By: David Robert Crews
In May of 1979, my Aunt Martha telephoned me asking if I would come back to work at her husband's hunting lodge in northern Maine. Her husband is my mother's brother, Finley. Martha and Finley, better known as Fin and Marty, operated Katahdin Lodge and Camps.
The phone conversation began with Marty saying that there had been misunderstandings in the past, both on their part and mine. She was avoiding taking responsibility for what had happened in the past by saying that I had misunderstood some things too. I knew it was a bad sign, but it was the first time that they ever came close to admitting that they had done anything wrong themselves at all.
What had happened in the past was, Fin and Marty thought that it was their right to work me hard at dangerous tasks, not pay me a wage nor give me any respect for what I had accomplished when working at their Lodge as a Registered Maine Hunting and Fishing Guide. They never thanked me for, nor complimented me on, anything that I did for them. They also thought that it was A.O.K. for Fin to holler, cuss and yell at me on a daily basis. Their abuse of me got worse the longer that I worked for them. It got worse at about the same rate that my proficiency and competency as a professional outdoorsman got better. The more important that I became to the successful running of their business, without receiving a wage, the more intense their mistreatment of me became. It was their self righteous way of convincing themselves that I was beholding to them for being given the opportunity to live and work way up in the woods, which I loved to do, near the small town of Patten, Maine, where I had a wicked good social life.
My only misunderstanding was that I never thought that my Aunt Martha and Uncle Finley, who had been very close and loving to me, when I was growing up, could be so selfish and mean to me.
I had worked for Fin and Marty, as a bear hunting guide, back in 1969 and 1977. They had treated me so miserably during those times that each time I left it was my intention to never return to work for them again. I got away from them in '69 by going into the army, and in '77 I left after they would not pay me for working all summer at the lodge.
I had left the Lodge in the fall of '77 to go to the University of Maine at Farmington on the GI bill. I needed the money which I had earned working hard for them that summer to get started in school, because the government checks from the GI bill would not come until after I was in school for two or three months. But, as I was leaving the Lodge to move down to Farmington, Marty said to me that Fin had instructed her to only give me one hundred dollars as my payment for the previous couple of months work. According to Marty, Fin had said, “anymore than that and he'll get himself in trouble.”
Marty asked me, “Will that be enough?”
I looked hard into her eyes and I kept on looking until she said, “Here, I'll give you a hundred and fifty, I'll just have to hide it from Fin somewhere in the books.” Meaning the Lodge's business ledgers.
My bill to them for that summer still stands at no less than twelve hundred bucks. vThe real kicker to this particular tidbit of my story is that a former girl friend of mine up in Maine had said to me, in 1979, that she had heard that I had borrowed money from Fin and Marty to got to school on and then flew the coup without paying them back. This kind of discombobulation of the truth is just one more good reason why it is paramount for me to set the record straight about how my aunt and uncle really treated me.
Marty told me, during that phone conversation, that Fin almost didn't want me to come back at all because of a letter that I had written to them. In that letter I had explained to them that I was David Robert Crews the rugged individualist, not just Finley Clarke's Nephew. I did my best to make them realize that they should not have talked to me in the way that they did. The best example of this particular behavior of theirs was when Fin told me that while I was at Katahdin Lodge I was to “do everything what, when, where and how” they told me to. He had bombasted that bullcrap at me in response to the time that I had not stood outside the door of the barber shop while waiting for the barbers to come back from lunch and two women with eight kids had gotten in there before me. Considering that I was twenty seven years old at the time and part of my job was to lead unarmed hunters into the woods at night after wounded bears and do other things way out in the woods by myself it was not prudent for me to be the kind of person who could not think for themself when it came time to think fast or else someone gets hurt.
In the letter, I had pointed out the fact that I should receive a regular salary for my work instead of the ten bucks here and twenty bucks there which they used to give me at their discretion, when I had worked for them in the past.
So, Fin had instructed Marty to tell me on the phone that, if I came back to work at the Lodge, this time I'll be given: room and board, $150.00 a week salary, a $15.00 bonus for every bear killed, Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance, one week paid vacation, a vehicle with a full gas tank for my times off work and all of my work clothes bought for me.
