The Whispered Stories Of The Maples

There are five structures on Hen Island in Lake Erie:  a combination boathouse, kitchen, and dormitory, a bunkhouse, the Pete Nowak Lodge, a utility shed — and a small, two-story building at the rear of the island called “The Maples.”

Of the structures, The Maples may have the most interesting history.  It was the no-frills living quarters of the hired men who — in the days before the internal combustion engine and the outboard motor — rowed the Quinnebog Fishing Club members out to Old Hen Island.  The island is miles away from the shore in any direction, and rowing out to an island in the middle of Lake Erie had to be hard work, especially when the weather turned foul and whitecaps dotted the surface of the shallow lake. Why is it called The Maples?  The answer to that basic question is lost in the mists of time.

The rowers had to put their backs into their work to make it out to the island — but I’m guessing that when they reached their destination and tossed their duffel bags down they had a very good time until the departure hour arrived.  Although the building is now used for storage, there must have been tables and chairs and a stove on the first floor and bunk beds on the second floor.  No doubt poker games were played, flasks of cheap whiskey were quaffed, laughter rang out at a bawdy joke, and a line or two was wet from the back shore of the island.

The Maples is a silent place, now, but it’s not hard to hear the tales it has to tell.

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Teetering On The Edge Of The Fiscal Cliff

We’ve all heard about the “fiscal cliff” that is heading our way in January 2013.  If President Obama and Congress don’t act before then, a combination of tax increases and government spending cuts will automatically take effect.

The Tax Policy Center has now attempted to quantify the impact of the “fiscal cliff” on American taxpayers.  It finds that almost 90 percent of households would experience a tax increase.  The top 20 percent of taxpayers will bear 60 percent of the tax increases, but the tax increases will have an impact across the economic spectrum.  A middle-income family earning between $40,000 and $64,000 would pay an additional $2,000 a year, and families making between $110,000 and $140,000 a year would see a $6,000 tax increase.  In all, the government is forecast to reap an additional $500 billion in tax revenues.  Some people believe that the economy is already slowing to a zombie state because of fears of the new, bigger tax bite that will take effect in January.  Other economists fear that the combination of half a trillion dollars in tax increases and $109 billion in automatic government spending cuts that were implemented because the “debt supercommittee” couldn’t reach agreement on a deficit reduction will hurl the struggling economy into a full-fledged recession.

As I noted earlier, of course, this all will happen only if President Obama and Congress don’t act.  The President has been spending virtually every waking hour campaigning for re-election, and Congress has been inert for months.  So what do we have to worry about?

When One Of The Boys Comes Home For A Visit

Tomorrow night Russell comes home for a class reunion and a few days at home.  The sense of excitement and anticipation at the Webner household is palpable.

It’s the same whether it’s Richard or Russell who is arriving for a visit.  And if it’s both, it’s like Christmas.  (Of course, it usually is Christmas, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Their favorite foods are culled from a mother’s loving memory, purchased at the neighborhood grocery store, and made available for ready consumption.  (Hey, does Russell really still like Fruit Roll-Ups?)  Their rooms are carefully cleaned, sheets are freshly laundered, and beds are made with a precision that would make a drill sergeant smile.  Ample supplies of beer and snacks are laid in for the duration.  And, typically, a few new decorative touches get added to the household mix.

Phone calls and text messages are nice ways to keep in touch, and an occasional, surreptitious look at a Facebook page might provide some useful information about how things are going, but nothing satisfies that parental itch like an in-person visit.  How else are you supposed to really know whether your child seems to be eating enough and looks healthy and happy with his life?  Even if your kids aren’t big soul-confiding talkers — and boys tend not to be — you can still glean so much from random quiet moments, a dinner at the kitchen table, and a few smiling, sidelong glances at the strapping young men who used to be the tow-headed little boys fooling around on the front step.