It was July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the surface of the moon and, as the world watched, uttered that historic line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
My family and I watched on our 16-inch black-and-white TV in the two-story house we rented on Hammond Avenue in South Shore.
Then, late that night, our two sons – Kelly, 13, and Kendall, 12 – and I piled into the already-packed family jalopy and pulled away on a week-long camping trip into the wilds of Canada. Little daughter Cindy was only 7 and would stay home with Momma Bonnie.
Besides, this trip’s featured event was to be my father-to-son talk about … the birds and the bees. Yes, I could have done that in the backyard, but the talk on a fishing trip 700 miles from home might leave more of an impression on their young minds.
I packed my old black Bible in with the fishing gear. I fully intended to use its wisdom on them.
Whack them over the head with it if necessary.
Being a father bears a terrible responsibility. Sometimes I’ve been good at it; sometimes I haven’t quite measured up to the task.
We drove through the night and pitched our tent to get some sleep on a wooded point overlooking the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. We continued our journey early that next day and in late afternoon arrived at Lake Agnew, 400 miles due north from the Canadian border.
We pitched our tent among the birch trees on a point overlooking the lake, just a couple of hundred yards around the shore from the summer cabin of Earl and Mildred Doddridge.
Earl, using his boat, showed us how to troll backwards successfully for walleye. In the afternoons he pulled the boys, along with their grandson, John Scott Phillips, on the water skis.
At night we zipped the tent flap up tight and burned Pic to keep the man-eating mosquitoes at bay.
There were plenty of moose and black bears in those woods.
Just around the lake a short distance was the lone commercial dock on the lake. We went around to the dock there and watched the float planes take off with their clients for even more remote fishing lakes.
One night, Earl took the boys and me in his vehicle out to the camp dump, where bears congregated each night, digging around for an easy meal. We parked in the middle of the dump, turned the light off, and waited.
Soon, in the moonlight, we counted 11 bears around us, all rummaging through the garbage for supper.
For years afterwards, Earl would have a good laugh as he told about my encounter with one particularly big black bruin.
The bear was close to the vehicle, but not quite close enough for the small Polaroid camera I carried.
The only place I’d seen a bear was in the Cincinnati Zoo. I stepped out of the vehicle and eased toward this one as he was enjoying a cream puff.
I was 15 or 20 feet from the vehicle as I held the camera to my eye and tried to find the bear in the viewfinder. When I lowered the camera for a look, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and take notice. The bear, standing on his hind legs and sizing me up, was no more than six feet from me!
“Woof!” said the bear.
“Ya-a-a-a!” said I.
As Earl told it, the bear and I both leaped up at the same time and both did a 180-degree turn in midair. I retreated with all speed for the vehicle while the bear ran off toward the woods.
I did not get the photo.
One night in the tent, the two sons listened wide-eyed as I turned the talk to girls – girls and how they should be treated with all due respect. Girls and what could happen if you…. well, you know.
“Don’t get married until you’re at least 25,” I told them. “Get your education. See some of the world. Wait ‘till you’re ready to settle down.”
Both made me a grandfather before they turned 20.
So much for the birds and the bees.
In last Monday’s column I incorrectly identified my Scout Master Delbert Fultz as Delbert Grizzle. Grizzle was the Delbert who caught the state record bass from Greenbo Lake.
Reach G. Sam Piatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 606-932-3619.