Growing up in Algonac, Michigan, my mother-in-law's family was large, outdoorsy, and free-spirited. They enjoyed hunting and fishing (including ice fishing), and were reportedly always engaged in some sort of outdoor activity or construction project. The tales they told were quite different than the ones our children will tell. ("Hey, remember when we beat all seven levels of the advanced version of [fill-in-the-video-game]?") The boys helped their father build a cabin on the upper peninsula, a place full of memories and good times.
As I wrote previously, many stories swirled at Uncle Skip's funeral about a variety of family adventures. At times my head was swimming from the multitude of conversations and stories being told around me, but one story that struck me as the winner (at least for today's post) was the one about the infamous duck hunting incident.
Skip (aka Alex) and his brother Dale (shown in the center of the picture above, seated) loved going duck hunting. Several pictures of them out on these adventures graced the pages of a printed book one of the daughters had put together. It contained the family tree and lots of photos, stories, and clippings. We got to talking about the book and it led to the retelling of the duck tale, so to speak.
It seems that the boys were out ducking hunting one spring, I guess it was. It was still cold, and Lake St. Clair was just beginning to thaw. Skip took the boat out on the lake, while Dale hunted from shore. (I'm putting together the two versions of the story here. In one version, they were both in the boat. In another version [Dale's], Dale caught up with Skip later. I'm going mostly with Dale's version, since he was there). While Skip was out on the lake, something caught his eye. There was something in the lake!
He paddled over to investigate. What he found was a not too uncommon sight for spring in the Great Lakes region. He found a dead man.
Apparently the man had fallen through the ice at some point. Maybe he'd been walking on thin ice. Maybe he'd had a heart attack and fallen into the lake through a fishing hole. Whatever had happened, he had to be retrieved.
Skip dragged him up into the boat, a blue man who was frozen stiff, his arm still cocked at a right angle. So here sat a teenage boy, probably months away from his enlistment into the Marines, across from a frozen dead man with his arm up in the air. Are you picturing this?
Skip rowed the boat back toward the shore and noticed people on the shore waving to him. He waved back, and then he realized -- they were waving to the dead man, who appeared to be waving at them! All the way back, people on the shore or in other boats threw up a friendly wave to the raised hand.
Once at the shore, he secured the boat and went to call the county coroner. Dale, meanwhile, was looking for his brother. He came upon the boat, the dead man still propped up, blue and waving.
And you know what Dale said about seeing the dead guy in the boat? Now some 50 years later?
"Well, I saw that guy in the boat, and I says, 'Oh, Skip must be in the bar!'"
Well, of course! That would be the first thing I'd think, too! Apparently they frequented this bar on the shore, and naturally, if there was a dead man, it was time for a drink!
I'll bet whenever the two of them told that story together it was quite hilarious. As it was, we laughed until we cried. I was still giggling about the story at midnight while trying to go to sleep that night.