Canada (Part 1)

The rest of my first grade year passed quickly, and at the end of it I got straight S’s on my report card, meaning I did okay in all my subjects. Mrs. O’Connor wrote in her notes that “Patricia is a very good student, but she lacks self-control, particularly with regard to talking in class when it is not appropriate.” Cyntha got the same note on her report card. When Mommy showed the comment to Daddy, he just smiled. He knew all about my nonstop talking, but all he said was “Hey, kid, talking isn’t a bad thing. It shows your brain is working. You just have to learn when it’s okay to talk and when you’ve gotta zip your lip.”

“Yes, Daddy,” I said, not arguing but not at all sure I could ever learn to zip my lip. I just couldn’t seem to help it. I always had a head full of words, and saying them was much more compelling than listening to someone else drone on and on. I hoped Daddy wouldn’t suggest the same sticky gray tape that had worked so well to cure my thumb-sucking.

With summer vacation looming, Daddy’s feet began to itch, as usual. Because Mommy and I had missed the first Canada trip, he decided we should go again, all of us this time, even Rusty. He packed up our camping trailer, tied the tarp down securely, and before dawn one morning in early June, we left Berkeley and headed north toward Oregon.

Late that first afternoon, after driving more than 400 miles, Daddy stopped for the night at a campground along a river near Bend. We all pitched in and did our jobs to set up camp, including trenching the tents and gathering a big stack of firewood. Mommy heated a can of Dinty Moore beef stew—another staple in her camping pantry—and sliced some fresh apples. We were all too tired for a campfire that first night, though, so right after dinner we changed into our pajamas and snuggled into our mummy bags. Even Rusty’s snoring couldn’t keep Eleanor and me awake. It had been a long, long day.

The next morning, it was pancakes and fried Spam for breakfast. As soon as the plates were washed and dried and stacked in their cubby, I followed Daddy down to the riverbank. He was anxious to try out his new fishing pole. He’d also bought himself some khaki-green rubber overalls and galoshes all stitched into one. He pulled them on over his shoes and snapped the brass buckles on the straps that went up over his shoulders.

“What funny-looking pants,” I giggled.

“Oh, they’re not pants,” he said. “They’re waders. They’re to keep me dry when I wade out in the river to cast my fly rod.”

“Why are you trying to catch flies?”

“I’m not trying to catch flies, Trish. I’m gonna use flies to catch trout—big ones. I hope. But these are special flies, not like the ones we swat at home. Here, I’ll show you.”

Arranged by color in the little compartments of the tray inside his tackle box, these flies were made of feathers and shiny silver and gold thingies and tiny glass beads just like the ones in the purse that Aunt Eva had made for Grammy when Grammy was a teenager in Pasadena. Daddy chose a fly with black feathers, a gold thingie and red bead, and attached it to the end of his line where the worm was supposed to go. Then, with his finger and thumb, he pinched two tiny lead balls onto his line a couple of feet up from the fly.

“What’re those?” I asked. “BB’s?” They looked just like the little balls used in the BB guns the two brothers across the street on Spaulding Avenue had gotten last Christmas. Mommy had complained to their father that BB guns weren’t safe in a neighborhood with so many children, but he hadn’t taken them away; instead, he’d told his sons to shoot only at birds or targets in their backyard. “Don’t you ever go in that backyard,” Mommy had warned Eleanor and me. “You might get shot in the eye with a BB and be blind for the rest of your life.” She didn’t know I’d already been in that backyard and had no intention of ever, ever going back there again.

“No, Trish, they’re not BB’s. They’re called weights. They help pull the fly down below the surface of the water where the fish will see it.

“Now I’ll show you how to cast,” Daddy said, wading out till the water reached his knees. He flipped the fly rod back and forth over his shoulder half a dozen times with his right thumb still on the reel, and finally lifted his thumb and let it go. Not the whole rod, just the line part with the fly on the end. The fly landed on the water three feet away. Daddy reeled the fly back in and tried again. Four feet this time. The third time, as he flipped the rod back and forth over his shoulder, the fly on the end got tangled in the line and ended up in a knot. “Not as easy as it looks,” Daddy said to no one in particular as he waded back to shore and got a pair of tweezers from his tackle box to help get the knot out. On his next cast, the fly went about three feet again, but at least it didn’t end up in a knot. “Damn, he said as he reeled it back in.”

