|Sounds Along The Minnesota Slough
“There it is. I can hear it,” my brother cried as we stood
on the steps of the shanty.
I could hear it too. We peered out across the calm water
of the Minnesota slough. With the last light of day still
shimmering on the calming water, we listened and watched as
the sound of the old launch grew louder.
“Daddy is a wizard,” we thought. He always knew just
when that last ray of light would illuminate his final pass
across the slough. There he was. In the distance we could see
the big fishing launch, heavy with fish boxes and nets, as it
made its way in the shadows of night fall. The low hum of the
launch’s motor and the soft ripple of its wake were ever so
familiar to our ears. As soon as our searching eyes spotted
Daddy, we scampered down the bank and stood on the dock,
waves struggling to splash over the old wooden planks. He cut
the motor and coasted to a squishing halt. The boat’s bulk
abruptly stopped the launch, its weight making a sudden
impact between wood and mud.
Following him up the path, Daddy listened to the stories
of our day. The soft lights of the shanty grew brighter and we
heard sounds from the kitchen. Mama had supper ready. “Wash
your hands,” she said, as she set bowls of steaming mashed
potatoes and creamed peas on the old drop leaf table. A
platter of hamburger patties with brown gravy would also be
part of supper along with cabbage salad or maybe Jell-O. If it
were springtime, sometimes a rhubarb pie was served for
dessert. Mama made the best “finger rolls.” And I cannot forget
homemade strawberry jam. These were our staple foods. But,
sometimes we had baked fish. Daddy would bring home a big
old buffalo—sort of the king of the carp family. Mama stuffed it
with sage dressing and then slid the roaster deep into the
oven. Nothing is better than that tender white meat falling off
the bones of that giant fish.
One of us kids was picked to say the blessing. If it was
my turn, I whispered “Bless this food which now we take and
make us good for Jesus’ sake, Amen.” I peeked at Mama for
her smile of approval. She always smiled and then we enjoyed
our supper. A kerosene lamp’s glow and the setting sun
illuminated our tiny kitchen as we ate.
After helping with the supper dishes, we settled in for
the remainder of the evening, my brothers and I sinking deep
into the feather tic mattress. Daddy sat just inside the door
with his needle and twine, working at the now lost craft of
knitting fishing nets. He softly counted the knots using a
handmade wooden needle, his lips moving in time with his
We had no running water, so Daddy kept buckets of fresh
water out on the porch. There was an old artesian well not far
from the shanty; we could reach it only by boat. We all went
along to visit the ancient pipe that barely extended above the
water. After following a narrow passage off the Minnesota
slough, we entered Duck Lake. Before we could even see the
old well, we could hear the rush of its cool crystal water
beating down into the muddy pool. Daddy sometimes held us,
one at a time, over the never ending flow. With Mama hanging
on to our shirt tails, we slurped the cool water as it splashed
over our faces.
We were safe and warm in our little shanty on the banks
of the slough. An occasional mosquito found its way inside and
Daddy chased it around until its buzzing was silenced. Sleepy
eyes grew heavy, as we listened to Mama reading. Her gentle
voice paused when we heard the hoot of a distant owl. Another
would answer. A gust of wind sent waves crashing to the
shore, as a storm threatened beyond the bluffs. I imagined
great ships fighting massive squalls, ladies trembling in terror.
The story would drift away, and we fell sound asleep. Mama
sat watching us, her rocking chair softly creaking. Fritzels
(frogs) welcomed the night singing from the small pond behind
Outside, the leaves rustled in the wind. The screen door
strained to be free from its hinges. I curled up deep within the
heavy quilts that were piled on top of me. I squeezed my doll;
a faint squeak woke my brother. A blast of thunder and a flash
of lightening sent me running through the kitchen and into
Mama’s arms. “Shhh,” she purred and I was comforted. She
held me close until the storm’s rage passed.
I woke up to bright sunshine. Crows were busy cawing
their good mornings. In the distance I heard the flat tail of a
beaver hit the water with a loud slap. Something had disturbed
him and he immediately warned his brothers. The heavy cast
iron fry pan made a thump as Mama placed it on the stove.
Soon the sizzle of freshly cracked eggs hitting the hot grease
broke the silence in the little shanty. I bounced out of bed to
begin another day on the banks of the Minnesota slough.