Green Hills Literary Lantern






In 1968, ice skates were our gifts for the holidays. If mine had come with training wheels. I would not have had any trouble.


Five minutes of instruction from my older brother and my little sister skates off like a natural. I on the other hand receive some training along with bumps, scratches and bruises, and in ten minutes I give up.


I change back into my boots with ridicule and laughter from my siblings.


Since I’m supposed to have a good time, I try making a snowman. Impossible with powdered snow.


The wind picks up and swirls snow around one spot, forming a fish. Just like in the cartoons.


Okay, you don’t believe it. But I do.


It’s a hint I can live with.


I walk across the street to the cottage Grandfather is living in. It’s the only camp on the property that has a garage.


I pull out my little red sled and two teepee ice-fishing tents. They go onto the sled, along with a manual ice auger.


I walk back to the ice, pulling the sled. I soon find out that an ice auger is taller than a nine-year-old boy. Drilling through three feet of ice will take me forever.


I have three hours until supper.


Maybe it will work like a shovel. Holding it as straight as possible, I bring it down hard enough to stick the point in the ice.


I climb onto the circular protrusions. This puts me at the top.


Keeping my feet on the extensions, I turn the handle. It takes a moment to realize I’m turning it backwards.


My extra few pounds actually helps the drilling. In twenty minutes – I have a hole! I set up the teepee over the hole. Forgetting something.


“Whatcha gonna use for bait, retard?” My siblings have arrived. “Whatcha gonna use for bait, dummy?”


I run to the cabin, opening the Philco refrigerator to steal a slice of macaroni loaf. Tastes good to me. Maybe the bass will like it too.


“That’s people food, not fish food. Ya!” My siblings chime in behind me.


I have nothing else. Worms in Maine hibernate in the winter. The store is two miles away, and I have no money anyway.


It isn’t fifteen minutes before the flag pops up. Whatever I have on the hook, it takes the whole ten yards of line.


It’s going to take me twenty years to reel this thing in.


I sit at the edge of the hole, legs around the teepee, hands on the reel.


The line goes slack.


“The dummy lost ‘im!” my brother yells.


Tears well up. I turn the handle on the reel. And find I am almost jerked onto the ice. Monster still attached.


The yelling of my siblings gathers a crowd. There’s a man I do not know, now giving me instructions.


“Easy, son. When the line goes slack, turn the handle three times. Let that thing tire himself out.”


Getting him up isn’t easy. Every time I put the littlest pressure on the handle to turn it, he fights. Water shoots straight up out of the hole. It soaks my clothes. My face and hands are coated, frozen. I’ll be ten years old before I feel warm again.


And out he comes. Hitting the snow, he renews the fight. Flapping, flopping, he clears a three foot stretch of the white stuff, all the way to the clear ice below it.


When he stops, I drag him back from the hole. I reach down, figuring to take out the hook. He starts in again. How much air can they hold in?


“The only way you’re going to get the hook back is to clean him,” says the man, handing me a knife, butt-end first.


Holding the bass near its tail and brushing his spinal fins down, I slide the blade under his gills, turn the blade downward and pull. A second cut goes down his stomach.


There’s a bait bucket with a ladle. I fill it with water to rinse the fish. I take off the head – a raccoon will get that.


I load my equipment back onto the sled. With the catch of the day.


Back at the cabin, Mom has a recipe for baked bass.


I’m going to eat and eat. Leftovers will be fish chowder.


Suppertime. Everybody gets tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Except me.


I eat without a word. Five bites. Then I hear “Ma-a-a-a…” And then from my sister, “Momma!”


“Talk to your brother,” is all she says.


“Nope,” I say, between bites.


That’s when Grandfather decides I’m being selfish.

He reaches for my platter. I stick my fork in his hand.

The room goes silent as everyone watches four drops of blood well up from the back of his hand.


His reaction is a backhand to the mouth, knocking me and my chair to the floor. My head bangs against the wall and I see stars for a moment.


I’ll get no help from Mom.



I rise up, furious. I have no intention of sharing this fish with my torn=mentors.


“Pick up the chair, boy,” he demands, my platter sitting in front of him.


I walk over to him. “I’m not sharing,” I say, and dump the platter onto his lap.


Another backhand, and I trip over a chair, and my head connects with the wall again.


This time, I stay on the floor. Laughing. Because I did not want to cry. He stomps from the room.


Mom picks me up and gives me two licks on the behind. She sets me in the chair. “Do Not Move.”


She goes into the living room to watch the news at six. I put on dry clothes and leave. It’s dark, but I’m too angry to be afraid.


I jog to the lake at the other end of the campground. Snowmobiles fly past. I might get lucky enough to catch a ride. If I cross the lake, it’s two and a half miles home instead of four.


I walk out a little more. Scott picks me up and drives me home.


I didn’t need a key. I know I can get through the basement door by giving it a push.


I have a hot bath. I fall asleep on the floor watching TV and petting the dog.


I didn’t hear a thing until 2:15 am. Father yelling, lifting me, for another licking.


December 28, 1968, is the last time I went fishing.




Alan Linton is working on two books while serving out his prison sentence. He expects to be released in four years.