This past week, a story in our local business journal caught my eye. It focused on our area’s aging fishing fleet and the launch of a much-needed new commercial fishing vessel, the first of its type in North America. The story is interesting and thought-provoking in many respects, but it also had the unintended consequence of taking me back in time. Fortunately, I enjoy time travel, as you may recall.
This article took me back to when I was seven. My father went commercial fishing in Alaska that year, in Bristol Bay. He had fished commercially before, but not since having a family. A good friend of his, a fellow Norwegian, owned or leased a commercial fishing vessel that summer. He made my dad an offer that was difficult to refuse. It was an opportunity to make very good money over a few months, then return to life as usual with some savings.
My younger sister and I were very excited by this at first, fascinated by the preparations. At some point though, we began to worry, perhaps channeling our mom’s unspoken thoughts. I couldn’t imagine not seeing, or at least talking to, my dad every day. I could not recall a time that he had ever been away. It was only many years later that I realized some of the issues that my mom may have been facing then.
It was hard for me to fathom (yeah, that’s a pun) that he’d be away for months and most likely wouldn’t even be able to phone us. This was before technology made text messages, and the many other communication tools, available. At that time, landlines were just referred to as phones. Technology was pretty basic then; you might even say, archaic.
Our family had a Party Line; a strange phenomenon that plagued our phone conversations. Imagine having a stranger suddenly interrupt your most important and private conversations, or berate you whenever you picked up the phone to make a call. As a seven year old, I found it pretty intimidating; later as a teenager, it was absolutely intolerable…but, yeah, I digress.
I don’t remember all of the preparations for my dad’s departure, but what remains vivid for me is that he packed his gear into several duffel bags, knotted at the top. I was amazed. He managed to make so much stuff fit inside. I spied tightly-rolled socks, shirts and pants, and all sorts of other provisions. There was no wasted space what-so-ever. He set the packed duffel bags upright, ready to go, in our garage.
Fortunately, I developed a plan as his dreaded departure neared. I had discovered an extra unused duffel bag!
Shortly before he was to leave with his gear, I positioned that duffel bag near the others, climbed inside, pulled the drawstring closed, and waited. And, waited. And, waited. It seemed like forever. Fortunately, I was quite skilled at waiting and hiding (from my sister and others, because I practiced whenever I was mad, which wasn’t infrequent).
I eventually heard footsteps and the voices of my family approach. I excitedly held my breath and braced for the duffel bags to be carried out to the car. I was ready to accompany my dad on his fishing trip adventure to the Bering Sea.
For some reason, that didn’t happen. Something went terribly, horribly wrong with my plan. To this day, I’m not sure what gave me away. Perhaps he knew how many bags he had packed? Perhaps the warm, loosely-packed, rather lightweight duffel bag that didn’t have an exterior knot, looked or felt odd as compared to the others that were stuffed so full?
Where’s Karen? Perhaps it was my absence as my mom and younger sister said goodbye upstairs, while I was nowhere to be seen? Or, I sometimes wonder if my little sis ratted me out. I don’t recall telling her of my plan, but, she has always been perceptive and practical beyond her years.
Who knows? But for my part, I felt brave and stoic and I was ready to go commercial fishing! I did not move or make a sound when my dad picked up my duffel bag, held it aloft for a very long time, and then set it down again gently and opened it up.
I don’t actually remember much about what followed next or the very long, weird summer without my dad. I’m sure that my mom, sis and I made the most of it. I only remember that we were treading water as a family.
My dad returned home safely from that fishing trip, with smoked salmon and a few other souvenirs from Alaska for us, but not so many stories.
Fortunately, I had no idea of the actual dangers that my father might have faced on potentially very rough seas. He never spoke of them to me. At age seven, as someone who had never actually been fishing at all, I envisioned guys on a boat with fishing poles on calm waters, catching and holding up shiny, silvery fish (no hooks or blood in sight). I envisioned my dad having a good time with his buddy. I am so grateful to have had a true childhood, and that naïve image. My only concern then was that I would miss my dad. It was a good thing that I didn’t envision 30+-foot waves, turbulent seas and icy winds, or fishermen being severely injured or swept off boats.
In these years since, I have had developed a deep affinity for those who risk their lives to catch our seafood. I take note whenever I see or hear a story about commercial fishing. Therefore, I was happy and excited to learn about the Moon Pool and all of these other technological advancements in this new commercial fishing vessel. These will have benefits for all of us – especially for those who are seven years old this year.
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