Summertime in the Belgrades
May 31 – June 13
by Rod Johnson
It was a fairly normal day, I suppose, probably June something in about 1953. I was fiddling along the shoreline of the stream behind my parent's house and behind other owners as well. Main Street in the Lakes was kind of all one then; no one paid much attention to property lines, unless a feud got started over something like a tree or a water line. It was expected or maybe condoned that little kids of 5 years more or less could and would wander about fishing along the shoreline and exploring everything along the way. They all knew whose kid I was and kept half an eye open in the event my youth got me into trouble. The old saying it takes a village to raise a child was true then and should be now as far as I'm concerned. That day I had meandered farther than any previous outing and new adventures opened up with every few steps.
I stood there with fish rod in hand (a stick with string and a rusty small hook) that old man Lee Law had given me earlier in the summer. Lee worked for my Dad tending the boat rentals down by the dam; he always helped all us kids out with learning how to fish and what to use for bait and tactics.
Little by little curiosity was winning over fear and I drew closer to the dark hole, hoping the old man that lived in the house wouldn't see me. I knew he lived there, as I had seen him from a distance mowing the lawn part way down to the boathouse, including the path. He always wore "old man" t-shirts, the kind with straps only on the shoulders. I had also seen him sit in the old lawn chair in the backyard, smoking a cigarette like my Dad did, and drinking something the men call Narry Gansett or sometimes they said Nasty Gansett, and laughed. He sweat like crazy when he mowed and I was a little scared of him.
He didn't seem to be around when I stole a couple of secret looks over my shoulder, however. I tumbled over a large metal chunky thing with big pulleys and went down into the high grass face first and hard. After reconnoitering, the black hole remained the target and I crept on. Oh, I later learned the metal chunky thing was a make and brake engine, called a "one lunger" that powered things like sawmills and boat lifts. The big pulley drove a flat belt. I can tell you now that much or most of the boards that built the older homes on main street were sawn with a big rotary blade turned by a one lunger.
My first steps over the threshold into the dark interior of the boathouse made my toes curl. So much to see, fear, like and question. Had it not been for the fact that I was looking out through two huge openings into the stream, I probably would have turned and high tailed it for home. The two boat stalls were empty and as my eyes adjusted to the lack of direct sunlight, everything seemed at least okay, if not friendly.
The fear had subsided if not evaporated and without conscious thought the fish line went in the water, dried on worm and all, testing to see if any redfins were there. They were a type of perch that we kids called a cross between white and yellow perch. They tasted the same as either and in later years we never bothered to differentiate, just cooked them up with the others. In those days sun fish or sunnies were ever present, ready to steal bait. They were considered not good to eat; we treated them like pests and tossed them back in the pond. I think old man Lee Law had told us they were not worth bothering with.
It wasn't long before I noticed a small corner closet of sorts with a jammed open door. A metal object that I already knew was an outboard motor was leaning precariously against the interior wall. The redfish got off easy after that as fishing took a hind row seat and I was led to the closet, gawking at the motor, with dreams and excitement about its use and potential dancing in my head.
Whether 30 seconds or 5 minutes passed, I do not know, but out of the blue came a raspy, heavy voice that said, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE, SON?"
My worst fears nearly cauterized me in place. I slowly looked up to see the old man with the white-strap t-shirt just inside the doorway. I must have stuttered a little but I heard myself meekly saying, "I'm fishing."
What he then said shocked me beyond words: "DO YOU LIKE, THAT OUTBOARD MOTOR?"
I said, "Yes sir," and he replied simply, "If you can get it running, it's yours to use." With that he turned and walked out the door hole and headed back up to the house.
As I stood there happily stunned, he turned back to me and yelled something like, "You'd better head home; your Mom is looking all over town for you."
After that Old Bill Pulsifer was my newest friend. Sometime during the next decade, the men in town tore that boathouse down, along with many others. The pilings, or cribs as we call them, are still visible just under water on the South side of the new MLRC docks. Young Bill Pulsifer lives there today with his wife Marie. He's about the age his Dad was when he essentially gave me that motor, and he's just as nice a man.
Don't miss the next installment called, you got it, "The Outboard Motor."
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.