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Reunion delivers sweet sounds

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

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Yes, you can go home again!

By Michael Marshall Brown

            BELLOWS FALLS, VERMONT – My friends and business colleagues here in Ohio can’t comprehend the energy, passion and unique pride that goes into the annual Alumni Association Reunion weekend hosted each June in Bellows Falls.

            It almost defies description among people who perhaps have only one or two high school classmates connected on facebook or whatever.  This is the reality check in Bellows Falls on what are the true face to face social network connections.

We  have an all-class party on Friday night (EVERY year), then specific class dinners (we just celebrated our 40th class reunion party) and then on Father’s Day everyone enjoys a giant parade of fabulous float, bands and marchers in front of at least 5,000 people.

            All of this in a tiny little village where less than 3,000 hardy souls live year-round?  Yes, it’s amazing by any level of participation.

            The best way I can describe the incredible spirit is to describe not just the sights of the weekend but the sounds.

            While pictures tell a thousand stories, so say wise men centuries ago, for a modern-day “flatlander” from far away now, the most beautiful and enriching way to connect were the sounds absorbed during the alumni weekend.

            My thoughts, focused acutely about sounds, started on an early Saturday morning, sitting in an old wooden rocking chair on a porch.  Most of Bellows Falls was sound asleep and recovering from the annual Friday night dance and party where BF alumni ranging from 18 to 88 gathered  to celebrate the good life.

            I had driven 12 hours from Ohio the night before, didn’t party too overly late, and so was wide awake sitting on this porch.  The first sound I noticed was the creak of the old chair that Mother Mary Hadley favored for decades before she left this world of incredible musical and community giving earlier this year.  It was my honor to stay at her house with the Hadley family and to sit quietly and respectful in her chair.

            The sound of a train coming up the big river reminded me of the old-days when Steamtown was one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state of Vermont.  What a loss that was to the regional economy (the largest collection of steam engines in the world)  and why can’t we get it back?

            A flock of geese flew over.  Vermont is so nice most of the year they don’t migrate.

            Then I heard little children out front, a short bike ride from Central Elementary School.  This is the brick school where I was selected to play taps the week John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  That is a sound I’ll never forget.

The little kids last weekend were giggling and asking each other what country this car with an Ohio license plate came from.  They struggled to say O-H-I-O.

            There were frequent sounds of domestic abuse; angry and ugly talk from up on the hill.  Bellows Falls is far from a perfect place to live and grow up now.  It was indeed almost perfect back in the good old days.

            The St. Charles church bells chiming reminded me of so many funerals, weddings and special events over the many years.  But all these sounds were not about mourning and being sad.  It was a time of celebration.

            Later that same day, I met with classmates at the famous Ms. Bellows Falls Diner.  For a moment, I could hear the sounds of Big George Kiniry, my father Richard E. Brown, and Richard Comtois, coming in for the first-morning of deer hunting season in Vermont.  These were sounds burned into my memory about 50 years ago.  The diner hasn’t changed a bit; food was still good, so were the people.

            Our breakfast party of two Hadleys and one incredible Sue Stack left for a little road trip.  We visited some very important people and their spirits at Oak Hill Cemetery.  Yes, sadly, our little town of Bellows Falls has endured more than its share of early and tragic deaths.  The sound of our light laughter mixed with some tears made pleasant and respectful sounds at that hallowed setting.

            After we paid our respects, we drove through Saxtons River and Grafton, and we chattered and rambled on like young school children.

Vermont never looked more beautiful with its spring green thanks to a late warm-weather season and much rain.  The startling damage to houses, roads and bridges was still apparent long after the ravages of Irene. We stared quietly and in awe of the power of nature run amuck.

            But on this day, the clear waters of the Saxtons River made peaceful babbling sounds.  In my mind I could hear the sound of my pal Don Bruce’s spinning real as he battled a big brown trout in the deep waters near the Village of Saxtons River.  That was only 44 years ago.

            In Grafton village by the Inn we stood amid the beautiful outdoor setting and wondered quietly and then verbally why so many other people from around the area, the nation and the world were not also with us here in this cherished setting.  We thought out loud how our classmate Don Bruce had a wonderful opportunity now as the new Inn Keeper in Grafton.  We’ll be back in the future.

            Driving back, the giggles of little kids caught our attention.  They were offering a car wash to raise money for a class trip to some far-away place.  Sue, plus Ken and Aynn, didn’t need to say anything as we watched the kids spray themselves, laugh, and do their best in washing a stranger’s cars.  What were we hearing and watching?  They were us a long time ago.

