Tomahawk

By Laura Imming

                                                                     
            Once a year I go fishing in Tomahawk, WI.  It’s a ritual. When the naked trees started wearing their green undergarments I headed up North from my senior year in college to visit the last of my relatives, Grandpa John.  The trip in my 1997 Ford takes about six cd’s of Brecker Brothers and Ellington before the streets are bordered by bluffs and lakes; Nothing but browns and blues pass by in the thick miasma of morning smog.  I’ve been driving since midnight and everything seems a bit hazy to be honest, but Grandpa enjoys fishing off the lake when it’s just barely six am to watch the fog rise from the water. He says it’s like watching clouds migrating from the earth to the sky as if they were fish jumping up to reach the rusty rays of a darkening sunset. His metaphors are always grounded in fishing like it’s a spiritual guide to living a good life. I shake my head and laugh. Last year I told him I only had one trip left in me and after that, I’d be heading to the East coast pursuing graduate school in Boston. Grandpa just smiled and said I’d be here right on schedule; I’d get sick of the accents or something. Something tells me this is the last fish and fog story I’ll hear though; the finale to grandpa’s lonely tradition.
            At the six hour mark “Some Skunk Funk” starts playing over and the engine starts fussing. I play with the gas to keep her moving and she goes on by pure will power. This car has never quit on a ride to Tomahawk. It must crave fresh air and bellied-up Burger bars because that’s all Tomahawk is known for: 1 church, 5 bars, and grandpa. What do you do in a town like this besides fish and drink? 
            My Ford skirts past the old Dogs and Suds drive-in, boasting double cheeseburgers, fries, and root-beer for 4.95. It’s nearly up 50 cents since I’ve been here last; a sign of a dying community. Perhaps they’d built a nicer church in the town a few miles over with nicer schools and nicer brand name food, but my Grandpa John is loyal to his root-beer joints.  He says it tastes like sassafras, but I’ve never tasted a difference between Dogs and Suds and any A&W.  Grandpa has a knack for being sentimental about things though.  He’s the type who holds on to stacks of newspapers and first date mementos in a chained box older than himself; it would seem the memories are equivalent to dead people, his wife, our family. I fiddle with my phone to keep it from jabbing into my thigh while I look out the window. Grandpa’s fence is crooked and blocking the mailbox, but it’s gotten a desperately needed paint job.  My car just barely squeaks into his newly tarred driveway before the engine dies on cue. Yellow fishing boots in hand, I head up the sidewalk to see he’s already staring out the blinds. I wave as the blind snaps and the front door opens moments later.
            “Angela! You remembered your boots this time.”  He winks before embracing me in a one-armed hug.
            “You think I’m going to sit with soggy shoes again? I see you painted the fence. It looks nice.” He lets go and looks at me with a solemn face.
            “Did you see Dogs and Suds’ dinner has gone up 50 cents since last year? I can barely afford a large root beer.”  I frown with mock anger.
            “That’s ridiculous.”
            “Doctor’s been saying I need to be eating better nowadays, but I figure I’ve been around this long.” He pauses. “Are you ready to get out on the lake?”
            “I brought some night crawlers so you wouldn’t have to stop by the store.”
            He nodded and shuffled over to his Chevy before patting the passenger’s side and mouthing “get your butt in.”  Cash’s “Rhythm” is halfway through the chorus when we reach Lake Tomahawk. It’s about quarter to six and right on schedule. Grandpa John whistles while he eases the boat into the water and knots up the fishing lines. I squeeze a night crawler in half, its middle oozing brown waste onto my fingers as I tie them on our hooks. I can hear the frogs and crickets still singing their blues as the sun begins to peak through its blinds before hiding in a fresh batch of fog.  My grandpa paddles us out to the middle of the lake before laying his paddle down and stretching his feet out over the side to dangle in the water.           
            He asks me, “Do you remember what I said about lake fog trying to act like fish?” I smile and ask him to remind me

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