Rubber boots squished across the wet dock. A huge man, in a yellow rain hat and coat, stooped down. He stared into my eyes and rubbed his long, fuzzy sideburns. He raised one fat finger in front of my face. “No whistling. A whistle brings in a storm and that is the biggest boo-doo of all.”
I rolled my eyes. Mom couldn’t be serious. She was leaving me all summer with this mad man? How could she abandon me? And look at me. She bought me the same rain gear as my uncle. I felt like a duck. I pulled my smart phone from my pocket and put it on game mode. Uncle Cecil grumbled like a plugged drain. The phone flew from my hand and skidded across the dock. I looked up into eyes the color of the sea and swallowed my gum.
“Do you know what it means to be a fisherman? Of course you do. Young folk think they know everything. Well, you can’t fish with that thing. Fishermen live a wild, free life on the sea. They can spit where they like. But the sea is also rough and plays hard. Never think you know everything about her, for the sea will prove you wrong.” Uncle Cecil poked my belly. “To fish for a living is tough work. You think you’re up to it, boy?”
“How hard could it be? You put in your fishing line and pull up when you get a bite.”
Uncle snorted. “It’s that and more. We’ll see how easy you think it is. Get on board.”
I glanced at the fleet of schooners, then at Uncle Cecil’s. All of them looked alike. The schooners had tall poles that scratched the sky and twine nets rolled up on their sides. Tide’s Point, my uncle’s ship, was larger than the other schooners and it carried many dory boats stacked on top of each other. The dories had a flat bottom and the bow and stern curved up into points. Each fisherman had painted a name on the side of his dory. Dory fishing had declined years ago when the draggers and long liners had taken over. The cod had almost been wiped out because of the drag nets. Uncle Cecil believed in the old ways and had started his own business. The locals appreciated the fresh fish.
While Uncle Cecil chopped up some bait, I grasped my smart phone from the dock and rammed it in my pocket. I climbed aboard the schooner and took a seat on a wooden crate. Mom had warned me that sometimes the masts swing out and knock men into the sea. I gazed up. The wind teased the sails from their ropes. A corner of one of the sails slapped back and forth as though it wanted to come out and play.
“You must be Cec’s nephew.” A man, with a grin that stretched his weathered face, extended his hand. “I’m Salty.”
His hand was twice the size of mine and it felt harsh, yet strong. He smelled like tobacco and wet wool. Salty pulled out a pocket knife from his baggy trousers and cut a wedge of cheese. He handed me a piece. The cheese was creamy and melted in my mouth.
“Larson makes the best cheese. Don’t you agree?” A touch of a smile lit Salty’s thin lips.
My mouth watered for more. “I don’t know. Let me try another piece.”
Salty laughed like a screeching osprey. “One more and that’s it.”
I swallowed it whole after my uncle glared at me. “That’s the best cheese I’ve ever had.”
“Ha! See the boy agrees with me, Cec. You wagered and lost. You owe me a fish.”
“You made a fool out of me, Nathan.” Uncle Cecil winked. He tossed the bucket of bait at Salty. “Take your pick, man. There are several fish in that pail.” He slapped his knees and brayed like a seal.
My mouth dropped open.
“Close your mouth, boy. You don’t want to catch flies.”
“Don’t believe him. Nathan. We could use a few flies to catch fish.” Salty snickered.
“Enough! All aboard, men,” Uncle Cecil called.
Men of different races and sizes filled every inch of the ship. My uncle spat on his palm and held it up to the air. He nodded and everyone cheered. He grabbed the wheel and steered the schooner out to the center of the sea. I felt off balance and grabbed the nearest thing, Salty’s leg. He patted my head and my face reddened. I let go and glanced around, but no one had noticed.
Uncle Cecil stopped on the Atlantic side of Newfoundland and Labrador. “Grab your dories, men and let’s get fishing.” He wrapped an arm around Salty’s shoulder. “Today, I want you to take charge. I’d like to teach the young scamp how to fish proper. Can I count on you?”
“Sure, I’d love the role of captain for a day.” Salty pushed his shoulders back and stood taller. He strapped a life jacket on me, then helped us lower his dory into the sea.
I looked like a bloated fish. A sigh escaped me as I climbed into the dory.
(This ends part two. Stay tuned for part three)