WEDNESDAY: Them There Days Are All Gone

BY SUZANNE BURCHELL

Copyright is held by the author.

THEM THERE days are all gone, Walter thought as he headed back into the harbour aboard his beloved trawler, the Dynamite. This last run out to sea was bittersweet. His son had forbidden him to take the boat out alone ever again. His son had added that it was time for Walter to go to the retirement home. Walter, known as Captain Cap because of the salt and pepper cap he wore down over his eyebrows, had sneaked down to the wharf after midnight when no one would see him and taken out his boat, which he had bought 70 years ago. It was not much to look at, but it was sturdy and reliable. Walter just had to take the Dynamite out one more time as her skipper.

Walter knew that his son would sell the Dynamite as soon as he could and spend the money. His son was afraid of the water and hated the fishing life. It was beneath his son to work that hard.

Surely, Walter would be a missing person by now and no doubt his son had called the Mounties. There would be a great “ta do” and much scolding when he tied up at the wharf. His plan for this ‘welcome’ was to just turn off his hearing aid and nod his head. He could imagine the tongue lashing his son would give him.

His son would crank up the guilt saying stuff like,“The doctor said you were not to ever go out alone. You had us worried to death. Stop thinking about just your self. You could forget how to find your way back. Stop acting like an old fool. Your mind just ain’t what it used to be.”

This verbal whipping would go on and on.

But he knew he still had time before the Mounties caught up with him because they could not go out until the tide turned. Walter held the wheel fast. He glanced at his old hands scarred from the years of hauling nets and ropes. There were chunks missing and one finger short from not being fast enough putting the elastic bands on the live lobster claws.

Walter cut the engines. Sitting still in his beloved trawler savouring every second on the sea green water, engine silent, he closed his eyes and replayed the night. He had left the harbour guided by a sky filled with stars, ushering him out to sea.

Over his years fishing, he had never needed that fancy navigation gear. The sun and the stars were his beacons. He had a ship to shore radio that he had used only once when he came across a lobster boat that was flipped on its side with no sign of the crew. He had stayed with the flipped over trawler until the Mountie boat had come. The “accident” had happened during the scallop war. It was foul play all right that had scuttled the boat. The culprits from across the bay got away with the crime even though everyone knew who had done it.

Captain Cap took out a rollie in the moonlit night, lit her up and sat on the back end of his boat savouring the memory of his last run. There was time for a smoke before he headed back. The smoke blew away to the open sea where he had spent all this night. He continued to drift on the beautiful bay water that was changing with the tide. He remembered that on his way out of the harbour he had looked back to see the twinkle lights of the small town. The lights had dwindled to specks the further out to sea he ran. Walter remembered how his trawler cut like a knife through the calm glassy salty water before he had opened the throttle full out. He thought he might take his hands off the wheel and the boat could find the best fishing spot with no help from him. This route was the same he had plied since he was a young boy and his father had been at the helm of this same boat. She had been named the Dynamite because she always took off like a shot.

“Them there days are gone,” Walter said out loud to the night sky. Morning was coming too fast. His last run was coming to an end.

He sat on the old barrel and looked down into the water. It would be easy to slip over the side and not have to go to the old folk’s home. He could end it all and just disappear into the dark waters of the sea, but then Walter thought that he had never been coward and now was not the time to be one.

Sitting on the barrel under the moonlit sky he closed his eyes and thought about the romantic times when he courted his dear Margaret on this very deck. She was the prettiest girl in town and had a line up of young men wanting to court her. She had eyes only for Walter. He proposed on a summer night when the two of them had gone for a jaunt to check his traps. Money was scarce so he had used his Great Grandmother’s wedding ring. Margaret had said yes in a split. She wore that ring for 62 years. They were each other’s one and only. Those 62 years were mostly happy ones before Margaret’s heart gave out. Life with out her for the past five years had been some hard.

They only had the one son. There were three miscarriages before they gave up trying for more. His son, Ben, had been a handful, being an only child. Ben had got a college education but never seemed to be able to hold a job. It did not bother Ben to live on the dole and whatever his Mother gave him. Ben was offered the boat and Ben flat turned it down. Most of the time Ben “sat on his arse” as the locals say. Ben was so unlike his Father. Still he loved his son despite their differences.

Walter thought about the lean years and the years of profits fishing. More lean than profitable. It had never bothered Margaret that they had so little. Margaret thought life rich just being married to him. Margaret knew how to stretch a penny. He had worked as hard as a man can to support his family. There were storms at sea where he was sure he would be capsized by the waves, but he never played the coward and always went out for a daily catch, except Sunday and that was church day. Many a time the lighthouse on the point had been a welcome sight guiding him and the Dynamite safely to the harbour.