I informed Marty that I was taking college classes at the time and had to wait till they were over, before I could return to the Lodge. I also let her know that I was living off of meager monthly checks allotted to me by the GI Bill, while I was taking those classes, and that she would have to send me a plane ticket for me to fly from Baltimore up to Maine. She agreed to do that.
I accepted those terms of employment and returned to the Lodge in June of 1979. vThere were two other guides working at the lodge in '79. One was Dick Libby, who was the same age as me---twenty-eight at the time. We had worked together in '77, and I knew that Dick was as good a hunter, trapper, fisherman and guide as you could find in the North Maine Woods; and he was the best work partner that I ever had. The other guide was a twenty-some year old kid from Pennsylvania who had begged Fin for the job after being a paying hunter at the lodge. Due to the way that Fin and Marty treated their workers, that boy from Pa. (short for Pennsylvania) was the only one willing to fill the job. The Pa. (pronounced PEE-AY) boy could only do one thing well, which was, he remembered where every single bear bait (piles of maggot ridden slaughterhouse leftovers placed in strategic locations out in the woods) was located. He was lousy at handling paying hunters, didn't hardly know what to do when it came time to track a wounded bear and was devoid of any kind of courage.
One of the first things Fin asked me to do, when I started back working at the Lodge, was to take the Pa. boy “off to the side” and try to teach him how to treat a paying hunter with respect. On my first day back at the Lodge, I got to do something which I had wanted to do for a very long time, drive a four wheel drive Chevy Suburban. I had wanted to buy a Suburban since 1969, when I found out that Suburbans have seats enough for seven other people to go along with me on outdoor adventures but with the seats folded down a snowmobile can fit in the back or a couple of campers can sleep back there. The Lodge owned one Suburban and two pick-up trucks; all were equipped with two-way radios, and there was a base station to the radio system in the lodge.
Having never used a two-way radio before, Fin gave me a quick set of instructions on how to operate one. He showed me where the volume control was, turning the knob each way while saying, “This is all the way down, and this is all the way up.”
As he did that, a quizzical look came across his face, though, indicating that he was not sure if it was all the way up or down. He would have had to press his face down onto the driver's seat to see the numbers on the volume button, because the radio was mounted under the dash, flush to the floor. But, he did not feel like doing that so he just said, “Yeah? That's all the way up, don't touch it.”
I got into the Suburban's driver's seat, and seven hunters piled into the other seats. We rode about thirty miles by road down state to rendezvous with the Pa. boy, who was out checking baits for signs of bear activity.
The weather was magnificent!
The sky was a rich blue with well defined bright white clouds floating through it. And, except for the bit where I had to make one of the hunters understand why he could not load his rifle while in a vehicle, just in case he saw a bear (after he claimed to have seen one way out in a field beside the road), the ride was thoroughly enjoyable.
The Pa. boy and I were supposed to make radio contact with each other, when I was about half way to the rendezvous spot. I had to be that close to him for the truck's radios to reach each other. While he was waiting at the rendezvous spot, we each had called repeatedly to the other over the radios, but we in the Suburban never heard his calls to me. When I reached the rendezvous, the Pa. boy took over in the Suburban, because I didn't know where the individual bear baits were located yet, and I drove the pick-up truck back to the Lodge.
While driving into the woods, with the hunters, the Pa. boy discovered what had caused the problem with the radios---the Suburban's radio had been turned all the way down by Finley.
Fin had heard some of my radio transmissions, while he was driving around in the third radio equipped truck. The rendezvous spot, where the Pa. boy was waiting for me, was out of radio range from where Fin was though. Consequently, he didn't hear the Pa. boy transmitting to me. When the Pa. boy got back that night, Fin started in on him about not contacting me over the radio. Fin did his thing---he hollered, cussed, yelled and accused in a horrific manner.
The Pa. boy told Fin that, “The radio was turned all the way down.”
Fin replied sneeringly, “Well, it must have been you that done it.”
“But the radio was like that when I got the truck from David,” was the boy's pleading reply. As if he wanted to continue berating the Pa. boy out of earshot from the other people present in the lodge, Fin ushered him into Marty's office and closed the door. Then, in his way of being a really rotten guy, Fin raised his voice to a booming, ferocious, door and wall penetrating level so that everyone in the lodge could hear him whether they wanted to or not.
