Up the Creek: Boats
By Ken Blomberg
I often reminisce of my father’s love affair with boats. As a young boy, he hung out at Chicago’s Belmont Harbor. One fateful day he dove off a pier and saved the Harbormaster’s son from drowning. That heroic deed landed him a job. “It was the Depression and the wealthy had money to spend on their boats and outdoor recreation, even in the worst of times,” my father would say. “And the tips were good.”
At eighteen, he was awarded Ordinary Seaman certification from the US Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation – becoming the youngest licensed pilot on the Great Lakes at the time. At nineteen, Uncle Sam gave him tickets aboard ocean bound ships. He served two theaters during World War II. On the ship home from Italy, my father dreamed of the calmer waters of the Great Lakes, his new bride, his family and weekends spent at relatives near Little Bay de Noc in Escanaba. The War was over. Dad found work away from the harbor. He saved enough money to buy a small, used boat.
I recall weekends and vacations growing up that revolved around dad’s boats. A chain of lakes near the Wisconsin border became one of our favorite destinations. It was there father taught me the finer points of fishing. Perch were our favorite. Bass came in second. Dad would recall, “My mother and I fished off the piers at the Chicago Harbor for perch when I was your age, and we’d walk down to the Lake and catch a pail full for supper during the Depression. On the way home we’d collect coal tossed off the trains by the engineers, who knew locals used to fuel stoves for cooking and heating.”
When I was very young, weeklong vacations were spent up north in Wisconsin’s Vilas County, camping on the shores of Big Muskellunge Lake. Dad would rent a wooden rowboat and we’d fish for panfish, bass and maybe, just maybe, a musky. Several times during the week, our family drove to nearby Sayner to look at big muskies on display in glass-covered storefront freezers and at night watch scavenging black bears at the local dump.
In 1967, the company dad worked for transferred him to Wisconsin. That was the best thing that could have happened to a young boy like me – moving to the land of woods and waters. At 13, I was in outdoor heaven. Dad brought along his boat and rented a cabin on a lake while our new home was being built. Evenings and weekends were spent fishing and boating with dad and new friends. In time, the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan beckoned, and dad heeded the call. In his boat off the Door County peninsula, we’d catch stringers of smallmouth bass.
When dad retired in 1985, my mother convinced him to buy a new, bigger used boat. His dream boat. I remember father at the helm, grinning from ear to ear with pride and satisfaction. A picture of the boat hangs in my office next to his framed 1938 seaman’s pilot’s license.
Dad and mom had one final wish. To be cremated and have their ashes spread along the shore of Big Muskellunge Lake. Mom is now 96 years old and living in Wausau. When the time comes, she’ll join her beloved husband by the lake. Their son and two grown grandsons plan a small ceremony – including a day fishing in a rowboat for panfish, bass and maybe, just maybe, a musky.