It was late this year because the winter had such a warm start, but I finally pulled the ice house out to the lake yesterday. Some guys had pulled theirs out with their trucks, but I wasn’t so sure about the ice. There were a lot of fracture lines in it, where it’s heaved up and moved. My house isn’t all that heavy, so I pulled it off the trailer and set it on some runners, hooked a tow rope up to it, and just pulled it out. I have a favorite bay I usually like to go to — it’s around a bend in the lake, away from the road, and there’s a point where the reeds and grass grow tall enough they keep it hidden. But that’s way too far for me to pull the shed, so I just found a little spot in a little bay that has a little shelter from some cottonwoods. It’s a place we came to a few times when I was in high school and we wanted to get away from our parents, a place to bring a case of beer where you could get left alone and maybe even go swimming. I don’t know if kids go there any more. I don’t remember my boys doing it, although maybe that’s because I never caught them. Hopefully the fish like it too, even though by this time of the winter they’re not biting much. Just kinda slowed down and drifting. I didn’t catch anything yet, but I augured a hole and dropped a few lines and lit the stove and leaned back on the cot and it was a good afternoon.
My wife, Shirley, said, Well, if nothing’s going to be biting, why go out there anyway? Why drag that same old beat-up fish house around on the lake and go sit out there in the cold? We’ve been at this thirty years and she still asks that question. She shouldn’t, because we probably wouldn’ta been at this thirty years if it weren’t for that, as she said, beat-up old fish house that my Dad and I built when I was a teenager. You’re going to be needing one of your own, he told me, and we put it together from some wood we found at an old homestead site north of town, that and some junk plywood from somewhere. But put that red paint on it and you don’t know it’s junk plywood, do you? Anyway, there were years when the kids were, oh, getting into high school, when I practically lived there half the winter. It’s big enough it’ll fit a cot, and that stove keeps it plenty cozy. I’d come into town to go to work at the plant, stop by the house sometimes for dinner, but I lived out here about two months. I caught enough walleye and pike that when I went home for dinner I wouldn’t get too much static for being gone. And it would take just one dinner, with the kids fighting with each other and Shirley mad about that and about every other little thing but just sitting there, stewing, saying nothing, just looking at me and saying with her eyes that I was completely neglecting the family and look how bad things had gotten. One dinner like that and I’d sneak over to Sullivan’s for dinner the next night (the Corner Cafe was closed by then and the Pie Creek hadn’t opened in its place yet).
Some people come to town and see the houses out on the lake and they think people are crazy to want to sit out there in the cold, or they think the men are irresponsible to sneak away to their little huts, it’s like having a bunch of little Eagle Aeries out there on the lake. They don’t understand how doing that year after year is one of the things that holds families and the town together.