During this ungodly tirade, I was walking up the stairs to the second floor. When I saw Fin motion for the Pa. boy to come into the office with him, I sat down on the steps. I sat there alternately looking down at the carpeting on the steps that lay between my feet and back sideways over my left shoulder at the closed office door; it seemed to me that I would be next to receive a royal reaming from ferocious Finley. I did not intend to take it quietly this time, like I had done numerous times in the past, but Fin opened the door and let the boy go without calling me down. I'll never forget how lowly it felt to get up, walk on upstairs, and not go down to tell my Uncle Finley to face his mistake. Fin had devastatingly accused me of being at fought for his mistakes far too many times in the past, but it hurt me even worse to see him do it to another innocent person.
On my first Sunday back at the Lodge, Fin along with about a dozen newly arrived hunters and I were sitting around one of the Lodge's large dinning room tables eating lunch. Fin stated the fact to them that, “Fifty percent of last week's hunters saw or shot a bear.”
I added, “Yeah, I'd say that was pretty good considering we had thirty-six hunters.” Fin looked at me hard---just short of viciously, and very brutally said, “I don't think that's any of their goddamned business.”
This was a severe shock to me. I thought it had been all straightened out that I was not to be treated that way!
I had no money to fly back home to Maryland on. Fin knew that I was more or less trapped there.
I honestly don't remember if I just sat there 'eating crow' or I was ready to rumble. But, I must have 'telegraphed' via my body language that I was setting there seriously considering whompin' on Fin; because, later that week, after the hunters got to know me, one of them said to me in private, when I was driving him and his hunting buddy in a pickup truck out to check some bear baits, “You know, when Finley said that thing to you on Sunday about it not being any of our business, I grabbed hard onto the sides of my plate so my food wouldn't spill, because I thought sure as hell you were going to turn the whole table over onto him.” His buddy looked over at me, nodded and spoke short words in agreement with him. They're words were a welcomed show of support.
One morning I awoke to the sound of someone in the bedroom next to mine saying, “Now don't say the word sue so quickly.”
My ears perked right up, and I immediately realized it was one hunter talking to another about his anger that was precipitated by the happenings of the previous night. It was evident that the hunter was talking about suing the Lodge. The lawsuit threatening man was an auto mechanic who had brought his son along with him on the bear hunt, for he had bought his son a bear hunt as a high school graduation present. On the previous night the son had shot a bear, and what transpired from this incident made for the most uncomfortable experience of my time guiding bear hunters.
That previous night, the Pa. boy and I were working the same area in different trucks. He had one of the pickup trucks, and I was using the Suburban. We were crossing paths here and there while picking up hunters from their baits. The Pa. boy had picked up the mechanic's son, and that kid had shot at a bear, and he was sure that he had hit it.
I had picked up a second hunter who had also shot at a bear, but did not know if he had hit it. That second hunter was a six foot four inch tall preacher man from the South who was sittin' tall and talkin' large, with an expensive tobacco pipe clamped in his jaw, on the way out to his bait, in the Suburban as I drove it. But, when he got back into the Suburban that night, he was all shook up and shrunk down from fear caused by his close encounter with the Black Bear. It was determined later that the preacher man had shot crazily around in the woods over top of the bear when he saw it coming into his bait.
I had also picked up the mechanic dad and had him and the preacher man with me when we met up with the Pa. boy and the son.
Because I had the large suburban, my job at that point was to retrieve all the rest of our hunters who were waiting out in the dark Maine Woods. Meanwhile, the Pa. boy had to go check on those two bears to see if he could find them or a blood trail indicating that they had indeed been shot. So the preacher man got into the truck with the Pa. boy and the son.
The dad had gotten very excited at the news of his teenage son shooting a bear. Naturally, he wanted to go with them to help track his son's bear. The dad asked the Pa. boy for permission to ride along with them.
At first the Pa. boy told the dad that it was O.K., and the dad started to squeeze his slightly shaking, excited looking self into the front seat of the truck with the other three. But then the Pa. boy rudely said, “No, you can't go, because Fin told me not to drive with four people in the front of the pick-up truck.”
Then, the dad said, “Can I ride in the back?”
