A Fish Tale from Lake Country

Largemouth BassIt couldn’t be un-seen. It was right there in front of me: the giant spaghetti bowl, the splash of Tante Lianna’s special sauce, meatballs rolling off the table and onto the floor, parmesan spread all over the dining room table, like sleet in a Minnesota mid-June storm.

Normal. But really…not so much.

And the noodles! Seemingly caught in mid-flight from the bowl, they lay heavy as nightcrawlers escaping a flooded sidewalk, the aftermath of the aforementioned storm, turned to punishing rain.

And Uncle Wilford, face down in the middle of it all.

He should have heeded the warning twinge in Tante Lianna’s trick knee.


How did it all begin, this horrific tale that landed Uncle Wilford face down in the family-sized bowl of Tante Lianna’s Special Summer recipe of Swedish-style spaghetti and meatballs?

We think it started when Uncle Wilford and Grampappy Sorenson headed out for an early morning fishing trip on Lake WannaGonnaGettaFishie. Wilford no doubt looked grim as he and Grampappy packed their poles, lures, and the net, with wax-wrapped thick-sliced gjetost between a half dozen slices of Wasa Light Rye Crispbread, tucked into a cooler packed with beer.

Tante Lianna had followed them to the dock, back and forth, as they loaded their supplies. Uncle Wilford had heard just a mite more than he could stand of her nattering on, preparing for all us nieces and nephews to descend on their normally quiet retirement home on the northern lake, as we did every summer.

I wish you wouldn’t go, she said, there’s still so much to get done before they arrive this afternoon. I need your help in hauling out the extra cots, in case they bring a boyfriend or girlfriend. They weren’t clear about that, she grumbled, and I won’t have any hanky-panky under my roof—not until they’re married, she huffed. And besides, I have a bad feeling in my trick knee. Please don’t go on the lake today.

He’d gone fishing to keep the peace.


What we saw–once Tante Lianna had worried herself sick all that day, raging at what an inconsiderate lout she’d married, and taken to her bed in tears–was the 12-foot Alumacraft chugging toward us, the setting sun melting into a brown and purple abrasion on the horizon.

Uncle Wilford lay in the bottom of the fishing boat, his left arm hung over the side and bleeding from a sizeable bite. Grampappy Sorenson had taken the tiller. Grampappy was never allowed to drive the boat; Wilford knew how bad the old man’s eyesight had gotten. We stood silent on the dock, the heated sputter of the undersized outboard motor a whining bass line under the sick metallic smack of the boat chopping through early-evening swells.


We know not why Uncle Wilford decided to reach down into the water and grab the largemouth bass by the gills, when the net was right there. We know not why he stared into the cold, sad eyes of the bass he’d hooked, once he’d hauled it to the side of the boat. We know not why he sat so long, tears streaming down his face, in thrall to the largemouth.

We have no clue why Grampappy sat there in the bow of the boat, mouth gaping like a fish out of water, before springing into action after the fish kicked its mighty tailfin and took a bite out of Uncle Wilford’s left arm.

There appeared to be some amnesia in both men.

What they both remember is Grampappy Sorenson tripping as he leaped over the middle seat of the Alumacraft, then recovering to scoop up a full beer can from the near-empty cooler. It was a thing of beauty, really, the way he launched that can at the largemouth bass, holding it aloft and slamming it down like Thor swinging his hammer, Mjolnir. The fish released, and Grampappy pulled Wilford to safety, to the center of the boat.

“You know Lianna’s gonna be mighty vexed,” observed Grampappy.

“Yah, she’s gonna say I told you so, fer sure,” returned Wilford, as he eyed the bleeding chunk of flesh hanging from his left arm. “Ouch.”


Tante Lianna and one of the nieces, a surgeon in residency, dropped in a few stitches, applied salve, and bound up Wilford’s wound, while the rest of us saw to getting dinner cooked and ready. Niece in residency joined us in the kitchen while Grampappy Sorenson sat on the screened porch with a pipe and another cold one. Lianna and Wilford had some making up to do.

You old fool, she cried, slapping his good arm and leading him to the back bedroom. What would I do without you, she murmured. You should have listened to my trick knee, she whispered, I told you so!

All was forgiven.

Dinner was very late that night, but Tante Lianna had plenty of red wine on hand, and her special spaghetti sauce was simmering on a back burner. The dining room table had been set with the everyday china, candles, a bread basket, wooden trivets of various designs, and more wine glasses. A rainstorm had rolled through, freshening the air with fallen pine needles, and dropping the temperature by 20 degrees. We were famished by the time we all sat around the table. It was just a normal summer evening–a typical family vacation up at the lake.

But really, not so much.

It couldn’t be un-seen.

It was the end of an era; an apparent heart failure that had started with a fish tale and ended our happily ever after. The retirement home was sold off before his body went to ground.


© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2018)

Carrot Ranch Prompt (09/13/18): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.

Midtown Global Market (various writing times on the following phrases): I couldn’t un-see it; the sun had just set; if only she’d known; we know not why; one if by land, two if by…

14 thoughts on “A Fish Tale from Lake Country

  1. This one’s a beauty! As a flash, I thought the uncle was tripped by the aunt’s trick knee and found it humorous. As I read the full story, full of such cultural detail, capturing the snapshot, I felt such a wave of sadness, a passing of an era. Beautifully written, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Dishing Up Pasta « Carrot Ranch Literary Community


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