The Canoe, The Indians, and The Great Northern Line

September 1972. Minneapolis.

My Father and I are paddling a canoe on Cedar Lake.  He’s an Eagle Scout and as such, he’s in the stern controlling the direction of our boat. I’m in the bow doing my utmost to provide the forward momentum. To the west of us are the homes of the wealthy. To the east, toward downtown, are the gravel beaches strewn with garbage and overgrown with thistles. This is the part of Cedar Lake where drunken Indians come to avenge themselves on hapless Jews like my cousin, Jeff Victor who had his Schwinn stolen at knifepoint, or like Mendel Meltzer who was punched bloody and dragged into half-freezing water in his ski jacket.

I hear the dip and swish of our paddles as we approach the center of the lake and the sound of men yelling from far away. One man, a shirtless, muscular little Indian dives into the water and swims out to our canoe. The others, onshore, crane their necks to look, all pointing at us and laughing.

When the little man reaches our canoe, he rocks it back and forth in an attempt to overturn us. My Dad just laughs and gives him a solid whack between the shoulders with the broad blade of his paddle. Hard enough to matter, good-natured enough to show no fear. The Indians on the beach double over with laughter at this.

As the little man swims back to shore I’m know my Dad will finally steer us to another beach and out of harm’s way.

Instead, he yells,

“Who’s next?”

We paddle toward the Indians, thirty or forty in all. Amazingly, several of them help us drag our canoe onto the beach. An older guy in a Ritchie Blackmore tour jacket offers me a can of Diet Rite and my Dad, a swig of Ripple wine from a communal bottle.

My Dad and the men speak about -adult things, for what seems like hours as I float sticks at the edge of the water.

As the sun begins to lower itself behind the basswood trees, the men help cast our canoe back into the lake. They wave good-bye and wish us well as we paddle out toward our car.

It’s early evening now and the loons can be heard above the din of the dragonflies. From the north, I can hear the distant roar of the Burlington Northern line, which passes by each day near dusk.


3 thoughts on “The Canoe, The Indians, and The Great Northern Line

  1. A wonderful story, Peter. I love how your father stood up to the man rocking the canoe, but not in a mean-spirited way. It seems your father understands human nature very well. What a great teacher for you. I love how you put me there, right in the scene. I can hear that BN train in the distance–beautiful.

  2. cedar was the ‘clean’ lake. the only one we were allowed to swim in…. though i never understood since they are all interconnected. i spent hours there as a kid. Swimming in a white tee-shirt when the sunburn was too bad. and then, at the end of the day… if were were really good, a trip to Porky’s for a kiddie special, and if we were extra good, a round of golf at putt putt. thanks for sharing your memories. life seemed so simple then.

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