The Pa. boy said, “Yeah.”
So the dad hopped into the truck bed.
But, then the Pa. boy abruptly, in a smart mouthed way said to the dad, “No, get out! Fin told me not to do that too!”
The dad jumped back out onto the ground and stood there staring at the Pa. boy. Ole' Dad's jaw dropped down, wide mouthed, from astonished frustration at the way the Pa. boy handled him, and he protested in vain, as the truck drove off without him.
The Pa. boy was obviously out of his element, for it showed with every move he made.
I could not take the dad to where his son was having an adventure of a lifetime, because I had to go get those other hunters out of the woods. After I got all of the men, whom I was responsible for, out of the woods, the Suburban was full of hunters. By this time I had hooked up with another hunter in his own truck with his two buddies. None of these other hunters had seen any bears.
Without any wounded bears for me to go after, I had to drive towards the Lodge, because I needed to receive permission from Fin, over the radio, to turn around and take the frustrated Dad back to where he wanted and deserved to be, with his son. Of coarse, that meant going further away from his son's ongoing adventure. Fin was pissed off about recent hikes in gas prices, so I could not drive anywhere without his say so, unless I was willing to take some more of his loud, self-serving verbal abuse.
Since parting company with the Pa. boy and the son, that unfortunate dad kept tossing back and forth, all doubled up from anguish and frustration, in the seat behind me; he was mumblin' and grumblin' and rightfully bitchin' and moanin' so intensely that all of us in the Suburban felt sick to our stomachs.
As I drove towards the Lodge, I knew from the broken up radio transmissions, which barely reached us, that Fin and Dick were on their way out to help the Pa. boy with tracking the two bears that had been shot at. I figured we would pass each other on the road, and the nearly out of control dad could ride to the scene of his son's thrilling adventure along with Fin. I drove along slowly, stopping at every high spot in the road to gain better radio reception while calling for Fin over the radio to get permission to turn around and take the dad back to where he wanted to go, or to ease all of our suffering by telling the dad that Fin would be along shortly to take him to his son.
Unbeknownst to me, Dick knew a roundabout, but faster road to drive from the Lodge to where the son's adventure was happening, so we could not pass each other on the road. While Dick and Fin were traveling, they did come within good range of our truck's radios, but they never heard my calls for permission to return the dad to his son's bait.
They never heard my calls because Marty had heard me, on the more powerful base radio at the Lodge, and she had pressed the talk button of that radio to send out its stronger signal in order to override my weaker truck radio signal and block it out from Fin's radio. She told me later that she had done that to keep Fin from blowing his top over my request to drive all the way back to the son's bear bait. She knew more than anyone how upset Fin was by the recent raises in gas prices, and it was at least a fifteen mile drive, from where we were, back to the son's bait. Marty had figured that the seven hundred bucks which the dad paid for two bear hunts was not enough to entitle him to a ride back to where his son was.
Finally, I stopped, got out, and went back to the hunter following me in his truck.
I said to him, “You know what I'm facing if I turn around and go back without Fin's permission, this ain't right, that man deserves to be with his son. Will you take him back there for me?”
He nodded his head yes, and one of his buddies got out and traded places with the dad. Then they headed back to where the Dad belonged to be.
When the Pa. boy and the son first went into the woods after the wounded bear, that bear had stood up on its hind legs, thrashed its front paws around in the air, and growled furiously at them. When I heard about that I felt jealous, I wish I'd been there to see that great display of wild, natural power. It is illegal to carry a gun in the woods at night, so those two startled, unarmed boys skiddadled away from that mad critter. That's the kind of good wholesome fear that thrills me.
Then, that smart mouthed young guide couldn't find their way back to the truck. It was when Dick and Fin drove down the woods road to the bear bait that the Pa. boy got his bearings straight by seeing the headlights of the incoming truck.
I'm the only one that the Pa. boy told about getting lost. I could not stomach saying anything to anyone else about it, and it would have been unwise to add fuel to the fire already lit under that mechanic Dad's collar.
Upon first encountering the son, Fin inquired as to exactly what happened when he shot the bear. The son replied that he had taken a head shot first, which didn't hit the bear, so he fired some hot lead into its body.
