I was probably about 10 years old at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The quiet hours spent trolling on the lake, patiently waiting for dinner to take the bait, were sublime. Gustafsen Lake had quite a lot of weeds and vegetation near the shoreline, so we had to row our way out from the dock until the water was deep enough to use our outboard. Quickly surveying the lake, we’d scoot over to a place that “looked good.” Casting our lines, all we could do was wait. But at Gustafsen, we didn’t have to wait long. Unlike some lakes—where we could fish for hours or even days without catching anything—Gustafsen was far more generous. By the end of our stay, we had no less than 10 large, fresh lake trout to take home!
All these fish had to be cleaned. One afternoon, after returning from yet another successful excursion on the lake, I grabbed the largest of the day’s bounty and took it down to the dock to clean. “Be careful, the dock is very slippery,” my grandfather warned. I continued down towards the dock without answering. “Al, that dock is slippery, please be careful,” Grandpa heeded again. This time I did respond, with a grouchy “Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know!” What happened next is one of my uncle’s all time favourite stories to tell. Dead fish in hand, I took my first step onto the dock and … whoosh! My foot slips on the damp dock and I fell flat on my ass. The dead fish I was holding goes flying out of my hands and straight back into the lake! Dazed, I slowly lean up to see our prized catch gradually floating “back home.” I scrambled to my feet—this time much more cognizant of the slipperiness of the dock—and made a desperate lunge towards that evening’s dinner. Luckily for me, it hadn’t floated too far, and I was able to grab it. Embarrassed and slightly shaken up, I made my way back to camp only to see my uncle laughing hysterically. “I didn’t know fish could fly!” he exclaimed. Grandpa, of course, was quiet despite the hilarity of the situation and the fact he had the right to unleash the world’s greatest “I told you so!” My uncle, on the other hand, has never let me live this little gem down. For the rest of the trip, he constantly and satirically repeated my now famous “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” That night we enjoyed a delicious trout dinner, my uncle not failing to remind me of the dead fish that “almost got away.”
Our long rides were not all fun and relaxation; significant work had to be done to set up camp, put the boat in the water, cook the food, and clean up afterwards. Although we all helped with these tasks, it was Grandpa who most diligently went about them. The most unpleasant task was, without a doubt, waking up in the morning and starting the campfire. Often, it was bitterly cold, but grandpa would always be first up to make sure I had a nice fire to warm myself up by. I took such gestures for granted back then; but now, I understand how much Grandpa loved me and all of his grandchildren. He was a family man by the truest definition of the term.
In April of 1998 Grandpa had a bad dizzy spell and was hospitalized. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive and dangerous type of cancer a few months earlier. Despite urgent requests to the contrary, Grandpa refused further treatment. His wife of 52 years had died five years earlier, and at 82 years old and facing slim odds, Grandpa simply stated “I’ve had a good life,” and went about his business—waiting for the inevitable. When I first visited Grandpa in the hospital I couldn’t contain myself. I cried. I cried so hard my auntie took me out into the hallway. This strong, wonderful man whom I loved so dearly was dying right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do. A few days later Grandpa slipped into a coma. On April 8, 1998, I found myself wearing the white gloves of a pallbearer.
I can’t believe it has been 12 years since Grandpa’s death. To this day, I often find myself thinking about him, and about how much I miss him. But perhaps I should be happy. I was very lucky to have had such a wonderful grandfather for the first 16 years of my life. I will always have my memories of the time we spent together and, of course, our long rides. Since his death, life has given me more responsibilities and problems. I graduated high school, worked, travelled, graduated university, and now find myself in Japan, where Grandpa was born. I do not know what the future holds; that’s a whole other problem, one I spend many serious hours thinking about. But, ever so often, I smell a scent, see an object, or hear a sound that reminds me of the good old days of careless play and fun. And, maybe only for a second, I feel like a kid again and swear that Grandpa’s by my side.