Where did the years go that had brought him to this dreaded time? The nursing home was his worst fear. He would have to sell the boat and no doubt his son would relish the profit from the old reliable trawler. Ben thought he could do better than to be a fisherman like his father and after all he did have a college diploma.

So what was with the Alzeimers business? he thought, as he lit another rollie. He shifted on the barrel and looked at the well worn deck and the old wheel house. He was the Dynamite’s skipper through and through. He held the salt and pepper cap in hand wondering what would become of him if he never fished again.

I remember everything just fine he thought. Anyone can leave a pot on the stove now and then and who doesn’t forget the days of the week in a town where nothing new happens day to day? Alzeimers be damn — my mind’s good as ever. It was too soon for the home and he would lose his mind there. He was not ready. It was too soon. He would die there in no time.

He switched on the engine again and steered toward the wharf. His last run as skipper was coming to an end. Then he saw the Mountie’s boat headed toward him. In a split second Captain Cap changed his mind. He swung around hard and headed back out to sea full throttle.

“I will give then a run they won’t forget,” Walter said to himself. He had enough lead that they would not be able to catch up for a couple of hours. He would zig and zag and tease the B’Jesus out of them. He would have his last hurrah and probably make the local papers.

The chase lasted a couple of hours until Walter had run out of fuel. The Mountie boat finally came beside the Dynamite. A young Mountie came aboard with a tank of fuel.

The young Mountie smiled at Walter and said, “Hey skipper you gave us quite the run. How bout you take the wheel and bring her home?”

The Mountie stood admiringly beside Walter who gripped the wheel of the Dynamite and looked straight ahead toward the wharf.

“I hear you were quite the fisherman in your day,” the Mountie said.

“Yep, I was, but them there days are gone,” replied Walter.

The local paper was waiting on the wharf to take pictures and ask lots of questions. Even the Halifax Herald readied a story, “Crazed Captain Cap Rodeos with the Mounties.”

Walter stepped out of the crowd and the reporters on the wharf to his waiting son who surprised the heck out him. The last time he had seen his son cry was when his son was a toddler and it was obvious Ben had been bawling for a long time. Ben’s eyes were brilliant red and his nose as snotty as his first day of kindergarten.

The first words from Ben were: “OK Dad, no nursing home if you promise not to go out alone ever again.”

The next day, sure enough, a Halifax Herald reporter came knocking at his door for the full story. Walter made a cup of tea for both of them. It had to be a quick in and out interview Walter told the reporter.

You see Father and son had sat in front of the fire in the kitchen stove talking most of the night before. Ben had decided to let his Father show him the ropes of fishing and there was not a lot of time left for all those lessons.

“I was one the best fishermen in these parts,” Walter told the reporter, “Them there days are all gone now. She’s got a new skipper and now, starting this morning, I’m just along for the ride. Got to be going before the tide turns.”

When the tea was drunk and the reporter left, father and son headed down to the wharf. Just before they stepped aboard Walter took off his salt and pepper cap and placed it on his son’s head. He gave Ben a pat on the back. Ben took the wheel as Walter sat on the barrel and lit a rollie.

Every day father and son are seen heading out and come back in with a fine catch.

You see “them there days,” well, they are not quite as gone as Walter thought.

3 comments

  1. JAZZ

    Suzanne,
    I enjoyed your story; there are some fine images and your protagonist, through his internal monologue, shows himself to be somewhat of a wise man.
    But I offer this in the way of constructive criticism: I would tighten up the end – I think the story would be stronger and more believable if you had left Ben standing on the dock with tears streaming down his face, his feelings being obvious, than going into detail about his Damascene conversion.

  2. Suzanne Burchell

    Thanks Jazz I agree with you about the ending — I love your idea about Ben crying. My story is based partly on a true event. The old man did not leave in reality the wharf but sat late that last night talking to our local story teller. He did say the words “them there days are gone “. My original ending is based on the truth of the old man’s outlook. In non fiction life the old man just sold the boat and went into a home — heart breaking but reality. I knew my ending was contrived but these days with political, economic and my own issues with aging I just needed to have a really happy ending. This was selfish indulgence on my part to simply feel good and give hope. I am a story teller and have read this story twice to audiences. They loved the ending because of the warm fuzzy. I will be telling this story June 27 in my home town, Parrsboro Nova Scotia where the story is based. The feed back will be interesting since many know the truth.

  3. Gloria Jean Hansen

    Loved the story — more poignant because many of us ‘Baby Boomers’ are facing the harsh reality of no longer being needed in the working world and have family in the wings planning to ‘put us away.’ Thank you then Suzanne for the ‘warm and fuzzy’ — need more of that these days!

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