There was once a time when the light through the windows would have been sufficient for the tasks at hand. These days, though it was supplemented by a single bare bulb, hanging there right next to where he’d hung the name plate from the boat he’d used from the sixties up until he and Brendan had built the new one in the early nineties. Just before the moratorium as it had turned out. That extra light was only needed from time to time, though, if a burr, a flaw or the need for a fine knot merited a closer look. Most times the hands, made sure by almost eighty years of practice, were guided by an inner sense of space. They just knew where to be, what to do. The tools were always left in the same spot and each component piece fitted with the kind of precision that only comes through skill, honestly earned through many years of hard work.
Christmas holidays might lessen the amount of time he spent in the store but they didn’t eliminate it entirely. Today, Boxing Day, just as any other, found him surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the fisherman’s store down by the shore. The tools: a mix of new and old; some bought as recently as last month and others handed down by his own grandfather. All vital, all used every day. The materials: a mix of items bought, or cut and hand sawn, and even an eclectic array of items recovered—wood from palettes, discarded fasteners from other projects, found items, on and on.
The soft sounds of the waves in the harbour lapping against the uprights that held the store served as a constant reminder of a lifetime spent making a living from the sea. His time on the water was mostly passed now, though, and he had come to accept it for what it was. Government had decided there were too many people chasing too few fish and, so, had ended it all. Retirement—that’s what they’d termed it but, to those working the in-shore fishery it felt more like an injustice. They, with their smaller gear and boats, hadn’t been the ones who’d all but completely wiped out the stocks. Those that had—the foreign trawler fleet—had escaped prosecution and in fact were still at it, albeit further offshore, but no matter, same effect: no more fish for the smaller operators.
Aye—no matter. He was used to hard times and, so, had done what he’d always done: persevered.
He had his memories, each one carefully curated and each recollection treasured.
The carrying out of his daily work in the store was the key to unlocking each one. Knitting the twine for the lobster pot ends brought back memories of the evenings spent up there in the kitchen patiently doing exactly that while the happy sounds of nine growing children rang all around him. The placement of a latte upon a bow recalled thoughts of spring preparations for each new season; each one met with the kind of hope that only comes through a staunch faith in the willingness of the Earth to provide for its inhabitants and in the goodness of others.
Each tap-tap-tap of the hammer on the latte nail, each cut with the band saw brought forth an additional memory: in the boat with Pad and Mac, cooking a scoff down for’d or at the cabin after a long day, hauling the lines with Brendan…Brendan, the oldest son. Gone now—ten years, yes, but never forgotten, not even for one hour.
He had his family; his greatest treasure.
His wife of over fifty years, the love still as strong is it had been back from the earliest times, raising a large family in a time when making a decent living from the sea was possible but still took that much more care, effort and skill. His children, grown now and with children of their own and, like him, strong in the face of adversity and imbued with that same sense of hope that had carried him through the difficult times, as well as the gratitude that had kept him always leaning forward into the wind.
Sometimes a smile creased his lips, sometimes a tear…Buzzzz, one cut at a time, one piece at a time, one memory at a time…
Should he turn on the other light? Evening was falling hard, making it difficult to see the finer details now. A glance at the stove; the wood was burning low and now was the time to either put more in or just leave it be.
He stood up, stowed away the tools, put on his jacket and stepped out into the evening air. The wind was coming up a bit but the air felt warm against his cheek. How strange! Last year he’d had to shovel through two feet of snow just to get down here! But that’s how it is—every year is different.
The shed was behind him now and he set his sights on home, just up the path. Tonight all hands would be at home. There would be food, presents, music; good times just like there had been in those many days before. And this year something else: two great grandchildren; always new steps in that long journey, but always accompanied by love, faith and hope.
He was now mid-way between the store and the house. He stopped. The sounds of the wind, the water and the laughter from the house now blended; an outport harmony. He took one more look around and breathed deeply of that soft, salty sea air before moving on.