            Life goes by so quickly.  The next time you wash your car, do something radical in this fast-paced techno world.  Do it yourself, and spray your spouse, neighbors, kids or grand-kids just a wee bit.  There’s nothing better than the sounds of giggles over a car wash.

            The alumni parties were non-stop conservation; such a natural buzz to listen to so many good stories old and new.  It wasn’t about how fancy a car you drive or how much money you make.  It’s about what have you done for fun lately.

            At our 40th Class Reunion dinner, we all stood for a champagne toast to salute the 14 classmates no longer with us on this planet.  It was a happy, respectful and emotional moment all in one.  All of those we lost gave us so much value then and they continue to do so now.

            As we toasted, I heard the sounds of long-lost classmate Scott Semonite tinkering with the wind speedometer on his bicycle.  The sounds of Jane Cote’s laughter filled my head.  Paul Stack’s quiet and strong way of “making right” was a memory as fresh as yesterday.  These are just some of the enduring classmates we lost so early.

            At the parade, I wore my original purple graduation gown and my 1973 class ring from way back when.  A stranger at the parade (there really aren’t any strangers on Alumni Weekend) came up to me and asked to take a photo.  She told me I looked a little mature to be a BF High graduate!

            Halfway through marching with what would become the Grand Prize winner as best float in the famed parade, I stopped on my old street corner of Henry and Atkinson.  My Dad was there to watch for the 62nd year in a row.  And he didn’t even graduate from BF!  He came from the “big city” of Brattleboro.

My Dad and I posed for a group photo with classmate Paul Obuchowski, who literally is Mr. Bellows Falls these days, making sure the Alumni classic remains strong.

            So when I was driving far west back to Ohio after the Alumni weekend, there naturally wasn’t much chance to close my eyes.  But my ears and memory banks are infused with fresh sounds and great memories old and new.

           

           

Rollin’ down the river

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

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Passage of time measured

By Michael Marshall Brown

            LEWISTON, NEW YORK – A wild river, big fish, two sons, and good friends.  That’s a winning formula for sharing a great new adventure but there’s more to this story.

            Country music legend Kathy Mattea many years ago shared with me personally her views connected to the great music she made.

            Dreams drift away like leaves on the water …they roll down the river and slip out of sight. Too many times we do what we ought; put off ‘till tomorrow what we’d really rather do tonight.

            People pass on … At the drop of a tear they’re gone. Let’s do what we dare; do what we like … And love while we’re here before time passes by …

            Time passes by … Aren’t those good words to live by these chaotic days?  So it was earlier this month with our long-awaited Christmas gift to my adult sons Shane and Cody.  We don’t spend as much time together as we should, and we don’t get to hunt and fish together like we once did.  So the perfect gift was a scheduled guided fishing trip with Captain Joe Marra at the famous fishing waters of the Niagara River.

            It turned out to be the best fishing trip of my entire life.  Check that; one of the best days of my entire life on this planet.

            There were many reasons; starting with the quality time with my sons.  Time has passed by so quickly and it’s hard to believe they are no longer toddlers scuffling up their chins and knees doing dare-devil stunts in the many driveways of their youth.  

            We spent hours and hours talking about all kinds of stuff.  Mostly, we talked about dreams for big fish.  Our dreams came true.

            Cody had never caught a smallmouth bass in his life.  He got the first big fish of the day and what a whopper it was, a beautiful smallie about seven pounds.  Many serious anglers struggle their entire lives to catch a smallmouth bass this big but Cody’s first was a giant.

            The best was yet to come.  I had positioned myself in the bow of Captain Joe’s boat, knowing the anglers in the back tended to catch the most and the biggest fish in the raging waters as we drifted. 

            But this logic didn’t hold up.  It was me hooking into giant fish although Shane and Cody both caught big lakers and several nice smallmouth bass.  My day was beyond belief. 

            The passage of time comes to mind again.  After more than 50 years of angling not once have I ever caught a musky, the giant and toothy cousins of the northern pike.  But on eight-pound, light line and tackle set up for trout, with a ton of luck and little bit of skill, a 44-inch, 17 pound musky was hooked, battled, and netted.  It was a breath-taking experience for the four of us in the boat because the powerful runs not to mention the huge teeth of the musky made it unlikely we’d get this monster in the net.

