Higgins Lake, a short story by Dennis Ward

Boys fishing Higgins Lake

My new found friend’s name was Greg, and he was one year younger from Royal Oak.

The name of that city sounded impressive to me, coming from the village of Breckenridge. Greg said nonchalantly, “I often go to the Detroit Zoo or a Tiger baseball game with my dad.”  I thought Greg was the luckiest kid in Michigan to be able to see the Tigers play baseball, ride the Ferris wheel at Belle Isle amusement park, and visit the Detroit Zoo anytime his heart desired.  It was simply amazing.

After viewing a dead mud puppy we swam, and took turns standing on our heads underwater.  I said, “I know where there’s a creek full of fish and minnows, do you want to go see it?”

“Yes! My dad has a minnow net, maybe we could catch some minnows and try to sell them to fishermen,” Greg said with the entrepreneurial wisdom of a city kid.  My new business partner and I headed down the trail beside the stand of tall white pines and birch, with nets flopping over our heads, to begin our new money-making adventure together.

The creek was a little deeper than I expected, and I didn’t want to drown.  I laid flat on the ground on my stomach at the edge, and Greg held my ankles to prevent me falling into the whirling eddy.  “Hang on tight,” I shouted.  “I don’t want to slide down this slippery embankment.”  The noise of the water running over the dam was loud enough to require loud shouts and hand signals.   I cast the minnow net into the water that we pasted with bread crumbs and the minnows went for it sure fire. “Pull it up quickly”, cried Greg.  As I retrieved the net, it was chock full of flipping, flopping minnows.  After several rounds of this we had a large Styrofoam container full of beautiful minnows.

“Let’s take them to the boat landing, maybe a fisherman will buy them there,” I said.

Greg and I carried the heavy container of minnows down the path towards the boat landing, giving the minnows a turbulent voyage.  We frequently stopped to rest and survey our catch. We finally arrived at the boat landing as a fisherman was launching his boat. “Mister, would you like to buy some minnows for bait”, we inquired?  I’m sure our eyes were full of hope.

“How much are your minnows?” questioned the man, leaning over the Styrofoam container judiciously inspecting our catch.

“They’re twenty five cents for 10,” I informed him. I was dubious as to whether that was too high a price.

Without hesitation, the fisherman pulled out a ten dollar bill and said, “I’ll take all of them.” Greg and I must have had to pick up our jaws off the ground.  At that moment, I had the most money in my hand ever in my life.  Years later, it would dawn on me that generous fisherman paid us more than double what he owed.  We split the money and indulged ourselves at the park store to buy candy treats.  I noticed a pretty ashtray of blue and gold glaze in the shape of a maple leaf.  My mother’s birthday was near and blue was her favorite color. I impulsively decided to buy the blue ashtray for her birthday.  It didn’t even cross my mind that she wasn’t a smoker and nobody in our family smoked.  Why wouldn’t she need an ashtray?

The sultry days of summer were upon us and Greg and I were as tan as acorns.  The weekend arrived and my mother, father, Greg, and I took our small silver aluminum fishing boat, powered by a tiny fifteen horsepower Evinrude motor, out to the deepest depths of the blue lake, where larger fish lingered around their spawning beds.  We drifted aimlessly in the middle of the lake’s gentle waters. The only sound was of the waves lapping against the sides of the boat.  It was sunny and the skies were blue with white cirrus streaks bursting across the expanse of openness. Greg and I proudly contributed the bait for the fishing expedition. The fishy smells in the boat were pungent in the warm summer air.  I stared at my bobber with the intensity of a medium gazing into a crystal ball.  My father insisted on silence and no movement.  He whole heartedly believed that the fish knew humans intended to batter and fry their entire community.

“I’ve got something, and it’s a whale”, shouted my mother.

  “Give him more line,” guided my dad.   After a half-hour struggle of mom battling a monster till her arms were numb, dad netted a forty-seven inch granddaddy Great Northern Pike. We all caught fish that day, but it was my mother’s birthday, and she caught the grand prize fish.  Greg told me later it was the best time he ever had in his life.  I was stunned to hear him say that.  Here’s a guy who practically can hear the crack of a Tiger home run bat from his back yard, saying a fishing trip was the grand moment of his childhood.  From that moment, Greg and I were “Higgins Lake” brothers.

That night we had a large fish fry, with fresh sweet corn, fresh garden salad from our home garden, and all of my mother’s family joined us because they camped in the park as well.  It was a wonderful long-standing family tradition.

“Can I invite my new friend, Greg?” I asked my mother.

“Of course, there’s plenty, and invite his parents too,” said my mother, ripping corn husks off golden ears of sweet corn.

We set up picnic tables and ate right by the beach as the sun was still quite full over the purple gold lake in the longer days of summer. Twelve to fifteen people ate with gusto, and the mood was light hearted.  My sister’s transistor radio played Motown tunes from a Saginaw station.  Mary Well’s My Guy drifted over the sandy shoreDignified and endearing, Aunt Nettie appeared with a birthday cake she had made from scratch at home.  Greg and I set the cake ablaze with lots of flickering candles as gentle breezes came off the lake.  The angel food cake was delicious and has always been my favorite.  The party all sang happy birthday to my mother, who blushed red at the attention.  My father gave my mother red roses and a white dress designed with red roses.  We all smiled and looked away when he gave her a prolonged kiss.

“Happy birthday, mother,” I said with glee, giving her my present wrapped in newspaper comics.

“Oh, it is beautiful, I’ll treasure it always, giving me a hug. “Thank you so much, it’s very thoughtful of you.” For the rest of her life, she prominently displayed that blue and gold ashtray on our coffee table that said, “Souvenir of Higgins Lake.”  Dear mom never allowed one ash to even get close to that blue ashtray.

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