No sign out front.
Everybody knew The Fish House.
It was that grey peeling squat building
wild hollyhocks here and there
distracting the eye from the
That was the Fish House,
near the pier and beside the river.
Hand-hewn timbers, generations old,
bulk and heft to hold tons of five foot square crates of chunk ice
beautiful pike, pickerel, perch, white fish, walleye, today's catch.
Three a.m. they left The Fish House in four boats with low humming diesels,
ready to unroll the nets in the dark,
beginning in secret locations never questioned
found by habit and instinct and passed generation to generation
without a word... rather by example.
There was the unquestioned speed and curve
for unraveling and letting the nets sink just so far,
as the vessel made the long arc with more-or-less-ness.
Not a long time
Then came the pulling in,
creaking wheels turning
the sounds of flopping fish
shovels tossing ice.
The hoisting continued,
chunks of lake ice created
tossed over the fish
as they wiggled and jumped free but into the crates
not the lake.
Hours and hours,
the steady pace unfolded
from dawn 'til the rest of the village began closing up shop.
All without words
an occasional yelp of pain
but ignored as the pace continued.
Now returning to The Fish House
the diesels were roaring and smoking
ahead of their own deep wakes,
Order emerged out of chaos as
a pent up dam of testosterone
Wise cracks and hollari'
were flung widely
massive slaps on backs
huge hands pointing with sport
by a company of yellow clad blokes.
My dad and I loved to enter all this chaos at The Fish House.
"Hey Doc, what kind today?"
Without waiting for an answer
grabbing a shove
mounds of crystals were scooped and tossed aside to find that one eight pounder.
"Told the guys, that's for Doc."
Holding up his prize another yellow bloke gripped
and pounced the prize decisively onto a stack of tough white,
wrapped and taped in one motion,
ending with a hearty verbal period: "That'll be $2.35, Doc."
There were other nights.
Didn't matter, 2 a.m, 5 a.m.
"Call the Doc. He'll take care of ya'. Never you mind noth'n."
The phone rang. The shy Doc showed up, full of energy,
smiling because he was needed,
smiling because they knew he always said yes,
smiling because here was what he longed for,
"How much Doc?" "Noth'n. Glad we got that one out.
When you get home have some whiskey when the pain starts."
Never got paid.
Priceless, this belonging
by husky men so opposite his deliberate, slow walk
he learned after his polio.
To be adopted
in a company of opposites
because in their depths a longing, a yearning, shared.
Loving the joy the freedom the banter the jabbing the poking the nickname.
In the darkness when the village slept,
Fidelity was their food,
Fidelity was what mattered.
The Doc has disappeared now,
The company of men,
The Fish House,
but I discovered the gifts that lead to fidelity.
and guides along the way.
My company, my village, my Fish House is spread over many counties.
This longing that leads to fidelity,
keeps my eyes open, alert, watching for signs of this shared longing,
moments when a pause becomes a gift, another turning
to lay everything I intended to do that day aside and listen
until all that could be said after that pause, was.
This longing is a path to fidelity.
And the gift of the pause always is...
a million times a day.
I go to The Fish House all the time, my own Fish House.
Thing is, I don't know who I'll meet who knows
this gift of longing
this gift of the pause,
who knows we've been coming toward each other out of the great mystery,
and nothing else matters.
©John Holliger 2014