SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

Life in The Time of Corona


March 25, 2020
Wednesday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Being my parents' child was a challenge at times.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

My mom was an introvert. She would have seen no challenge from having to implement "social distancing." Oh, she liked being around family and a few close friends now and then (mostly then), but beyond that she preferred the company of a good book, a good puzzle or episode #138 of Murder She Wrote.

Heck, my father died in 1974, and she was perfectly happy to not remarry for another 40+ years. People would ask her if she wanted to get hitched again and she would look at them like they had two heads. She didn't. And not because my father was the world's greatest husband. He wasn't. She just had no desire to go through that again. Nuf said.

My father on the other hand was an "outrovert." Yeah, I know the correct word is "extrovert" but that doesn't go far enough. He always wanted to be "out" not "in" as "in home". Pretty much any excuse (hunting, fishing trapping, working, drinking) was more than enough excuse for him to be elsewhere.

So you had an "introvert" and an "outrovert" and naturally, I am a little of both. And some days the interaction between the two can be as much fun as refereeing between bored cats. More on that later.

During a recent travel "quarantine" I had to spend more time than normal around the old homestead. Generally, that was not a problem. I am a great fan of Newton's First Law of Motion, at least the part that says "a body at rest will remain at rest, unless an outside force acts upon it."

if there is no "outside force" such as a need to make money or find something to eat or go to the bathroom, my preferred position is usually "prone." Even when I was kid I liked to nap. My body, at rest, prefers to remain that way.

So, the quarantine was, at the very least, a good excuse to sleep in. Only after, of course, getting up to feed the cats because they have been trained to dance across my chest, scratch the bed sheets, even lick my face or even pick fights with each other, if they feel like it is somehow past morning chow call.

No, I am not sure whom trained them to behave that way. Probably someone else in the house who likes to get up early in the mornings. Of course, these days, my bladder in the best alarm clock around. When it reminds me it is time for the 3 am voiding, that also wakes the cats and reminds them it has been nearly nine hours since the last feeding. So they spend the next three hours parading about trying to get someone to feed them. Well, it would be nice if it was three hours. Sometimes, it only a fraction of that before someone (often me) gives in and feeds them anyway. Natch, the cats do no credit me for such great owner behavior.

After they are fed, one can usually just begin to doze off before one, or more, of the cats starts to engage in the morning barfing. The offending cat is usually on the bed when the retching begins, which causes rapid human movement in an attempt to get the cat to the bathroom tile floor before breakfast reappears. It makes me wonder if the cats have a schedule.

"Time to barf!"

"But I barfed yesterday."

"I barfed yesterday."

"Are you sure?"

"I think so."


"Maybe it was Fluffy who barfed."

"No, he barfed on Tuesday."

"Okay, I'll barf then."

But I digress.

After the bladder has been emptied, the cats fed, and somebody has barfed, it is time for the body to return to rest.

I'm pretty sure I got that desire to rest from my Mom. She had been very busy earlier in her life (four kids in 10+ years will do that) and, by the time I came around, I suspect she wanted to rest. So she generally did.

And yet, even I, can't stand to be sitting around the house all the time. I sometimes wonder how my Mom did that for so many years. Yes. she occasionally had part time jobs or volunteer work, but so much sitting around, otherwise, is more than I can deal with.

Even during the quarantine, I had to take my daily walks. And anyone who knows me  knows that I would much rather do anything - even read, say, Jane Austin and pull out my finger nails - more than I would want to exercise.

Dad, of course, didn't want to rest much  because.....well, I'm not sure exactly why. It probably bored him. He liked to always have something to do. Good for him.

I have always appreciated that people who like something to do tend to get things done. If we were all at rest - like we seem to be in these times of Corona - then nothing would get done. Except naps. See there is always a silver lining.

So, since my Dad was generally a "man of action" it does seem a little weird that he picked the type of commercial fishing that seems to have the most down time. Unlike net fisheries that feature pretty intense bursts, trolling is definitely the long slog. The long empty slog a lot of the time.

Basically, you bait your 25 odd hooks and trail them behind the boat and wait for something to bite while you "troll" very slowly up and down the "drag" until either something bites or the sun goes down and it becomes Jim Beam o'clock.

When there are "bites" they usually come in bunches, such as during tide changes, or when a school of salmon suddenly decides to commit suicide. Other than that there are long periods on the "drag" where nothing seems to happen. I suspect that is where the word "drag" comes from. It is a drag - unless like me - you like to read books.

But, as usual, I digress again.

What did my father do to the pass the time? Well, he also read a bunch, Both of my parents were big readers. He also spent time repairing gear.  Unfortunately, he couldn't engage in his favorite hobby - which was taking the diesel engine completely apart, oiling or adjusting one infintesimally tiny item, and then putting it back together again.

He also got on the radio or the marine operator.

Once upon a time, long-long before cell phones and Facebook, that was how fishermen "stayed connected."

Each boat seemed to have numerous small radios so the fishermen could talk "amongst themselves." The multiple radios and channels were an attempt to keep a big secret from the other fishermen. No, that secret was not where the fish were. That secret was how bored they were and how much they loved to gossip about either the "landlubbers" or the other fishermen.

And then there was the Marine Operator that allowed them to contact anyone else in the world. Usually that anyone else was home. Except for Dad. It wasn't like he really wanted to "phone home" any more than was dutifully necessary. Or to warn Mom that he was "heading in" and would "be in town" for a while. That was a cue for Mom to take one of her seasonal trips South to hang with her mother and her sisters. Sometimes a house with four bedrooms and three floors ain't quite big enough.

But, I keep digressing.

The Marine Operator was also the best soap opera on the Seven Seas. People often forgot their conversations weren't private. I learned many things from the Marine Operator. First, don't call your wife and tell her you are staying out "on the grounds" a little longer "because the fish are really biting" and then immediately call your girlfriend and tell her you'll be in Port Alexander the next day. Also don't start getting all "hot and bothered" in a long distance call with your significant other. You could have heard a pin drop from one end of Clarence Strait to other when that happened. AS it frequently did.

My father was less forthcoming on the Marine Operator than he was on the smaller radios. Somedays, he would chat on the sideband with his close fisher friends for hours. I wish I had taped those chats.

Of course now, I suppose that fishermen just chat over the internet. Maybe even Facebook. I suspect my parents would have had differing views of Facebook. My Mom wasn't interested in computers and would rather have curled up "in" with a good book. While my Father would probably have preferred to hang "out" and personal message all his friends. He probably would have enjoyed the modern "secret" ways to communicate.

He loved telling stories, but only to certain people at certain times. He was the one who first told me that the Marine Operator was like the front page of the newspaper and to not say anything on the Marine Operator that you didn't want on the front page of the newspaper. That, of course, was an age when people actually read the newspaper.

Now, as we enter a new age, an age of social isolation what whatever next cataclysmic pandemic awaits us, even the idea of communicating seems quaint. Telephones and radios will soon become too challenging to use. Rather than verbal metaphors we will boil all communication down to meme's and GIFs.

That's something that probably neither my introvert Mother or my outrovert Father would think was progress.

But for me, it has become a marvelous way to keep in touch, without having to say anything at all.




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