Back when I was a kid (pretty original beginning on this one…) my uncle asked if I wanted to go fishing with him and his son. I wasn’t planning anything that weekend, so I decided to ask mom if it was alright. Soon after I coaxed my parents and they actually allowed me to go, my uncle was at the door to pick me up. “Don’t worry about a tent”, he said, “I have plenty of tents”. So all I packed was my trusty sleeping bag and my camping pillow.
We arrived at a gravel pit, parked the truck, and proceeded to walk down a long road that led to my uncle’s favorite fishing spot, a salmon river called “Harry’s River” here on the west coast of the island. We then noticed that despite the fact that my uncle said he had ‘plenty of tents’, he had forgot to bring any of them. All that was in the bed of his pickup truck was a roll of felt and his twenty four been (commonly known as a two four). “Don’t worry guys, I can build a great ‘bough camp’ and we can use the felt for a roof. We were cool with that, as we were just fifteen year old kids, and we figured that he knew what he was talking about.
My uncle was known to drink a lot, and this weekend, he packed a 24 of his favorite beer, Black Horse Ale. Black Horse was a strong beer that smelled worse than it tasted, so he had no worries about us kids drinking any. The three of us hiked a mile or so from the area where we left the truck, found a nice spot to make camp, and proceeded to do so. My cousin was handy with an axe, and I carried the fir branches to the camp spot so that my uncle could form the basis for the bough camp. A bow camp is essentially a shelter made from tree limbs, or boughs. As we carried the boughs to the site, my uncle was quick to stack them together, and in no time at all, he had crafted a great shelter for the night. Besides, the weather called for clear skies, so we weren’t worried.
My uncle then took a half an hour or so to place his beers in the water along the river bank so they would be nice and cold when he set out to fish. He made a campfire, cooked a few slices of baloney, stirred in some left over potatoes and we had lunch. My cousin Ronnie and I set out to do some trout fishing in the salmon river (not really legal, but we were just kids) and when we managed to hook a few big ones, we brought them back to camp. By then, My uncle already had a few of his beers, and he brought out his accordion and played a few jigs.With a burning cigarette tucked in the corner of his lip, he played away.
As evening approached, the sky grew very dark, and rain clouds formed above us. Although the forecast called for a clear night, we Newfoundlanders are all aware of how unreliable the forecast really is here on the island. The weather can change at the drop of a hat, and this evening was proof of that. Seeing the dark clouds, we asked our uncle if he could put the felt on the roof of the shelter, and the three of us worked to make it as waterproof as we could. My uncle cut additional trees and sawed them up for firewood, and in a little while, he had built a massive camp fire.
The clouds seemed to burst open as the rain began pouring down. My uncle asked if we wanted to stay outside with him, but seeing how it was spilling rain, we decided to go to sleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag, and with the rain hitting the hard felt roof of the shelter, it was not long before I was fast asleep.
Even though it was raining, my uncle remained sitting in his chair next to the roaring fire while he played Newfie jigs on the squeezebox. I was sleeping soundly until I was shaken awake by the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard. “Don’t worry guys” said my uncle, “It’s only thunder, won’t hurt you”. My cousin and I both wondered how his dad managed to keep a fire going in the hard rain, and we discovered how in just a little while, as our sleeping bags grew heavy on our bodies. The sleeping bags were those of the outdoor camping variety, complete with a small shelter that stood over our heads, and only once the rain came down harder did we realize the my uncle was using the felt roof to keep his fire going.
Soaking wet, we climbed out of the roofless shelter and ran for cover in the heavy branches of a nearby white spruce, and we huddled together until the thunder storm was over. We sat next to the roaring fire until the sun came up the next morning.
We were anxious to get home, but first my uncle wanted to have a few tries at the salmon river. He was gone for about an hour, and when he returned, he had enough salmon to feed everyone in his family, and a few for my family. We struggled to carry the water soaked sleeping bags out to the truck, and when we got there, we had to face another surprise.
When my uncle attempted to start the truck, he mistakenly broke the key off in the ignition. I was amazed how he didn’t panic, and simply tied a few wires together and the old Chevy engine roared to a start. My uncle was very handy with cars, and he didn’t even sweat it. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” he used to say.
We were heading home on the Trans Canada Highway when my uncle noticed a Mountie had someone pulled over on the shoulder of the road. “Glad that’s not us”, my uncle said. “A pile of wires tied together to start the truck would not look too good for us, the cop would probably think we stole this fine truck” He said. Ronnie and I doubted that, as the tired old Chevy looked like it was on its last legs and nobody would steal it even if they had the chance.
When my uncle noticed the cops had the guy pulled over, he began blinking his high beams to warn oncoming motorists of the road trap, and he was unlucky enough to warn another police car as it passed us. My uncle let out a loud swear and in minutes we heard the loud sirens signaling us to pull over.
“Trouble starting the truck?” The mountie asked. “And did I notice you signalling other drivers that we had a radar trap up ahead?” the officer questioned.
“The truck is a bastard sometimes, but I know how to get it going, but not sure what you mean about me warning drivers”, my uncle pleaded.
“Your headlights blinked to several cars ahead of us, and then us as well”, the cop said.
My uncle got out of the truck, went to the hood of the truck, banged his fist on the hood directly over the headlights. “There, the lights come loose from time to time, and they blink away!” “Got it fixed now” My uncle added.
With that, the cops shook his hand, wished us a safe trip home, and we were on our way home.
This story is true. My uncle Corn, as we call him, is still with us. He is 72 years old now, and a hard smoker all his life, he lost one leg to a blood clot, and is on the verge of losing the other as well. He still enjoys his beer, uses an ATV to get to the salmon rivers, and still has an old truck that starts with two wires tucked safely under the dash. Some things never change.