My dad, Sonny, and a buddy, Bob, built a fish house of their own in 1955.
Every Saturday the two of them would head up to Mille Lacs for a sunrise-to-sunset day on the lake. It did not matter if fishing was good or bad. The house sat in the same spot from first ice until the season ended.
In 1956, I was 7, and finally was allowed to come along. Dad always chopped the holes with a homemade ice chisel. He let me chop the holes when I got older. Over the years I managed to drop just one chisel in the lake. To save chopping time for the following weekend, we would push cylinder-shaped cans into the fish holes before heading home. The cans would freeze in the water. Then, when we returned the next weekend, alcohol was poured into the cans and ignited. After four minutes of burning, the cans would pop up like corks, the holes reopened. We could start fishing.
The lighting in the fish house consisted of a single-mantle Coleman lantern and small candles adjacent to each fish hole. The house was heated with an old kerosene heater. The fuel would build up inside the stove and engulf it in flames a few times a season. Without panicking, Bob would kick the icehouse door open, and my dad would put on his chopper mitts before grabbing the stove and tossing it in the snowbank. He would bring it back in the icehouse after the fire died and relight it — usually without eyebrows. Several years passed before they updated to propane.
My mom would pack our lunches each weekend and wrap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for me in aluminum foil. When it was lunchtime, I set them on the stove and toasted them to perfection. What a feast for a 7-year-old.
Upon reflection, I can’t even remember if we caught many fish. My dad is gone now. Shown in an old photo (above), I am sure he is telling me to smile and stop squinting.
Don Blau, Maple Grove