I watched while Daddy tried several additional casts, muttering to himself and getting more frustrated with each failed effort. I could tell he was getting mad and figured it was time to go somewhere else. Rusty and I meandered farther up the path along the river’s edge, looking for something to do. I threw a stick in the water. “Fetch, Rusty! Fetch!” I guess he didn’t understand because he just cocked his head and looked at me as the stick floated away. I threw another stick. Same result. When I picked up a good-sized pebble and threw it as far as I could out into the river, Rusty found this new game more intriguing. He jumped in the water, paddled out a ways, and swam around and around in circles, trying to find the pebble.

“What a silly dog you are, Rusty,” I said.

Twenty minutes later, we headed back down the bank. The water now came up to Daddy’s waist. I watched as he whipped the fly rod back and forth over his shoulder and then lifted his thumb and let it go. This time the fly zinged nearly all the way across the river and landed on the shaded water under some overhanging bushes. Daddy gave me a wave and a triumphant smile.

At the very same instant, the fly rod bobbled and began to bend. “Here we go!” Daddy shouted as he jerked the tip of the rod back up—to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, he told me later—and began reeling the line in, a couple of turns at a time. Every few moments, the fish got a new burst of energy and swam hard down the river, taking the fly and yards and yards of Daddy’s line along with it. Each time, he reeled the line back in, a few turns at a time, gradually gaining the upper hand and bringing the fish in closer and closer. At one point, the huge rainbow hurtled itself right up out of the water, splashed back down, and again swam hard downstream. “Did you see that? Did you see that?” Daddy hollered. “What a beauty!”

When the trout was exhausted, Daddy pulled it in close and scooped it into the short-handled net he unclipped from his belt. Then he waded to shore where Rusty was barking and running in circles and I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands. “You did it! You did it!” I yelled.

“Yes, I sure did,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “I’ll bet this baby weighs eight pounds!”

“Can I try?”

“You’re not big enough yet, but someday I promise I’ll teach you.”

“You promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

Late that afternoon, Daddy cleaned the big rainbow, scraped off its scales, took out all the bones, and cut the fish into chunks. Mommy rolled them in Bisquick seasoned with salt and pepper and fried them in Crisco until they were crisp and brown. With a squirt of lemon, and Minute Rice on the side, we all shared the feast. As Daddy piled more wood on the fire, Mommy made our favorite dessert: hot chocolate with marshmallows.

“Wanna hear a story?” Daddy asked.

“Yes, yes, tell us a story.”

“Well, once upon a time there was an army colonel who came home from the war to his pretty wife and two young daughters and their worthless cocker spaniel who was more trouble than a pack of rabid monkeys—”

“No, no, not that one. I don’t like that story.” I loved Rusty with my whole heart and I hated it when Daddy called him worthless.

“Well, then, you tell a story,” Daddy replied.

“Okay, I will. Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Cynthia who was prissy and snotty and spoiled and had a whole closet full of princess dresses that she wore to school every day, and she had her fingernails painted pale pink and wore a gold ring with a real amethyst birthstone in it. But she was so prissy at school that one day the teacher took her to the cloak room and spanked her bottom and made her cry, and after that nobody wanted to play with her anymore and—”

“And you made friends with her and now you two are best friends forever,” Eleanor sniffed. “You’ve told that story a million times, and we all know the ending.”

Daddy came to my aid. “That’s enough, you two. I like that story, but it’s time to hop in the sack because we have a long drive tomorrow, all the way to Lake Pend Oreille.”

“Where’s Lake Pend Oreille?” I asked.

“In Idaho,” Daddy said. “Now get to bed.”

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth,” Mommy added.