by Rod Johnson
It was four months after my eighth birthday in July of 1955. Lee asked me if I'd like to go out fishing the next day with Elmer and him. He said he'd been watching me catch perch in the stream as well as off the bridge and figured it was about time I moved up and learned how to troll out in the lake. In those days the lake was stocked yearly with trout and salmon and a good number of them had grown to several pounds.
To this I replied, "Yes, sir," and worked hard at not jumping up and down with joy and showing him how elated I really was. The idea of catching a big fish instead of my usual perch and sun fish sounded like the chance of a lifetime. However, even more exciting than that was the hope that the two old men would let me drive the outboard — but I didn't dare to ask him if that would happen.
Before we go any further, let me introduce you to Lee and Elmer, whom I describe as old men. I now realize that neither of them had reached much more than 60 years, give or take a few.
Lee was a soft spoken man of slight stature, perhaps five foot four inches with no extra fat on him and bright white hair. He lived alone on Main Street in Belgrade Lakes in a rented apartment attached to the rear of the house now owned by Carl Cook. The so-called apartment was actually a rustically remodeled barn/shed and was torn down about 25 years ago.
Lee worked for my father Clifford during the summers tending our boat rental business down by the dam. He was also a neighbor and friend of my folks as we lived in the house next door. Lee would, on occasion, come over for a supper, if my mother walked over a little ahead of time and invited him.
He was always good natured, had a sense of humor and was apt to spew out a joke now and then that bordered on raunchy. He was careful to only tell the socially acceptable ones while at dinner at our house, knowing that mother might not ask him over again if he wasn't careful. I knew from hearing occasional swear words down at the boat shop, when the men would all roar with laughter, that he was more than capable of saying words that mother wouldn't like.
The boat rental shop was equipped with everything necessary to do carpentry and light mechanical work, and it also always had a bottle of whiskey under the bench. Lee was not above partaking in a "small snifter" upon occasion as the day wore on, claiming that his arthritis was acting up. Often others would stop by and join him, one being my second elder fishing partner Elmer Green. Many of the old men in town stopped by just to pass time and shoot the bull.
Elmer and his wife Elsie had a home on Skunk Alley (Hulin Road), and their property somehow bordered our house on Main street. Once again, it was a little village so we were all quite close neighbors. Elmer and Elsie lived in their house during the spring, fall, and winter. During the summer they operated and lived at what is now known as Village Camps, just north of the dam on Long Pond. It was then known as Gillman Camps.
Elmer gave me my first paying job at the age of 8 years. He had a great amount of grass to mow each week, both at the camps and at his home. One day, out of the clear blue sky, he appeared in our back yard when I was out in my tree cabin and wanted to know if I'd like to mow grass. I said, "Sure, I'll do it," and never discussed pay.
He then knocked on our back porch screen door, and mother appeared. He cleared it with her, and I followed him down across the lawn and was introduced to a wobbly wheeled old mower with a Briggs and Stratton motor on it. He showed me how to start it and told me to make a few passes and not to miss any spots, as Elsie liked it to look really good. Elmer wore the old man T-shirts with shoulder straps and as I went on my very first pass he sat down in the lawn chair, got out a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco and rolled a cigarette.
After that we were weekly mowing buddies and it took us both most of one day (with rest stops) to mow both areas. During the stops, Elmer would smoke and perhaps drink a Narragansett, Elsie would bring me lemonade. At the end of the day, Elmer sat down again and handed me six dollars. I was sure that I was rich.
This completes Part I. We hope that you will come back next week and join us as we get out on the water.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.