The day the food fish­ery opened

The Compass - - OPINION -

Re­cently, my sis­ter e-mailed me a pho­to­graph I had never seen be­fore. Five peo­ple are in a small boat, not far from a rick­ety wharf. A fam­ily friend is stand­ing in the rear; my mother is sitting in the bow. I’m one of three chil­dren in the craft. I’m in the bow, be­side my mother.

In­ves­tiga­tive re­search re­veals the pic­ture was shot at Sun­ny­side be­tween 1959 and 1963, closer to the lat­ter year, when I would have been about six.

To­day, I can­not help but won­der why I’m hang­ing on to the gun­wales for dear life. Was I, even as a boy, scared spit­less of the wa­ter? I don’t know, as the finer de­tails of this ex­cur­sion are lost in the mists of mem­ory.

Think­ing about my child­hood boat ride brought to mind my one and only ex­pe­ri­ence with the food fish­ery.

I was ec­static the day it opened. My chance at a catch of cod­fish was well as­sured. Ac­cord­ingly, I made plans with three bud­dies — Mel, Val and Dale — to try my luck. (Names have been changed to pro­tect the guilty.)

In my haste, I did some­thing I shouldn’t have done, and I didn’t do some­thing I should have done. At three o’clock that morn­ing, I drank a cup of cof­fee. But I shouldn’t have. I didn’t take Gravol. But I should have.

The early part of our ex­pe­di­tion was pleas­ant and suc­cess­ful. I hooked a cou­ple of cod. As my stom­ach be­gan to churn, though, my en­thu­si­asm for fish­ing be­gan to wane. Still, I was too proud to ad­mit de­feat.

Did I men­tion it was a won­der­fully ter­ri­ble day on the wa­ter? Our speed­boat dipped into the boil­ing foam, hid­ing John Ef­ford’s ves­sel a hun­dred yards away, then rose on moun­tain­ous waves.

I knew the cof­fee, which had tasted so de­lec­ta­ble two hours ear­lier, was about to make a re­turn visit. Stretch­ing my head over the gun­wale, I let na­ture take its course and re­lieved my­self of the burn­ing, bur­bling liq­uid.

The wrench­ing act did lit­tle to as­suage my in­ner tur­moil. My bud­dies — Job’s com­forters — mut­tered in uni­son, “ Wuss!” Dic­tio­nary, please. Wuss: slang for a weak, timid and un­manly per­son. Val also com­mented on the green pal­lor of my face. I wasn’t sure if this was an ex­ten­sion of the Wuss com­ment or a mod­icum of sym­pa­thy.

Lean­ing over the gun­wale again, I man­aged to say, “ Your turn’s comin’!”

I no longer had the urge to drop my jig­ger into the depths. Nor did I want to aug­ment my fam­ily’s mea­gre store of cod. “I’m dyin’!” I gasped. “Get me t’land.” No ver­bal re­sponse, just a snicker or two. Then, “Can’t. Gotta get our quota, b’ye. Can’t go in wit’out all we’re ‘ lowed to catch.”

Sud­denly, Ef­ford’s boat reap­peared. Dale called over the crash­ing waves to the hon­ourable gen­tle­man, “Got a sailor here wit’ no sea-legs.”

I felt like a Jonah. “ Throw me over­board!” I sug­gested in a mar­tyr’s voice.

As the waves in­creased in fe­roc­ity and the winds in ve­loc­ity, my bud­dies fi­nally re­al­ized just how sick I was. “ We’ll go in,” the one man­ning the mo­tor promised.

“God bless you, my son,” I felt like say­ing. “ Your con­fes­sion has been ac­cepted, and you’ve been ab­solved of all your sins. Heaven awaits you. Go and sin no more.”

I looked at Mel, cer­tain my eyes were play­ing tricks on me. He was ac­tu­ally drink­ing a Coke and eat­ing a bag of chips and a chocolate bar. Good god! Ugh! Urge! But there was noth­ing else down there to heave up.

We headed for land. Val was in the bow, still fish­ing. Sud­denly, his face blanched. To my de­light, as he pulled in yet an­other fish, he made his own ini­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the ocean.

Then, I heard an all-too-fa­mil­iar sound be­hind me. Turn­ing slowly, I saw Dale, pros­trate on a thwart, his head hang­ing loosely over the gun­wale. He too groaned as he di­vested the con­tents of his stom­ach into the roil­ing sea.

What could I say? I sup­pose I could have said, “I know what you’re go­ing through.” I could have let by­gones be by­gones, and said, “Boys, I know what it feels like. Been there, got the stains on my coat to prove it. I pity you.” That would have been the Chris­tian thing to do.

Nah! In­stead, I ex­claimed, “Looks good on you.” I wasn’t sure about the plu­ral form of “wuss,” but I was too sick to care. “ Wusses!” I chided.

They were too sick to re­spond, so I had the sat­is­fac­tion of hav­ing the last word.

That night, I em­ceed a wed­ding. I got through it, but just barely. My pound­ing head and a feel­ing of rolling re­minded me of what friends had told me about a hang­over. Peo­ple later said to me, “Boy, did you ever look sick tonight!” If only they knew. Bur­ton K. Janes of Bay Roberts lives on Wa­ter Street, but avoids the ocean like the plague. A free­lance jour­nal­ist, he can be reached by e-mail at bur­tonj@nfld.net

Even as a child, the au­thor of this col­umn was ap­par­ently scared spit­less of the wa­ter.

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