Another beautiful summer in the Colorado Rockies. We had just left my Uncles house in Denver and were driving through the winding two lane roads leading to our final destination. A camp site next to a babbling brook hidden deep in the woods. Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Not quite.
My dad and I had driven in from Chicago just the night before and arrived at my Uncle Jim and Josephines’ house in the outskirts of Denver proper. Jim Stephenson was a long time friend of my dads that went all the way back to the days of prohibition when they were very young men. Josephine was Uncle Jim’s wife of many years and she was jolly as could be. Always warm and friendly with a hot cup of coffee for everyone that came through the door. I called them both Aunt and Uncle just because it felt right. I could never think of them any other way.
Everyone had to get together the night before the fishing trip, it was a tradition, or an excuse, to consume much food, drink and lie a little before everyone turned in and prepared for the early departure the next morning. It was always an early departure and that means well before dawn.
The vehicle of choice for this outing was Georges’ pick-up which had a camper shell on the back. George was another of dad and Jim’s friends from way back. I never knew Georges’ last name and if I did, I apologize George, it’s gone forever. He and Jim were hunting and fishing buddies and when dad came to visit, the three of them were just about inseparable. Plus me of course, there was always room for me.
After one of Josephines’ hardy breakfasts, we all piled into Georges pick-up. Dad, Uncle Jim and George in the cab and me, happily curled up on the sleeping bags in the back and blissfully on my way back to sleep. Did I mention the sun was not yet peeking over the eastern horizon?
On the way through the Rockies, The guys would pull off the road to do a little fly fishing along the way. There was usually a stream or small river flowing down the mountain along side the road. It was the continuous run off from the higher elevations from the melting snow. These streams/rivers almost always had an abundance of Rainbow Trout. If you were high enough above the water, you could actually see them swimming against the current. Perfectly still in the water.
Dad, Jim and George would put on their waders or hip boots and work their way slowly out into the current. It was with much care and flourish that they placed their lines into a specific spot along the bank, watch it flow downstream with the current while expertly gathering in the line one loop at a time. Then they would recast their lines for another go. A fly fisherman takes great pride in his ability to place his line exactly where he wants it. That, sometimes, is more important than the catching of the fish itself. Go figure!?!
I would always stay beside the truck because I got a kick out of seeing the trout swim up next to my dad and the rest while they tried catching them some fifty feet away. All they had to do was reach out a couple feet to their right or left and snag a trout. One of about two or three swimming next to each one of them. Personally, I would have left the poles in the truck and grabbed a big net. Less sporting, perhaps, but much more practical.
Normally, the guys would make two or three such stops before getting to their destination. This time, there was a fourth stop. It was a big ole log cabin type building that had a few rooms to rent upstairs, a long, old and beaten wooden bar and five or six tables scattered around the room.
Dad and I sat down at a table while Jim and George went to the bar to get a menu and order some refreshments. Mine was soda. The lady that ran (and probably owned) the place was the Margorie Main type of gal. Gruff and grizzled on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. She took an immediate liking to me for what ever reason. After we finished lunch, she took me up to the bar and made me root beer float and gave me a piece of pie ala mode. After finishing the hamburger and fries for lunch and then the double treat for dessert, I was stuffed. This was going to come back to haunt me later.
Before we left, the gal at the bar made my dad promise to bring me back before we left for home. Dad and the guys promised. They paid the bill (the root beer float and pie were on the house) we piled back into Georges truck and drove the short distance to the turnoff for the camping spot.
It wasn’t really a camp ground, just a round fire pit made out of rocks, a fast moving stream and a lot of bare ground surrounded by trees. Also known as ‘home’ for the next couple of days. Honestly, anywhere with my dad was okay with me. We could have been camping on broken glass and it wouldn’t have mattered. Well, maybe a little.
That afternoon, we caught a fair number of trout of varying sizes. Quite enough for three grown men and a small but growing boy. George was elected to do the cooking. Over an open fire, you used as little in the way of utensils as possible. This meant you used one iron skillet and a big spoon and fork for everything.
I’ll remember this dinner for as long as I live. George cooked a fair amount of bacon first. Some for the evening meal and some for the next morning. After the bacon was cooked he threw in a bunch of sliced potatoes and let them soak up the goodness of all that bacon grease. After the potatoes were done, he threw the fish in the same greasy mixture of bacon remnants and potato skins in the bottom of the pan. I must admit, the trout tasted fine going down as did the bacon and potatoes. Who knew what was to follow?
