel) gave you the tour; my copy of the book is autographed by him. The only "show" there was the "Foggy River Boys" and I'm not sure they were there in the very beginning. Another treat was shopping at a discount store that had just opened there, it was Sam Walton's 3rd or 4th store...
Every summer we would spend one week of Dad's two weeks at Table Rock, then spend a part of the second week in Texas at his Mom's. We always made a day trip to Arlington to go to Six Flags "to give Grandma a day of peace" although the way Dad, Mom and Grandma got along I suspect it was more for Mom and Dad...lol!
After I left for the Navy, the vacations continued. Dad would fish alone or sometimes Mom would go with him if she was speaking to him that day; my sister took girlfriends along for the day trips. When my wife got out of the Navy and we moved back here, we started renting a double cabin and it was Dad and I fishing again. Back when my sister and I were in school, he always had to wait until school was out to go fishing; every one at the resort or the tackles shops would tell him "you just missed the spawn, the fishing was great". Year after year we heard this; now we could go and time things "for the peak"! We went for the last week of May in '80 if I remember right. We got there at noon on Sunday, the weather was wonderful, it was warm, the water was great and the fishing was good. As we figured out the patterns we thought Monday was going to be great, this was going to be the best trip ever!
We got up Monday morning and it was 34 degrees, and it stayed cold and drizzled for the next 4 days. We still went fishing, and at times had ice growing off the rod eyelets...and never caught a fish!
This picture isn't great; it was shot by me from the bow of the boat as we were heading out from the resort dock with the rangefinder Argus Dad gave me when he bought his first SLR. I was trying to get him and the dock, and not used to the rangefinder parralax. Dad was evidently swallowing some of his ever present coffee as I tripped the shutter...not a good pic but a lot of memories.
I still have the old '64 Lone Star 14 footer we were fishing in. When he moved on to plusher and bigger bass boats, I kept it and the two old outboards and fished them for a number of years. The last time he and I fished in it together was Father's Day of 1982, about 6 months before he started getting sick. We went to a power plant lake that was about an hour from home, not heavily fished at the time and we fished it every chance we got in between my work weekends and our photographing weddings. His knees and back didn't like the bench seats anymore, but I talked him into it for old times sake.
We went out in blue skies, worked our way down the lake plugging, and ended up way at the north end of the lake, 15 or 20 minutes from the ramp running the old Sea King 12 horse outboard he had bought in 1954. It started to cloud, and finally we heard thunder as we wrapped things up and started to head back down the creek to the main lake. It started to rain, then the skies opened and it poured. As we turned onto the main lake it was in whitecaps, running between 2 and 3 feet, and the boat was starting to fill with enough water that for the first time I ever remember I pulled the transom plug to let the water vacuum itself out as we made our way down the lake.
That power plant lake seems to "draw" lightning for some reason, and I tried very hard to stay in the middle of it as the lightning was "walking" down both sides of the lake. The swells were big enough I had to go past the ramp to the dam and find slack water in the "lee" of the dam to turn the boat towards the ramp rather than risk swamping the boat by turning her in the swells. With both of us completely soaked, as I backed off the throttle to swing towards the ramp, I grinned at him and yelled "Happy Father's Day!"
He just looked at me and shook his head.
Neither of us knew then there would only be one more Father's Day, and that it wouldn't be nearly as Happy!