Bullets usually bounce off of a bear's thick skull, and Fin always instructed his hunters not to try a head shot. This gave Fin his own personal permission to chew the kid out. He was laying it on the son, hot and heavy, when the dad arrived at the scene. Fin loved an audience, so the sight of the dad and those other two hunters driving towards him probably spurred him on. The headlights of the hunter's truck must have seemed like spotlights shining onto a stage play about a madman. This was the last thing that the dad needed to see---the son he was very proud of being mistreated so meanly.
That really got the dad hot under the collar. He was furious.
Everyone there went into the woods to look for the bear, but it had struggled off away from the two startled boys and kept going as best as it could. Fin told me later that the Pa. boy “didn't want no parts of that bear”, because the boy kept trying to hide behind everyone else there as they tracked the bear. There was an obvious blood trail, but wounded bears have great natural abilities to evade humans pursuing them through the woods. It has always been our experience that Wild Maine Black Bears run from humans whenever they can. Also, wounded bears often head straight for a deep swamp where their blood trail will dissipate in the standing water, and they can lay down and pack their wounds with mud to stop the bleeding. The best thing to do at that point was to leave the severely wounded bear alone and hope that it would lay down and die before it went too far to be tracked down and found.
The next morning, Dick led a group pertaining the lawsuit intending dad, the son, the Pa. boy and me out into the woods in search of that mortally wounded bear. We knew the bear was going to die, because it was hurt too badly to run from those kids the night before. It had rained all night, so the bear's blood trail was washed away. Without a blood trail to follow, the best way to find the bear was for the five of us to fan out in a line and search the woods in a sweeping motion. The way we did this was we kept the person next to us just within sight, maintained a straight line and searched in a pattern that completely covered one specific area at a time.
I was at one end of the line, and Dick was at the other end. That way we could keep the less experienced other three on course. We searched and searched and then decided to make one last pass through the woods. All of a sudden, from out of sight from me at the other end of our line, comes bang, bang, then a slightly louder and deeper sounding baloom!! I figured that the first two shots had come from the .357 Magnum pistol which Dick was carrying, and the third shot was from the son's high powered hunting rifle. This was an easy deduction, because the rest of us weren't armed, and I knew that the sounds came from two different firearms.
The wounded bear had been curled up under a fallen down tree when Dick walked right next to it. It had found an excellent place to hide. The mortally wounded animal had struggled up onto its front paws in an effort to get away from the approaching human, but it was too weak. Dick had fired two shots at its head, because it was darn near dead, he was right on top of it, and he thought that his powerful magnum pistol might be able to penetrate a bear's scull at point blank range. The bear kept moving though, barely moving, but never quite made it up onto its hind legs. The son had then ran over and mercifully finished off that terrifically tough critter with a final shot into its body.
When we skinned the bear later that day, we saw that its scull was only dented in a little from the two .357 Magnum rounds.
This exciting conclusion, to the graduation gift, saved the Lodge from the probability of being sued. To top it off, because Fin had at least as many outstandingly good traits as bad, before the end of the week, he had that previously furious father so placated that the man did a free brake job on one of the Lodge's trucks.
And Fin never even knew that the lawsuit was coming at him.
About this time, Fin began to confide in me about some problems he was having with Marty. She did all the accounting work for the Lodge, and she would not let him see the business records. This was a real shock to me, because the business was in his name.
Fin also told me that he had told Marty that he and his guides could not handle any more than twenty hunters per week. She was too greedy though, so she took all of the hunters that she could get. I knew that the Lodge was paid for, because I was with them when the last payment was delivered to the bank in 1977. Marty was being very greedy by overworking Fin and his guides.
After telling me about his dilemma, Fin said, “I've gotten myself into something I can't get out of.”
They had no children, and Fin let me know that he wanted me to take over the business some day. I could never be such a fool as to try to work closer with Marty, because she wouldn't let me have what I earned. She cheated all of the men who worked for the lodge, even their most valuable employees got the screws put to 'um.
During my stay at the lodge in '79, Fin bought an old rundown hunting lodge located a few miles up the road from Katahdin Lodge.