            But we did; got some amazing photos, and released the huge fish back into the water.

            Later my catch included a ferocious-looking male steelhead trout about 15 pounds plus a laker that was the largest I’d ever caught anywhere.  It weighed 20 pounds.

            Clearly, the reputation for Lewiston and the Niagara River not far from the famous falls continues to grow.  I’ve been coming there as an outdoor writer and photographer for 15 years and this trip was the best one ever and what a joy to share it with my sons.

            Cody had never fished there and Shane had visited once when he was a young teen-ager.  It was a trip they will never forget, whether we never do it again or hopefully get there every May together for the next 40 years … I told them I expected to still be fishing and playing basketball when I’m 98 but every day is the best day because it might be my last.

            The passage of time never seemed clearer than on this trip.  Another passage was learning that Andrea and Bruce at the Riverside Motel, right on the river in Lewiston, have decided to sell their pristine little property.  Family obligations with their kids in sports and music, and after 15 years of hard labor, make the decision a good one.

            All these years later they have hosted hundreds of outdoor writers and of course other visitors from all over the world.  Think of the impact they made on so many.  Thank you.  The people of Lewiston should put up a plaque on a rock thanking them for their efforts to promote the region’s hospitality and sport fishing.

            So, how are you on the passage of time with your life and your family?

            There’s no better way to measure that passage than on a river, in a boat catching giant fish, and with your family.  I highly recommend you book a Niagara River adventure as soon as possible.  The fishing is great every month of the year.  Contact Captain Joe at NRCharter@hotmail.com or 716-754-0951.  Call the Riverside Motel at 716-754-4101 or via email at rsmotel@aol.com.

            See you on the river in real time or in our dreams.   Remember, time passes by quicker than you might think …

           

On the Road Again for Fishing

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

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First time never forgotten

By Michael Marshall Brown

            LEWISTON, NY – Do you remember the first time your children giggled and were in awe when they gleefully caught their first big fish?  I do.

            That spirit connected to nature will be rekindled this weekend when my “Christmas Present” to my adult sons Shane and Cody is delivered in style. We’re together on a road trip this weekend to the raging waters of the Niagara River, seeking trophy fish not far from the famous falls.

            It will be Cody’s first trip there.  Shane loved the fishing there a decade ago.  I’ve been taking anglers with me there almost every year for more than 18 years. 

            The fishing is the best anyplace in the nation with the exception of Alaska.  In mid-may the big fish we’ll be catching with professional guide and captain, Joe Marra, includes lake trout, steelhead trout, maybe king salmon, and very large smallmouth bass. 

            The biggest freshwater fish of my life have been caught in these very same waters.  I’ve  landed lake trout, walleye and steelhead all over 10 pounds.  Mix in a 30-pound king salmon and a seven-pound smallmouth bass and you get the hint that we’re pretty excited to get up there.

            Want to go with us sometime soon?  Captain Joe Marra can be reached at 716-754-0951 or via email at NRCharter@hotmail.com.  There’s also a great little family-owned motel where we like to stay that I highly recommend.  It is the Riverside Motel, right on the big river in quaint Lewiston and you can reach them at 716-754-4101 or rsmotel@aol.com.

            So, back to that first time with your son or daughter.  Fishing is an incredible, binding force.  It seems hard to believe for most parents, I suppose, that the little kid with a tiny fishing rod has somehow grown up and is not too far away from age 30.  But the day my oldest son Shane hooked into a big rainbow trout, at his grandfather’s Pals Forever camp in Vermont, it was a day we  both will never forget.

            Cody’s first big fish was a funny story.  We had a little sunfish baited up on his little frail rod and left the rod on the wooden dock of a Marietta area pond.  Typical of most kids, he got a little bored and decided to check out the frogs in the nearby corner of the pond.  Not long after we left, I heard an unusual noise.  It was the sound of the rod and reel being dragged across the wooden dock.

            We raced back to the dock, I set the hook, and Cody had a blast fighting and then reeling in a nice big catfish.

            But Niagara River fishing is an entirely different ballgame.  The raging river, deep and cold waters, and huge freshwater fish, dwarf Shane’s first trout in Vermont or Cody’s first catfish from Ohio waters.

            We hope to make this an annual excursion.  A dear friend and a great outdoorsman, Glenn Libby, made a fine comment earlier this week.  He has a sense that somebody three generations of Browns will share future adventures chasing after big fish in the Niagara River.

            Ready to go along?