We both laughed and my head was full of wild thoughts of how life snowed in could be interesting but how could I make that happen? The days were a little boring but as I mentioned earlier, I was also a bit of a writer, I spent most of it working on my next big novel. This was going to make me a famous literary figure one day and was a long way from being finished so I was grateful of the time that I had to work on it.
Jack stopped by my hotel one day and inquired if I was interested in taking a trip into the woods to his camp as he had some work to do. As my creative side was drawing a blank I was more than ready to do something different. The weather was cool but not yet cold and I found Jack good company as he regaled me with some of his hunting stories. We had to canoe across the lake to get to his camp which was on the other side. The lake had not yet frozen over and when it did it would provide another sport in the form of ice fishing. Small huts would be towed onto the lake as the ice would be so thick, it would bear the weight of many cars and then a hole would be chopped through the ice enough to sink a hook and line, suitably baited into the water. Then it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for a fish to be dumb and stupid enough to take the bait. The huts were well equipped with stoves and beds and had all the comforts of home except they had an ice floor. The fishing part of it was really just an excuse to get away from it all for the peace and solitude of the hut either with or without companionship. The thing about the people in the mountains that lived so close to nature and the elements was how easy it was to relax in their environment. Most of them were just as happy with their own company as with being in a crowd. If they did find a crowd, it was usually people the same as themselves.
The canoe trip reminded me of one I had taken many years before on one of my trips to these same mountains.
That time, I was much younger barely twenty-five years old and with three of my buddies, we had secured the use of a cabin and canoes for the weekend. This time, we were after trout and we knew the lake had some big ones in it. I was the fly fisherman and the others were using spinners. The fishing was pretty good and we all caught a few fair-sized trout which would be the next days breakfast. Towards the end of the day, it came on to rain and turned a lot colder. We braved it for another hour or so and then headed back to the small township just up the lake from our cabin. By that time, I was bloody freezing as we headed to the bar close to the dock where we had secured our canoes. When we walked in, the locals gave us the once over and then turned back to their conversations. I spotted a big metal grating in the floor and the heat from the central heating was just pouring out of it. I was so cold and wet that I just sat down directly on the grating until I had thawed out and somewhat dried off. A few whiskies later and I had the wonderful glow about me and then I passed out. Apparently, my mates couldn’t get me to come around so they threw me into a canoe and paddled back up the lake to our cabin and put me on a bunk to sleep it off. The next thing I remembered was waking up the next morning back at the cabin with the rest of the guys getting ready to go fishing again. What was even worse was that I couldn’t face eating the trout that I had caught the day before. What sort of luck is that. They were not wasted as the rest of the guys chawed them down. Have you ever been fishing with a hangover and a blinding headache? I didn’t really care if I caught anything or not but the guys wouldn’t let me sleep it off and forced me to go back out again. I nearly gave up fishing forever after that episode.
Conversation with Jack was very easy and several times I got the impression that he really wanted to tell me something but couldn’t quite bring himself to say it. I didn’t want to intrude so I never prompted him. We finished up the work he had to do which consisted mainly of preparing the cabin for the winter and headed back across the lake. This time, I was cold sober and feeling warm in my jacket and at peace with the world.
My thoughts turned to Julie and I had this feeling of anticipation that I would be seeing her at the bar later this evening. I turned to Jack as we paddled across the lake. “You married Jack”, I asked.
He turned around to me and said “No, but I have been close a couple of times. Then I chickened out and now it’s too late”.
“Why is it too late” I asked, “Is your lady friend still around”?
“Yes” he responded “And we are still good friends but not in a romantic sort of way if you know what I mean”. “We are just very good friends” he repeated in a quiet voice.
“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking” I said.
Jack took his paddle out of the water and the canoe just drifted gently along on its own. He took a deep breath. “Her name is Barbara and we were childhood sweethearts. We went to school together and everyone just knew that sooner or later, we would be married. Well, to cut a long story short, I was drafted into the Army and went to Vietnam to fight and I was captured and sent to a prison camp. I had made her promise me that if anything happened to me, she was to forget all about me and go on with her life. For the longest time, I was classified as MIA and no one knew what had happened to me. I wasn’t repatriated along with the rest of the prisoners and she never got the word that I was still alive. She ended up marrying one of our mutual friends”.
I sat there in the canoe thinking of the life this big man had led and how much he had sacrificed by going to war for his country. Words didn’t seem to be sufficient and I mumbled, “I’m sorry how things turned out but you said that you are still friends. Does she still live around here”?
He looked at me and then picked up his paddle and started moving the canoe towards the shore. I didn’t want to push him anymore so let it drop. I thought about Jack as a POW and the writing side of me thought that he probably had some stories to tell about his time in a Vietnam POW camp and I wondered if he would be willing to talk about it some time. Now didn’t seem to be the right time to ask him so I let it drop and concentrated on paddling the canoe.