Summers at the River Edge
The Old Man phoned that day. He called me “ToTo.” I don’t know why, but hope it was out of some semblance of affection. He could be warm and charming at times, more often, short tempered and difficult. Probably related to his constant hip pain, medicated with various whiskies. Anyway, he asked if I wanted to share the River Edge with him and Alfio that summer, at a time so long ago.
The River Edge is a pair of small cabins on the banks of the East Branch, near Shinhopple. At the time, it was owned by Al Carpenter, proprietor of Al’s Wild Trout. The Old Man was a world-class musician, studied at the Eastman School, played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and taught at the University of Kansas. As a side, he was an accomplished author, bon vivant and trader in cane fly rods—and loved the ladies. His life-long friend, Alfio, was a professor of strings at a Michigan university. He joined the Old Man each summer at the River Edge to play classical music, cook, womanize and when convenient, cast a fly to the river in the backyard.
Any time the Old Man called, with any type of deal, my antennae would go up. While I respected and admired the man, his mood swings made him a tough customer to deal with. So I was skeptical of his offer. But he continued, suggesting that his good friend Willie would be down from Albany on occasion, to join us. And Roger, too. Anyway, the Old Man’s charm finally hooked me, and I agreed to join him and Alfio for the summer.
The River Edge cabin we rented was small, with a kitchen, shower and a couple of cots for beds. It was hot in summer too, with no AC. The Old Man usually arrived on Saturday afternoons, after lessons, and left on Monday. Alfio came soon after his classes ended and stayed on through the summer. I started going down on Saturday afternoons, too, fetching the Old Man on the way.
We would arrive about four o’clock in the afternoon, catch up with Alfio and start supper, which usually consisted of a cacciatore or some type of pasta. Then Willie would arrive. After dinner, all of us headed off to the Burnt House Pool, which was immediately down the road. Nights on the river with those men were magical. And it wasn’t all about the fishing. In fact fishing was a minor part. It was all about friends who came to the river out of affection for and to be with one another.
It is being at that pool, where the aroma of Aberdeen Blend from the Old Man’s pipe mingled with Willie’s cigarette smoke, drifting on the night, that I recall so vividly. There is no more cigarette and pipe smoke on the evening breeze at the Burnt House these days. Too bad, I think, because it was part of who they were, part of how they are remembered, and how I think of them when I fish that pool.
These were men from another time, when friendship meant maybe more than it does today. They were my friends and mentors, friends that had little in the way of wealth but who could be counted on when needed, regardless of the situation. That summer and the few that followed were special for me. Sadly, all three are long gone but not forgotten. There is no more River Edge, and I’m getting to be the Old Man now.