After dinner was over an the pan and plates were washed in the stream, we all sat around the campfire and I listened to the men talk about their exploits and drink out of a whiskey bottle they past to each other until it was gone. I drank soda and soda doesn’t cut grease like whiskey.
As the fire died down, dad and I set up a small tent that we were going to sleep in while Jim and George rolled out their sleeping bags in the back of the truck bed. The light from the fire flickered on which gave the trees a life of their own in the dancing light. This lasted well after we all had gone to sleep.
Everything was fine until around midnight when my stomach started reacting to the root beer float, pie ala mode, the hamburger, greasy potatoes, bacon and the trout floating in the bacon grease. I had to get out of that tent and pronto. Something bad this way cometh, I fear.
Dad had placed me to the inside of the tent while he slept near the entrance for safety. Now, he was blocking the only exit and, unknown to him, was about to become the recipient of my very upset stomachs contents.
I fought to get out of the sleeping bag trying desperately to keep the gagging reflex under control. Once out of the bag, I needed to get over my dad and into the clear. There was little clearance do to the fact we were in a pup tent and, there was that pole splitting the door way in half. Well, I couldn’t worry about that now, I had to get out and fast.
I stumbled out of the end of the tent knocking the pole out collapsing that end of the tent and probably kicking my dad in the process. Dad yelled, “What the hell is going on?” I kept on digging for pay dirt like a fullback trying to push through the defense on fourth and goal. Finally in the clear but still on my hands and knees, I started puking for all I was worth. It was more like the eruption of a volcano than anything else. Needless to say, my dad was worried. Uncle Jim was in stitches and until Jim woke George up, he was sleeping through the whole thing. Jim couldn’t let that happen.
Afterwords, I felt much , much better. Dad gave me some water to wash out the bad taste and whatever else remained behind. We sat up for a while to make sure there wasn’t going to be an Act II to this event. Dad finally felt it was safe enough to go back to the tent and try to resume sleep. To be on the safe side though, dad and I traded places.
The next morning there was still enough laughter to go around and, naturally, it was to be at my expense. As soon as I had gotten up enough energy to get out of the tent. The night before had taken a lot out of me in more ways than one. I walked over to the fire where dad, Jim and George were drinking coffee when Jim walked over to me, bent down and said in his big booming voice, “So, how’s Chief Puke in the Face this morning?” “Quite a mess you left over there. Took all three of us to bury it.” He laughed his hearty laugh and was soon joined by my dad and George.
Uncle Jim loved me, I know that. He bent down and placed his hand on my shoulder and in a soft voice said, “Don’t worry Eddie, we’ve all done it.” That didn’t necessarily mean the joking would stop. Jim and the rest told that story for years after that.
Now, do to may stomachs still delicate condition, I passed on breakfast that morning. George was still the designated cook and I was taking no more chances. I did have a sandwich later for lunch, which I made myself by the way, and another soda. It was all I could handle after the incident last night. I couldn’t take the chance on giving the men any more to laugh about then they all ready had. It would have to be someone else’s turn now.
The men decided to move on to a new location but first, the promised stop at the log cabin bar. We all sat down, dad and the guys had beer, I had soda. We all had food and this time, mine stayed where it belonged. Miraculous what a good cook can accomplish. Of course, they had to tell everyone that would listen about what happened the night before with their new favorite topic, me. Chief Puke in the Face was quite a hit that night.
Dad and the guys got a bit too comfortable, if you know what I mean, and we ended up getting a couple of rooms for the night instead of heading on to new fishing grounds, which was all right with me. The next morning, we all went downstairs to a magnificent breakfast with all the trimmings. Much coffee was consumed by the men. I had milk. (Surprise!)
Before we left, the lady running the place came up and gave me a big hug and kiss on the forehead. She said not to worry about the teasing I got the night before. Then she looked down at me, kinda winked one eye and wagged her finger and said, “Wait here a minute. I have something for you.” She came back with this big package wrapped and tied in heavy brown paper.
She looked at the men and asked, “Do you have an ice chest?”
George said, “Yes.”
“Is there any ice in it?” she asked.
“Not now. he said, It’s all melted.”
She had him bring it in and placed the package inside and covered it with ice.
She said, “Now that’s for you Eddie. It’s enough trout to feed a small army. Since these big fisherman are going home empty handed, someone has to show up with something. Looks like it’s gonna’ be you.” She smiled and kissed me again on the forehead. Like so many people we met on these trips, I never saw this woman again but, her kindness will stay with me for a lifetime. How come we have such a hard time remembering that?
All in all, except for the throwing up thing, it was a pretty neat trip. They always were.
I’ll see you next-time.