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No Gifts

Updated: Sep 22, 2023


And so, the email went…


“Very pleasant weather up here except for this damned Canadian wildfire smoke. Got me to coughing last evening when out fishing. Fishing is really slow. Haven’t caught a northern or walleye in weeks. I did nail a beauty 19” smallmouth on a leech at noon today. Time for a nap. It’s been a stressful weekend without any fish biting.”


As I sit 670 miles to the south, watching the temperature creep upward, nipping the heels of 100 degrees, I found it hard to express empathy for the Old Norwegian’s circumstances.


“Tough life.” I responded. “Fishing, breakfast, no fishing, nap, Friday fish fry, fishing, sleep, repeat. I feel for you.”


Wolfman weighed in, “Leave it to a friend to tell it like it is!”


“It’s a struggle trying to keep up,” replied Caveman. “Here tell it’s miserable down south.

Delightful up here. Colors starting to show. Probably snow in a week or two.”


“Thanks for the August update. No need to hurt my feelings. See you soon.”


By the time I arrived at the cottage I could see him through the window, sitting at the table, eating raw vegetables and sardines. Rumor has it they ran him out of Manitowoc many decades ago. I’m still trying to piece together the real story. I hear he claimed to be lactose intolerant to avoid working in the dairy industry. He hid out in Missouri for a long time posing as a deer biologist, then snuck back into Wisconsin under the cover of darkness. Now he spends weekdays in an empty DNR office building and on weekends he slides into a cottage near the town of Fern, population 179, counting the dead.


“Welcome back to God’s country,” Caveman stated gleefully. “Thought maybe you changed your mind, stuck behind your computer somewhere trying to conjugate a verb.”


I dropped my gear next to a bunk, under the picture of two happy Norsemen brothers decked out in red and orange, posing in the snow over their deer.


“I got delayed at Gudowicz’s. I brought you something.” I walked over to the kitchen table and handed him the flimsy plastic bag. “He found it buried in the back of his garage.”


“I told you no gifts otherwise you don’t get re-invited,” he replied with an unconvincing sneer.


“A hollow threat. No one else is going to come see you except your children. Besides, it’s not a gift. I give gifts to people I like.”


He reached in the bag and pulled out the avocado green electric carving knife, circa 1970.

“Alright! A new filet knife,” Caveman said with a big grin. “State of the art Hamilton Beach.”


“It’s a little modern for your era, but enjoy it anyway, and try not to stand in the water when you use it,” I said as I grabbed the binoculars off the coffee table.


Standing in the shadows, I eyeballed a boat on spot lock just off the cottage dock.


“What do you see?” asked Caveman. “Wolfman was out earlier; he likes to hit that spot straight out front.”


The lake doesn’t give up her fish easily, so I watch for signs of success and clues on method.


“Nope, not Wolfman. Looks like outsiders. Interlopers, pitching plastic. How’s Wolfman doing? Is he catchin’ anything?”


“He went out a couple nights ago. Caught a couple snot dragons, and a bullhead, his favorite. No walleyes. He said Hal and Jethro did well the day before.”


Wolfman, a neighbor thusly tagged by the old Norwegian due to his frequent encounters with Canis lupus, is responsible for the reciprocal assignment of the moniker “Caveman.” Wolfman thinks some of his friend’s lifestyle choices justify the name. He might be on to something, however, if you leave an old Norwegian on his own for too long, what you see is what you get. A naturally occurring outcome. A return to a natural state if you will. Among the signs:


A proud holdout, he refuses to get a proper smartphone; he has a flip phone, a burner, that his children gave him in case of emergency. He never turns it on.


He has a TV, but it only gets turned on for Packer games, and to avoid unnecessary movement, he has four remote controls strategically placed around a 180-square-foot room.


To avoid excessive social contact and fishing time lost, he attends church via Zoom.


His cottage spice rack includes salt and pepper, and 20 herbs and spices, circa 1975, which he never uses. I swear I saw him add a squirt of DEET and meal worms to an iceberg lettuce salad once, but I’m not certain.


He enjoys making Swedish pancakes for guests mostly because Swedish food is less exciting than Norwegian food; however, adding whipped cream and lingonberries is too flamboyant so butter and maple syrup is the limit.


His daughter and granddaughter cleaned the inside of his pickup truck once; he didn’t drive it for a day because he didn’t believe it was his.


When he goes to Annie’s Trading Post for Friday fish fry, they greet him with a smile, seat him without a menu, and bring him the same meal he has ordered for a decade, with 2 glasses of water. When he goes to town for ice cream he studies the menu board carefully, hoping to find something less rousing than vanilla.


And if he drank beer, which he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be Dos Equis.


“So, we going fishing? Did you bring any leeches?” asked the old Norwegian.


“Nope. No leeches. You said no gifts.”


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