In order to let the general public know that the overgrown, falling down lodge was being worked on, I was sent up there to cut down some of the high grass and weeds around the place. It was tough going, with a lawnmower, in that stuff. The mower was constantly stalling out, and I pull started that thing many times during the afternoon. In two and a half-hours of steady work, I went through three tanks of gas. My hands and forearms went numb from the vibrations of the mower handle.
Fin had told me to keep working until he came by to tell me to do something else, but it was time for a break, so I took one. I sat down on the porch of a little cabin that was behind the main lodge. It was a beautiful day to take a fifteen-minute break on; the sky was bright blue with massive white clouds floating through it. A swallow darted up under the roof of the porch and into a nest which was built snuggly there where a smart swallow would want to put its home. I laid back on the porch to watch the little bird family for a bit. That sky and my wild surroundings overcame me. It felt good to be alive.
Then amongst the bird songs and insect communications, I caught the sound of footsteps coming towards me. I thought, I didn't hear a door being closed or any other sounds of a vehicle stopping close by, this place has been unoccupied and overgrown for years, it must be a deer walking right up on me. I lay still, with a great grin of anticipation on my face, while waiting for the thrill of seeing a wild deer eyeball to eyeball.
Then I heard, “Uh huh!”
It was dear old Marty.
The sight of me taking a break really riled her. I explained to her that the only other times that I had stopped mowing was when I had gone to the truck, which I had driven up there in and was sitting right there in the old lodge's driveway, to get a drink of iced tea. It was a hot summer day, but that didn't matter to her. She twisted up her face angrily at me while saying, “And how long does each one of those trips to the truck take?” This from a women who smoked cigarettes and drank cup after cup of coffee all day while she worked. I felt like asking her how long it took to stop and light and take puffs on a cigarette or go pour a cup of coffee and sip on it, but she would have turned inside out and made a thoroughly ugly scene if I had delved into them facts.
Then she had the nerve to say that Fin had forgotten all about me being up there and had called her on the two-way radio to tell her to go get me.
I added into the conversation the facts about me working through the three tanks of gas, that the mower was over-heating and my hands and forearms were numb from the mower's vibrations, but she just sort of bulged her eyes at me.
Now, you must realize that mowing high weeds and grass shows immediate results, so it was obvious that some hard work had been done there that afternoon. All that she cared about was that I should keep working until told to stop.
She noticed that my left eye was red and watery. She asked, “What happened to your eye?” I answered, “A rock flew out from under the back of the mower and hit me. For a second there I thought it would blind me.”
Not wanting to acknowledge my little on the job injury, she looked down at the mower and back up at me with her face all screwed up like she didn't believe that it was possible for a rock to fly out from under a running mower. She had not approached me in the week or so that I had been there to give me my Blue Cross and Blue Shield card number, and I knew that this was an opportune time to inquire about it.
I said to her, “My eye getting hurt made me wonder if I was on Blue Cross and Blue Shield yet, in case I would've had to go to the hospital.”
“ No,” she said slowly, while formulating a fib, “we all got on at the same time, I don't know if you can be added to the group policy.”
This confirmed what I had suspected: Marty had made no attempt to get me the insurance coverage promised to me on the phone before I agreed to work at the Lodge again; nor, was she ever going to fulfill most of the promises that she had made to me. One afternoon, Fin and I sat down to shoot the breeze with one of the hunters. The other fellow was a mature, respectable man. Fin told the story about how my father had landed a job at a stainless steel mill. My Dad had been working for Pinkerton Detective Agency, as an undercover agent, when he was put to work at the mill in order to gather evidence against a mill employee who was stealing too much from the mill and threatening harm to anyone who tried to stop him. After my Dad got the necessary evidence, the mill offered him the job that the big thief lost. My Dad accepted the offer.
Fin added, “And that goes to show you what kind of a son of a bitch he is.”
At this false characterization of my father (and grievous insult to my paternal grandmother) the other fellow winced in disgust and turned his face away from Fin for a moment. It was obvious that the man did not appreciate Fin saying this in front of me. I had shoved so much of Fin and Marty's malicious crap down inside of me that I felt like a barrel of explosive, bubbling muck. When Fin made the mistake of insulting my father like that, he had placed a blasting cap, with a short fuse to it, into my fermenting anger. I knew, right then and there, that his or Marty's next offense against me would be their last.
