1. Wild Rice
(This post was written as part of a series. Start here and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)
Johnny took the small canoe that was leaning against the barn and placed it on the ground. He had his choice of three different canoes, but he liked the smallest one. It was faster and more maneuverable than the others, which were built especially for carrying cargo such as the wild rice that Johnny and his brothers used to harvest.
Johnny wouldn’t be harvesting much wild rice anymore. Gone were the days when he and his older brothers Chet and Morrie and their friend Cliff would spend weeks at a time canoeing the lakes and rivers of Northern Minnesota, searching for that wild grain prized for its dark color and nut-like flavor.
His brother Chet even had an article about their wild-rice adventures published in a major newspaper.
But there just wasn’t much money in it now that the government was controlling the harvest, and requiring people to get wild rice harvesting permits.
Johnny thought about selling the larger canoes. Maybe some tourist from the Twin Cities would buy them once summer arrived. His dog Skippy jumped into the canoe as Johnny was dragging it to the edge of the lake. Just as he was about to launch, his mother called out.
“Johnny, here’s a list of some things I’d like you to get at the store in town. Just have them charge it to my account,” she said, bringing him a scrap of paper.
“Sure Mom, no problem. I should be back before dark.”
Johnny hoped he wouldn’t forget to do that errand for his mother. He had a lot on his mind that day. He looked at his mother as she walked away and thought about how Alfred, her husband and Johnny’s dad, didn’t have much longer to live. Alfred had purchased their small farm after retiring from his job as a street-car operator in Duluth. However, a year after retirement, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and wasn’t expected to live much longer. Johnny moved to the farm after purchasing it from his parents. He was a bit surprised that the Farmers Home Administration approved the loan since he didn’t know much about farming. He’d just have to make a go of it.
His Dad’s upcoming death troubled Johnny. He’d seen death close-up on the battle ship U.S.S. New Mexico. Men right in front of him were killed when Japanese gunfire hit their ship. One time he even saw a man’s head blown off. That man ran around the deck like the chickens Johnny used to butcher at home. It was bad enough to watch chickens run around the barn yard with their heads chopped off, but to see a fellow human being running around without a head was nearly too much to handle. Johnny tried hard to keep that image out of his mind.
But his dad’s approaching death was different. Every day he would fade away a little more, ounce by ounce; he looked to weigh only about eighty pounds now. Johnny always wondered, whenever he was gone from the farm, if he’d come back to find his father dead. Please don’t let it happen today, he prayed as he pulled the canoe to the shoreline. (To be continued.)
Wild rice on Minnesota lake by Eli Sangor.
USS New Mexico by Greg Bishop