A Good Day On the Water

by Sterling Meeuwen

A week before I had told him that I had joined the Army. He shook my hand firmly and said, “Congratulations! When do you leave? We got time to get on the lake?” I told him that I left in seven days.  Six days had gone by since then and today was the perfect day for it.  We had started early; the sun comes up at around seven in the morning this time of year.  The mist that hung in there air made my shirt cling to my body and allow the mosquitos access to a quick meal.

“Come on Bob! The bugs are killing me!”

“You’re leaving for Boot in twenty four hours and your Crying to me about bugs!?”

“Well A, it’s not “Boot”, you Navy bum and B, I won’t get to complain about it there, now will I?”

I opened the door of his pickup and slid into the seat, and let Bobby finish with the trailer.  It’s quiet in the country.  I had been staying with Bob for the past week and had gotten used to how quiet it was. When he started the truck I hardly noticed.  The sun had just started to crest the horizon, blinding us as we pulled out of the drive.  The sound of the wheels on the dirt road reminded me of being a teenager.  I had long since moved to the city but my teen driving was on country dirt roads.  As punk teenagers, we would drive at speeds way beyond our abilities, racing side by side down West Road. We would kick dust in the air with the radio blazing, raising all sorts of hell.

Bobby of course was driving much slower and hanging out the window, like a twelve year old, I took in the cornfields and lush August woods  When I was a kid my dad had a Ford Fairlane 500 and we used to go for Sunday drives, nice and slow just like this.  The deer know they have this last bit of time and the almost flaunt it.  They watch us without fear, as we pass a field.  The ride is bumpy and it seems that Bobby is trying to hit every rut he can find.

This inland lake was our favorite.  When we had backed up the trailer, I got out and looked at the water. It seemed almost a shame that we had to disturb the perfect surface by launching the boat.  Even though Bobby was in the Navy, you couldn’t tell by his boat.  It was a small little row boat barely big enough for the two of us.  I bout this small always affords opportunity for casting mishaps and I have caught a couple of Bob fish.  Bobby is bigger than me and has trouble sitting at the bow so that’s usual my spot.  This time he climbed right up to the front of the boat.

“Well? Shove off, sailor.”

“The Army Bob, I joined the Army.”

“Well whatever they are all the same, you get to do all the work. Now get rowing.”

I shoved away from the dock and dropped the oars in the water and pulled us away.  “Fine! Just to let you know, you start singing Anchors Away, I swimming back to shore.”

We headed toward a spot at the other end of the lake where Bobby had pointed out a few cranes had gathered.  There wasn’t any one on the lake today and the swish that my oars made was the only proof our existence. Even that could be argued because the cranes paid us no mind and share the fishing spot with us.

“When will you be able to take some leave? Cause I got tickets to the Michigan vs. Ohio State game.” Bob had set up his rig while we rowed out and gave me a cocky smile, knowing that he got his line in the water first.

“I don’t know Bob, they didn’t really say.  Besides I’m not really sure about this Brady guy.”

“We’re gonna tailgate before the game.  It will certainly be a party.

I finally got my line in the water, I like to fish for the smallies.  You tie a Small Mouth Bass, tail to tail with a Trout and that smallie will pull that trout all over this lake.  Bobby he likes to go for the Pike.  Nasty looking fish kind of like a fresh water Barracuda.  The get really big and that’s why Bob likes them.

“Bob, did you get that ice fishing shanty you were talking about?”

“Yeah, I figure I’ll bring the kids out, let them ice skate and I’ll fish.”

“That’s how I learned how to skate.”

We spent all winter playing pond hockey behind our house.  My dad would light a fire in this fifty five gallon drum and we would skate all night. Just then I felt a strike. It was only a little Blue Gill and Bobby made a comment about catching bait but, I ignored him.

“Hey, I heard that they are having this big electronic thing in Detroit this spring.”

“Yeah, I think they are calling it DEMF.  It would figure, we finally get an electric music festival and I go and join the army just in time to miss it.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s the way it goes.”

We spent the next few hours out on the water, talking about all the things I was going to miss.  When the sun got midway in the sky the air become too hot to fish.  We hadn’t caught anything but, that small gill, so we called it a day.

Back at Bobby’s house we sat in lawn chairs under the shade of a large tree, cooler between us.  He pointed out all the projects he had worked over the summer.  I had actually helped him put in the garden and fire pit. As the sun went down Bobby looked over at me raised his bottle and said.

“To a good day on the water.”

“To a good day on the water.” I toasted.

I left the next day for Ft. Leonard Wood and a year and a half later I was staring at the stars in the Republic of South Korea.  It was the middle of January and I was on guard duty at 04:15.  The army affords you all sorts of chances to ruminate on how miserable you are.  My particular misery this morning was the cold.  It was the coldest winter they had on the peninsula since the Korean War fifty years before. To try and fight off the cold I thought of times I was warm.  I first thought of visiting my grandmother in Florida but, I was only there for brief time and the memory began to fade.  As the cold Russian wind came down from Vladivostok and crept in to my mind it was forced out by this picture of Bobby and I out on the water.  The sun is beating down on us and the locusts humming. The Russian wind became a gentle cooling breeze on a hot, late summer, Michigan day.  I smiled looked up at the sky and said,  “To a good day on the water.”