On my next to the last day of employment there, Dick, the Pa. boy, and the hunters had gathered out in front of the lodge, ready to go hunting. Which bear baits they were going to use were decided, and who was riding with whom determined. They were just waiting for a final word from Fin, so they could head out. Fin always had to have the last word. I was sitting in the Lodge's dining room, with a full view of them, when Fin walked out there in his stocking feet. He looked quite frazzled, and he was not the type to run around outside without his shoes on. He angrily shouted at them, “You all know what you're supposed to do, now go do it!”
That was very impolite to say the least. All those happy, eager faces out there soured at the sight of Fin looking weird and talking to them that way. They were all too used to his madness to challenge his verbal misuse of them, because if someone did then Fin would really pitch a fit. Those men out there appeared for a moment to look like a bunch of wrongfully scolded school boys. They literally tripped over each other getting into vehicles to get out of there.
Fin had caused me to feel deeply embarrassed many times, and this is a fair example of what caused me to feel that shame. He was after all, first and foremost, my Uncle.
Later that evening, Fin came out to where Dick and I were waiting to go check the results of any shooting that our hunters, who were posted on baits in our area, might do. Fin only stopped out to have a light chat with us. This was his way of apologizing for the way he had acted earlier in the day.
While conversing, ever so calmly, with us, Fin's eyelids involuntarily batted down and up and his eyeballs rolled around in their sockets. It was a sign, I knew to be, of emotional exhaustion. I had been that ragged out in my life once or twice before myself. This was something that I was not going to let Marty do to me. The following day we had three bears to skin. Dick and the Pa. boy were sent out to check baits, while Fin and I skinned the bears. Fin was showing signs of physical, as well as emotional, exhaustion as we worked. Hunters, as usual, watched the skinning process.
We were almost finished skinning the last bear when Fin reached for his sharpening steel to sharpen up the knife he was using. As he did one of the hunters standing around said to Fin, “Here, try this knife,” while pulling his pouch knife out and handing it to Fin.
Fin grimaced slightly. I saw that he did not want to use the guy's knife, because it was of inferior quality to his own. To turn down the offer would have been an insult to the guy, but, amazingly, Fin was too tired to be his usual insulting self. I was through skinning all that I could at that point and had my hand on the skinning table ready to grab the bear carcass anywhere that it would help Fin to work more easily. That second rate knife couldn't cut as well as Fin tried to make it cut, which caused him to slip and cut my finger. “Goddamit, how many times have I told you about that!” He bellowed.
He was insinuating that I had put my hand in his way, but the accident was all his fought. It happened because he was worn out from overwork, and he had used the wrong tool for the job. That was to be the last time that he blamed me for one of his mistakes.
I rushed to the water spigot on the side of the small building we were working in to flush out the cut on my finger. Fin had taught me to do that, because a bear's blood can transfer diseases into human blood, and my hands were covered with bear's blood. It was a small cut, but Fin could not tell how bad it was because of all the bear blood. His only concern was to fend off having to admit that he was wrong.
As I had washed out the cut, an incident from a day or so before that came to mind. One of the hunters had told a story about once being accidentally hit with birdshot, from a friend of his thirteen-year old son's shotgun, when the three of them had gone out hunting. The guy went on to say some thing about the precautions that he took on their next day's hunt.
After the guy walked away from the group of us who he told this story to, Fin said, “I'll be goddamned if I'd go back into the woods with somebody who had hurt me like that.” Fin never expected me to take his advice when it went against him.
I walked into the lodge to put some disinfectant on my cut. There was no way that I was going to walk back out there and help finish skinning the bear. Fin would have unjustly berated, belittled and humiliated me in front of those guys who were watching us work, so I sat down in the lodge to eat the lunch that was just then being served.
Suddenly, I realized that he had lit my short fuse. I could feel my explosion coming.
I knew if I sat there until Fin came into the lodge, after finishing up out there, he would go into his yelling act, in an extremely horrendous way, in front of everyone as usual, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I began to become overwhelmed with feelings of raging violence. Surrealistic images began to flow through my mind like a bunch of crazy canoeists shooting some rapids at flood time.
