The Day the Recreational Food Fishery Opened

Sunnyside-Burton-boatSometime ago my sister Karen emailed me a photo 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 brother David is sitting behind me, & my mother is perched in the bow. I’m right there beside her.

Investigative research reveals that the snap was taken at Sunnyside between 1959 and 1963, closer to the latter year. I would have been about six.

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

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

I was ecstatic the day the fishery 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.

In my haste, I did something I shouldn’t have done, and didn’t do what 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 that it was a wonderfully terrible day on the water? Our speedboat dipped into the boiling foam, hiding The Honourable John Efford’s vessel a hundred yards away, then rose on mountainous waves.

I knew that 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 all–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 to land.”

No verbal response, but a snicker or two. Then, “Can’t. Gotta get our quota, b’y. Can’t go in without all we’re ‘llowed to catch.”

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

I felt like a Jonah. “Throw me overboard!” I suggested in a martyr’s voice. “Actually, my middle name is Jonah.”

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 at 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 soft drink and eating a bag of chips and a chocolate bar. My golly! I thought. Ugh! Ugh! But there was nothing else down there to upheave.

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-to-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.

Naw! Instead, I exclaimed, “Looks good on you.” I wasn’t sure about the plural form of the word wuss, but I was too ill 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 rolling feeling reminded me of what friends had told me about a hangover. People later said to me, “Boy, did you ever look sick that night!”

If only they knew.