Ice fishermen share pretty much the same basic values. In times of uncertainty and discord it’s those values that need rekindling in order to help us act as one people. Those values were introduced to me many years ago when my father would say to my brother and me, "Let’s go ice fishing."
Picture in your mind three people walking out on the ice. There is a 35-year-old father and two boys around 8 and 9 years of age. It’s a cold, breezy afternoon with temperatures in the 20s. The year is 1951. “It’s a great day for the fish to bite,” my father said. My father taught us the value of expectancy and to look forward to something.
My brother and I are carrying a 5-gallon metal pail with three or four wooden ice fishing sticks in it as well as a long metal ice dipper for taking the ice out of the holes. There is also a small metal khaki tackle box containing an assortment of hooks and bobbers and maybe a knife or pliers and some fish line wrapped around a wood spool. In the tackle box is also a lead plumb bob used for measuring the depth of the water.
Each of the sticks has a 5-inch metal pick on one end. Wrapped around two wooden sewing spools on each stick is some black cloth line with an Eagle Claw snell hook and a 7-inch plastic bobber with red and green stripes.
My father is carrying a 6-foot steel chisel that weighs about 20 pounds. He keeps a heavy cloth cover on one end to protect the very sharp blade. He also is carrying a metal minnow bucket, which contains a small wire and cloth dip net for catching the minnows.
My brother and I dress in khaki colored parkas with fur trim around the hoods, newly received as Christmas presents. We wear black buckle boots over our leather wool-lined packs. Our flannel pajamas are under our blue jeans.
Our father is wearing heavy Army Surplus coveralls. On his feet are World War II leather flight boots with wool lining, also Army Surplus. He has chopper mitts on his hands.
We walk out about 50 to 75 yards on the ice. We put down our gear and now my father proceeds to chop three holes in the ice. The ice is about 12 to 14 inches thick. It takes him about 10 to 15 minutes to chop one hole with the heavy chisel. On one end is a rope just in case the chisel goes through the ice too quickly and slips out of his hands. My brother and I use the dipper to take the ice out of the hole. Our father taught us that if you want something of value, you have to put in the time.
Nearby and closer to shore are several tar paper fish spearing houses. On the sides of each house painted in white letters are the name and address of each owner. Each house is equipped with a wood burning stove with a chimney coming out from the side or the top. More often than not you would find outside the door on the ice a pile of chewing tobacco spit. The stain would be there until the ice melts in the spring.
There was a direct relationship between how well the fish were biting and how cold my brother and I got. If they were biting, we didn’t feel the cold too much. If they were not biting, we had to think of ways to keep warm like sliding on the ice, chopping another hole in the ice, going around and talking to other fishermen hoping that someone would let us inside their warm fish house. We might even go to shore and bring out some wood to start a fire on the ice.
I can’t recall one time when my father ever complained about the cold while standing on the ice studying his bobber in that icy water. His silence taught my brother and me that complaining wouldn’t solve the problem.
One could say that things were a lot different in those days and, I suppose, in some ways they were. You could also say that many things were the same as they are today especially when you consider what we value.
All of us still get cold now and then and look for warmth. We have some fun things we like to do whether it be ice fishing, putting together a puzzle or reading. All of us enjoy a good night’s sleep and sometimes we would just like to stay in our cozy beds and dream.
We eat a breakfast of cold cereal or eggs or a pastry with coffee or juice. We may watch a favorite TV program or read a newspaper or a book. We call a special friend or relative and just talk about what’s happening in our lives.
We have our aches and pains and our appointments with the doctor or dentist. We try to keep reasonably fit by walking or exercising or just doing some daily chores like cleaning the garage or barn or basement. We look forward to eating out or enjoying some take out food. We celebrate birthdays and holidays and have our families over for dinner occasionally, but not too often. We plan for a summer vacation or just enjoy staying home and looking out the window imagining we are on a coastal beach or high on a mountain.
It’s been 60 years since my brother and I walked on the ice with our father in 1951 but my brother and I still get out of bed every morning and brush our teeth just like you do. The same values and habits we had then are still the mainstays of our lives today, just like yours. Like my father, we try not to complain too much. If we can all understand that we are more alike than different, 2021 will be a good year regardless of whether the fish bite.
Riddle: What are the next two letters in this sequence O T T F F __ __? (Answer: S for six and S for seven.) When you really look for normalcy in things and in people, you can find them.
We need to believe that it is just normal for 100% of our students to graduate. When we start thinking that way, it will happen. Our goal in 2021 is to reach 500 organizations and businesses that support our initiative. We now have 407.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.