The old man, the kid, and the dumpling

It seemed only normal that the kid had followed me to Alaska to work summers at the lodge
Morning Light on Timmerman's Island - Bob White
Morning Light on Timmerman's Island (artwork: Bob White).

It was the kind of hangover I liked and often cultivated. Enough of one to remind me that I’d had a good time, but not enough to shy me away from the first evening drink. I sat in the shop among the ancient and broken-down outboards that needed repair, cradling a mug of coffee, and watched the morning fog lift from the lake and disappear. High clouds were beginning to take form; it would be a fine day.

The first-year kid was early, and walked past the float planes to the end of the dock where he sat down next to the scow and dangled his wadered legs in the lake. He too had a mug of coffee, but it was more an attempt to fit in than a necessity.

The freighter had been loaded the evening before with a week’s worth of refuse; that which couldn’t be burned or ground into slop and poured into the lake. The contents had been covered the evening before with a ratty blue tarp so that none of the lodge’s guests could see the unsightly pile of trash that was headed to the dump. That was our job for the morning, me and the chore-boy, to run the garbage scow the length of the lake, load everything into the panel truck and haul it to the dump where we’d pay a fee to throw it onto one of the enormous mountains of trash generated by the fishing village of Dillingham.

The kid wanted to be a fishing guide, and he’d make a good one. He was the kind I liked to work with. He was well built, with shoulders that’d spent summers haying, he was always early, never walked away from work, did his job with a smile, and he had a sense of humor. He was also the only son of my duck hunting partner and as the kid had gotten older he’d taken his father’s place in the blind. We’d become friends. It seemed only normal that the kid had followed me to Alaska to work summers at the lodge; where the guides were young enough to be my grand-children and I was older than most of the guests’ parents.

“Morning Bobby”, I said. “What are you studying?”

“Hey there, Bob.” The kid replied. “Just watching the clouds.” It was a curious point of pride that we both shared the same first name.

“What do they look like to you?” I asked, figuring to hear some weather-wisdom I’d imparted to the kid.

“Well, you see that one, high over Jack Knife Mountain … the one with a hole in it?”

“Yeah, what’s it tell you?”

“It tells me that it must be September, ‘cause it looks like a vagina.”

“Well, yeah,” I chuckled. “That’s one way to keep track of time. You want to make the run? I need another cup of coffee.” I’d penciled it out once; the average Alaskan fishing guide drinks his weight in coffee every six weeks.

Lines were cast off while the first of the guests sleepily made their way up the hill from their cabins to what the guides called, “the big house” for breakfast. Bobby slowly idled away from the dock while I lit my first cigar.

The twin four-cycle Hondas were quiet enough to allow for conversation, but we drifted away into our own thoughts as was our habit. 

We’re more alike than he knows, I thought. Though he hides it well, I know he gets nervous when he works with the other, more experienced guides. He’s afraid of forgetting something, making a mistake, or stumbling and being marked as a kid, a fucking new guy. And me? I worry about the same damned things because if a stumble I’ll be thought of as a washed-up old man.

When we got to the beach, across from the village of Aleknagik, Bobby walked up the hill to fetch the old bakery truck that was used to haul everything; supplies, groceries, luggage, and trash. The muffler was long gone and I could hear it coming before he could see it. The truck was backed down the landing to the bow of the scow and the process of moving the trash began. 

“Why don’t you take the back of the truck and I’ll hand the barrels up to you,” Bobby suggested. But even this arrangement distressed my back to the point where I needed the occasional break.

Sensing this, Bobby stopped the process and walked to the back of the boat, returning with a cup of coffee. It was enough of a rest, the trash was moved, and we rode toward the dump in silence. 

“Do you think that cute gal will be working the dump office today?” Bobby asked, breaking the silence

“Ahhh… the ‘Little Dumpling’”, I said. “She’s rather fetching, if I do say so myself.”

“Tyler holds the record for the smallest dump-bill she’s given so far this season; he thinks she likes him.”

“You go in and do the talking, kid … Tyler’s got nothing on you.”

The kid put on his best smile and the Dumpling seemed to perk up as he walked into the gate house. The conversation took much longer than it should have, and I watched the Dumpling admiringly. If I was twenty years younger, I thought, with a sigh, I might have a chance with her.

Bobby had a smile on his face as he hopped in the truck. “Twenty-five dollars for the whole load,” he said triumphantly.

“You should get her name and ask her out the next time you’re stuck in town,” I suggested. “You never know.”

“I don’t know,” Bobby said, “maybe, if she was twenty years younger.”