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The Perfect Dream
Reaching down over the bow of the fishing vessel, feeling the cool, salty water splashing upon my cupped hand, my heart pounds in my chest with excitement. I then inhale deeply the crisp, salty sea air into my lungs, as I think about my father finally granting me permission to board the lobster boat with him and my uncle--and of course, without my mother’s knowledge. This is more than just a fishing trip, it is my passage to manhood.
Taking six steps onto the slippery, wooden floor of the deck, now more than ever, I remember the sad story of my grandfather, a devoted fisherman who became a legend in Cutler after he was lost at sea. My mother had never quite gotten over losing her father at such a young age, leaving her mother to raise six children on her own. Even though she had married a fisherman, she had vowed that her children would get an education and not follow in the footsteps of past generations. She wanted a different life for us, a better life, and she was afraid that it was in our blood, and therefore, had vehemently fought our father whenever he mentioned taking anyone of us children out on a fishing vessel. Because of my mother’s opposition, the world of fishing intrigued me even more and could hardly believe that my day had finally come.
Grasping my surroundings, my eyes rest on the massive metal machinery and technology for finding fish. Multiple, green lobster traps stacked on top of each other at the back of the vessel wanting to be dropped to the bottom of the ocean catches my eye. My mind immediately starts filling with questions and I begin to ask my uncle question after question, “What is that long crane for? Is this a fish finder? How do you get the lobsters into the trap? and how about that..” My father and uncle patiently and with a twinkle in their eye or with a wink here or there answer my innocent questions.
I now have a new respect for fishermen. I always thought they were really “cool” and that they were really tough--man’s men. I learned that fishing is a real art, a lot of planning and creativity goes into what they do. Not only did you have to have knowledge of how to run the fishing vessel, building and baiting traps, but you also had to understand the mind of the “catch” you are after.
Riding the waves, I smile to myself and am very content. My uncle informs me its time to bait the traps. He tells me to grab the buckets of bait from the cooler. Fish guts....uggh... The smile leaves my face as my nostrils start to twitch as the rank smell of the dead fish begins to consume my lungs and then arrives in my stomach. My stomach begins to lurch and I swallow hard not wanting to let my father and uncle know that it bothers me. But they laugh as they see the expression on my face and I know that I have been found out. I laugh too and ask my uncle, “Do you ever get used to that rancid smell?”
He answers quickly, “It’s nature to us, Boy, get used to it. Man up!” I gulp frantically and begin to fill the bait sacks for the green wired traps. My father comes along beside me to move the process along more quickly. We finish baiting the traps and my uncle smiles with his toothless grin while pulling out a rusty key from his patched pocket.
“Boy, ya wanna start up this boat,” he asks with his Downeast slang. My father is right beside me, and edges me on. Feeling that I must make my father proud, I breathe deeply and reply quietly, “Sure, why not.” My legs begin to wobble as we approach the small white cabin located at the bow of the fishing vessel. Stepping down into the cabin, I almost miss a step. My father grabs my arm and keeps me from falling. The floor is slippery from leftover bait being spilled time and time again. I try to take in my surroundings once again...old brown steering wheel, black radio equipment, a doppler system and my uncle’s left over lunch from yesterday’s trip. He opens his fat hand and I see the old rusty key. “What you wait’n for Boy...Take it.” he says in his deep raspy voice.
My fingers become tense and begin to shake as I fumble putting the key into the ignition. Turning the key clockwise, a loud, blaring sound comes out of the boat, ”GERRRERRRRERR...” I am startled, and so is my father. My uncle yells, “Move ova, let’s go out to the deep.” as he takes hold of the old brown steering wheel. The “deep” is the place where only the bravest fishermen go. The boat starts to move, crashing into the white-capped ocean waves. I try to fight the smell of the diesel fuel, it finally passes and once again I can smell the clean salty air. I smile.
Summer is transforming into fall. I feel the chill of the wind hit my face. Leaves are losing their green pigment and the water is changing to a deeper blue. We pass Little River Light House. It’s massive up close. Then my father points to Cross Island, the island my grandfather and his family lived on for many years before moving to the mainland.
My uncle and father say we must head northeast to reach the “deep.” The winds begin to get stronger as we go out further and further to drop our traps. I hear my father mention to my uncle in a low whisper about the dark cloud off in the horizon. My uncle replies that the weather report called for showers later in the day, but thought we would be okay. Father looking a little worried and with a concerned voice reminds his brother that often the weather can be tricky out in the “deep” and once again asks for reassurance that we should continue with our trip. My heart panics as I do not want to turn back and am relieved when my uncle says we will continue on. I am convinced that my uncle knows what he is doing. Another fifteen minutes passes and I notice the waves becoming larger and I feel a slight sprinkle of water on my face. I tell myself that it must be a splash from the high waves. I feel as if I am on a roller coaster ride, riding the waves of the ocean. I begin to get a little nervous when my uncle’s crooked smile disappears from his face and is replaced with a frown. I look out over the bow and all I see is water everywhere as we roll down one wave and up over the next, splashing onto the bow of the boat. The dark gray clouds are now directly above us and the rain is beginning to pelt on the top of our cabin. Apprehensively, I ask my dad, “Are we going in the right direction? Does Uncle Bruce know what he is doing? Are we going to turn back?”
Over the VHF radio, in a low monotone voice, I hear a man saying, “ErnnnErnnnErnnnErnnn. Critical Warning from Eastport to the Merrimack River. Warnings of up to 75 knots of Gail Force Winds for the next 12 hours...”
“What does that mean?” I cry to my uncle frantically.
Nonchalantly, he said, “I dunno Boy. Don’t sound good, aye?” My stomach begins to knot as I hear my mother’s voice telling me about her father being lost at sea. No one ever found his body. Then the mother of all waves crashes in over the bow of the boat breaking the glass windshield. I feel the cold water hitting my body, forcing me to the ground. I reach out for my father’s hand...
“ErnnnErnnnErnnnErnnn” my alarm clock goes off once again. My college roommate, Johnny, with a tired, disgusted voice says, “Will you stop resetting your alarm and just get up! Your class starts in thirty minutes and you know that Ms. Handrahan hates it when you are late.”
Shaking my head and coming back to reality, I then realize that it was just a dream, or was it?