I’m looking upward at an old photo of my father. It hangs on the wall over my desk and is bringing back an old, warm memory. I’ve mentioned my dad before, but I feel like writing about him again.
My father, Donald Gilbert, gone some years past, will always be my hero. He was the epitome of an outdoor individual, but that wasn’t all he was.
Dad carried a steel plate in his left shoulder where a German machine gunner had blown part of it away over in France during World War I. But he overcame that disability to work, hunt and fish with the best of men.
Dad began his career back in the 1930s, when we lived in the little town of Alanson, just north of Petoskey. He was working for the Conservation Department at the Oden Fish Hatchery, but his opportunity came when he was chosen to attend Conservation School at Higgins Lake.
When he graduated, he picked us up, lock, stock and barrel and we relocated to Baldwin, where he became manager of the Department’s Trout Rearing Station. That was in 1942 and World War II was raging away in far-flung places.
I recall that at first it was a scary move for me, moving to a strange place. But our home was surrounded by 18 trout ponds with a river flowing between them and with several backwaters and unknown forests standing throughout the area.
Dad suddenly became very busy, with three employees to handle along with thousands of brook, rainbow and brown trout. But he found time to fish and we enjoyed that together. It was a pastime that over the years must have taken us to all 156 lakes and 47 trout streams in Lake County.
I was taking up fly fishing, but dad simply used a fly rod and tipped his line with bait. We caught a lot of fish.
And then came hunting. We did that together too, but I wasn’t exactly the sharpshooter he was. I recall tagging along on a particular deer hunt when he shot an 8-point buck right through the neck with his 30.06. It was almost a 400-yard shot, and with open sights!
A few years after that I was finally allowed to carry a gun and hunt alongside him. He was a real sticker for rules, regulations and for identifying a target. One time, early on, he asked me if I made sure I’d fired at a rabbit and when I told him I’d simply fired at a movement in the brush, I suddenly picked myself up from the ground where he sent me. It was a lesson I can never forget.
My father was actually a multi-faceted individual, often involved in activities quite removed from fishing and hunting. He called for square dances at the village hall and was also a loyal member of the local fire department. He was particularly loyal when the members gathered for their weekly evening of poker. And he was good at that, too.
But the years came and went, and dad retired when I was overseas with the Marines. He didn’t seem exactly the same in those later years, reading a lot for example, but we did find time to hunt and fish a few more times.
Yes, I recall those many enjoyable years as I look up at that photo of dad. He is standing on the old iron bridge over the Baldwin River, rod in hand and that old cloth creel dangling are his side and a smile, always a smile, washing over his face.