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  • When I first started fishing Old Morris owned one of the two lobster wharfs in the harbor. He bought lobsters and crabs from the lobstermen. Sold them gas and bait.

    In the mornings he and John and Squeak cooked crabs for the women to pick out. The ladies sat on stools along the long stainless steel counter, their production of plastic containers of picked body and leg meat in front of them. While they worked the wharf was bright with the smack of their mallets and chatter and Morris and the boys hustled to bring in the baskets of cooked crabs and haul away the cracked and empty shells. Afternoons, he rolled up his sleeves and filleted fish. Haddock and flounder he processed with a slice of the knife, a flip, and another slice. For the cod, he had a sheet of glass with a bare bulb underneath. He laid the long fillets on top for the light to shine up through so he could see the worms and pick them out with the point of his thin, razor sharp fillet knife. Out front, in the glass fronted cooler, the pale fillets sat beside trays of tongues and cheeks, grey cod livers, bright orange flounder roe.

    Lobster buyers and truckers rolled in and out all day, loading up wooden crates of lobsters for restaurants and stores in southern New England and beyond.

    The older, established fishermen had wharf privilege. The long two-story building built half on the shore and half out over the water was divided into workshops. Doors were set all along its length. A workshop was big enough for two men to work on traps or paint buoys and room besides for a small woodstove.

    Besides a workshop, each fisherman had a section of the bait-shed to store the barrels and drums of salt herring or hake heads we used for bait. When the bait truck came in, Young Mo had a little scrap of paper with everyone’s order for bait and he and John and Squeak rumbled the big wooden wheeled bait barrows along the greasy wharf planks and dumped their loads, 5 bushel to a barrow, for the fishermen to shovel into 55 gallon drums. We used snow shovels hung from nails on the walls. Two shovels of herring, a shovel of salt, building up the layers to make the greasy salt bait shedding lobsters went for.

    If you could find him, Old Morris’d sell retail as well. Yachtsmen looking for the real Maine wandered through the bait shed. Old Morris smiled quietly and let them wait a moment as though he wasn’t sure whether they wanted a roll of twine or pound of crabmeat. He looked them over with his faded blue eyes as they shuffled in the cavernous cool, him in his black checked wool jacket, blue cap, and hipboots rolled down and them in their shorts and pressed shirts, bare legs in scuffed but fashionable boating shoes and designer sunglasses. The wharf was authentic in a way that many were unprepared for.

    Days it was too rough to haul, he knit pockets and heads for traps by the window in the front room. Fishermen came and sat for a spell on the assortment of battered chairs scattered around. They smoked, drank his coffee and swapped lies. Old Morris presided over the shifting congregation quietly. He shared a little office with Vera upstairs. The walls papered with old calendars from sales reps for engines, rope and marine products. His desk was swamped with sale orders, scribbled messages, and samples. Her desk was spare and neat. On a shelf beside her chair the books she kept for the wharf went back through the years and decades.

    The wharf and the fishermen worked the business together. Old Morris gave credit for gear, helped get a young fellow started as he moved up from skiff and outboard to powerboat, got men through hard times, listened to their hopes and promises. The wharf was workspace, wholesale outlet, bank, and social center.

    I started out with 30 old wrecks I bought for three dollars each. I hauled them out to the island, scavenged the rope and buoys and floats to rig them and fished out of a massively heavy Grand Banks dory with 9-foot oars. I was an outsider. A boy from away. One of the summer people who stayed on. The fishermen watched me suspiciously.

    By mid-summer I made enough to buy another 50 old traps. I hauled every day. I hadn’t killed myself. I fished in close to the shore well out of the way of the bigger boats. I didn’t fit any of the known categories. The young guys left me alone. The older guys were curious enough to stop along side me. They left the wheelhouse to sit on the stern, wring out their cotton gloves and check me out.

    Well Benjy, how they biting today.


    Jeezus Benjy you have got to get your self a skiff and outboard. There’ll be all kinds of bugs in October and you don’t want to be rowing then, old son.

    They were right. Fall fishing is when the money is made. In October the big hauls come along with the winds and first frosts. Rowing in July and August and rowing in October are two very different experiences.

    I was alone on the island. I had plenty of time to think about it. If I had a skiff and outboard I could fish another 50 traps. I could get sills and bows and laths from the sawmill and have all winter to build them. But there was twine to knit heads and rope and buoys and paint. I could manage some but not all. I decided I’d ask Old Morris for credit. I’d sold lobsters to him all summer. I knew he did it for other fishermen.

    I rowed over to ask him. It is an hour row each way if the wind and tide are with you. Two hours if it breezes up and the tide turns.

    I tied up to one of the wharf poles, climbed up the seaweed slimed ladder and walked down through the wharf building to find Old Morris.

    Benjoy, what the hell bring you off the island on a day like today.

    The room was full of cigarette smoke and gossip.

    I grinned.

    What are you up to these days, Jeff asked.

    I said something about cutting wood.

    Jesus boy you need to get a woman out there. Keep him busy, hah.

    I blushed hot under my sunburn.

    You need something Benjy, asked Old Morris.

    I had pictured the two of us out on the end of the wharf. Maybe watching a boat coming around the lighthouse, heading in.

    Now wasn’t the time.

    Naw, I’m all set , I said. Just going up to the store.

    I walked up to the store, bought a Snickers bar and rowed back to the island.

    I’d come back another day, when the time was right.
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