Monday, May 12, 2008
Nostalgia is a funny thing
I took Team Testosterone on a detour through my old stomping grounds on Saturday. Once upon a time, when I was in college, I worked in a fishing town on a river. The town is the "White Bass Capitol of the World," and from my post behind the bar I watched the river flow by all year round--slow and lazy in the summer, gray and cold in the fall, frozen in the winter, flooding over the banks in the spring. And after the walleye run wrapped up each spring, the white bass run would start. Fishermen pour into this town to catch them by the hundreds.
I pulled in by one boat landing along the river and Team Testosterone were appropriately awed by the boat traffic. I pointed out a shack where a boy had set up business--he'd clean fish for a quarter each. As if on cue, a well-dressed out-of-towner and his children (75% of the fishermen are from Illinois) walked across the road with a string of white bass and made their agreement with the kid who'd set up shop there by the road.
We drove further upriver and parked in the lot of the bar where I worked. In total anonymity I stood there with my sons and we watched the fishermen. I'd never done that before--every other time I'd been there for the white bass run it was to work--my feet throbbing in my sneakers while I ran from kitchen to bar to deck to bar, filling drink and food orders, stocking coolers, washing glasses.
It's to my credit that I was a good bartender. My mind is a steel trap so I could recall orders--even have drinks ready at the bar while a boat pulled in at the docks. I was fast, organized and clean. I also hated annoying people, drunk people, and people who wanted to come in to drink after midnight when I wanted to be home in bed (bar time is 2:30 a.m. in Wisconsin). These qualities made me a bad bartender. Nevertheless, I remained a faithful employee for 5 years.
Team Testosterone is itching to fish now, they watched the silvery-white bellies of the fish pulled out of the water and asked when they'd have a turn. Soon, I promised. We'll ask our old friends B & B to take you out in the boat. White bass fishing during the run is great for kids--they bite constantly so it's never dull or tedious.
The boys threw sticks and rocks into the water and ran to the end of a dock while I marveled at the changes in town since I'd last worked there--last driven through. Buildings were vacant or missing or totally renovated. The cheese factory is defunct and the grocery store across the alley from the tavern I worked at burned to the ground. I saw a few familiar sights that warmed my heart, though. The Riverside Tap and the Log Cabin were still the same and if I'd been alone I'd have stopped in one for a small tap or a burger. When I lived there, everyone knew me. I was generally game to shake dice, drink whiskey and share a good yarn or two. I wore my hair big, my sweatshirts baggy, and my legs bare. Today I don't believe I recall the rules of Ship-Captain-Crew, I never touch whiskey, but I still like a good story. I have much flatter hair these days and I prefer a fitted t-shirt and jeans to a baggy shirt and shorts. I wonder if anyone would recognize me. I wonder how many of the old fishermen are dead or unable to get out here anymore. I wonder how many of the young guys are settled down now, respectable citizens or hooligans or maybe a mix of both. I wonder what town people remain, and who has left and why.
After a few more minutes of inhaling the rusty smell of worms, dead fish and nostalgia, I called the kids back to the minivan. Time to go home. This woman doesn't belong here. In fact, she barely recognizes the woman who did.