There was a shotgun with a box of shotgun shells in a locked room upstairs. In my minds eye, I could see myself going up there, kicking open the locked door, loading the gun and coming back downstairs with it. Then I would jack it up under Fin's chin, tell him off, and demand the money he owes me and a truck to drive to the airport in. The shells were loaded with small game shot, so if I wanted to I could have wounded him lightly, or with the weapon pressed against his neck, blow the top of his head off. He probably wouldn't believe that I could shoot him, so there was a strong chance that he would force me to do something I didn't want to do.
Marty was a skilled shot, so most likely she would have come out of the kitchen with a loaded gun. Even if Fin stood still while being jacked up, Marty could never believe that I was capable of standing up to them. She probably would have forced us into a shooting situation. The small game shot was too light to drop her from the distance that she would have been standing from me. To ruin my life without killing both of them did not seem like a fair exchange to me.
As I reasoned through this insane frame of mind, the room appeared to become full of thick, light red liquid. I felt like I was in some kind of an aquarium. Scores of imaginary eight-inch wide, oblong, dark green edged, pale green single celled animals floated around in the air. This was a sure sign that the end of my days at the lodge had finally come.
My racing mind went into a plan B. If I continued to sit there until Fin walked in, then at the first, falsely accusing word from him I was going to pick up the chair I was sitting in, throw it through the window next to me and tear into him with my fists. The men in the lodge would have broken up the fight, but not before Fin was down and bleeding. The element of surprise, my surging adrenaline and good physical condition practically guaranteed this.
Then I realized that this would only make a bad situation worse. It would have hurt me more to become a raging fool than to walk away, so I got up and walked out of the lodge and headed on down the road.
I hitchhiked around Maine, for a few days, in a state of deep depression, too depressed to let anyone in the world knew my whereabouts. My money ran out, so I had to go back to the lodge to get my backpack, camping gear and clothes, which I had left there. A local Maine guy, who was a buddy of mine, drove me up to the lodge. He was fully aware of the danger we faced from Fin's anger, but was willing to help anyway. It was mid afternoon, and the Lodge was full of people waiting for lunch.
As I walked in, and on upstairs to where I had left my gear, Marty and I exchanged a few angry words. On the way back out, I heard her goading Fin to, “ Do something about him.” “ I don't care what the little bastard does,” he said to her. The Pa. boy was sitting over in a corner as I walked out, and I'll never forget the limp, lame look on his face. The hunters that were hanging around there in the Lodge were fidlin' with magazines, that they weren't really interested in reading at the time and trying hard not to look at me.
Then Fin came out after me.
He appeared to be completely disheveled. He was not wearing shoes again, and his wild eyes showed that he was emotionally out of control. He grabbed me by my throat in a double handed thumb and finger choke hold. It was easy to come up with a counter move---I broke his right hand free from my throat and grasped his left wrist with my right hand. He drew his right hand back and clenched his fist, in an attempt to smash me in my face. I had no trouble stopping the punch by putting my left hand into the crook of his right elbow. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Fin, let's talk.”
Throughout all of our working relationship, he had held himself above reasoning with, and he wasn't about to talk sense now.
He viciously spat out, “Get off my land, and if you ever cast a shadow on my place again I'll kill you.”
All of this action happened in full view of everyone in the Lodge's dining room, including my maternal grandmother who was there visiting her favorite child, Finley.
My buddy who had driven me there volunteered to go to court with me, so there were plenty of available witnesses. I wasn't too keen on pressing charges, but to be on the safe side, I gave a report to a state cop. He was willing to go arrest Fin right then, but I wanted to call home first. I talked to my lawyer in Baltimore, and he couldn't believe that I was hesitant to prosecute. My mother said to me, over the telephone, “Think of the family.”
One of the reasons that I had agreed to go back to help them out at the Lodge in '79 was to renew family ties by patching things up between my uncle and me. Somehow, it was easier for our family, and myself, not to consider what kind of negative impact all of this might have on me, so I never took any legal action against my uncle.
One final dilemma for me, Fin had been talking one day about two brothers who had made reputations for themselves as drunken brawlers. They worked at their father's business, which was very lucrative. Fin brought up the fact that they had a lot to get sued for, and said, “Never put your hands on anybody, because then they own you.”