Time to settle down
(This post was written as part of a series. Start at Minnesota Memories 1 of 4 and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)
Johnny launched the canoe for what would probably be his last trip of the season, as ice was starting to form on the lake. Soon it would be frozen over, winter would arrive, and people from town would be out on the lake setting up their shacks for ice fishing.
That’s how Johnny first met Maxine, his girlfriend. She had come to the lake with her parents to do some ice fishing. Johnny had never seen Maxine in town, and found out that ever since she had caught tuberculosis while studying nursing, she had been confined to a TB sanitarium in Minneapolis. She would occasionally come home for visits, and that’s when she met Johnny.
They were a striking couple: Johnny, the tall and handsome former high school basketball star and ex-Marine who kept in shape by working hard on the farm, running a trap line, and paddling canoes; and Maxine the high school valedictorian, a petite pretty girl with dark brown hair. She had always been thin, yet shapely; but the tuberculosis had taken its toll on her body and there wasn’t much of her. Maxine was out of the sanitarium now, her health was improving and she had a part-time job at the Bigfork movie theatre. That’s where she would be today; he would catch her between the mid-day matinee and the evening showing.
Johnny pushed off, hopped into the canoe, sat down and started to paddle off. The thin ice cracked and parted as the canoe moved forward. It made him think of when he was a merchant marine on a ship delivering much-needed supplies to the Russian port of Archangel in the White Sea, the winter of 1943.
The Russians had carved a path through the frozen port with their icebreakers, so that the ship Johnny was on could have its cargo unloaded. That job was handled by prisoners of the Red Army who were so like the “walking dead” that, to ease their hunger, they would break into the cans of food they were unloading. Johnny often wondered how these desperate men opened the cans without knives or can-openers. Did they somehow open the cans with their teeth?
Johnny spent nearly four months stuck in that port. It was too dangerous to leave because the Germans were attacking ships in the North Sea. As they waited for an armed escort to protect their ship on its way to England, the ship, now loaded with lumber, sat ice-bound and motionless in that frozen sea.
One day Johnny threw a large garbage can of food scraps and frozen potatoes out onto the ice surrounding the ship. Quickly a large crowd gathered to fight over the garbage.
But that was a different place and time. The war was over now and Johnny had had quite enough excitement in his life. It was time to settle down. (To be continued.)
Ice fishing in Minnesota
Ice on pond
by Alexander Kozlov