At this time of the year stores offer big sales and the market in Thorne Bay across the strait from us is no different. At the beginning of October they always have a meat and case lot sale that the entire island of Prince of Wales and outlying areas like Meyers Chuck benefit from.
My brother Jamie offered to run over in the Islet, his commercial fishing boat, at the same time we went over in our skiff. My dad could fill the skiff with jerry jugs full of fuel while Jamie and I filled the Islet with meat and case lots.
It was my mom’s job to navigate the sale flier and type up a big list, which she emailed over the day before we went to have the store shop it so that I would only have to shop for myself. We wanted to make it quick since the strait is more dangerous at this time of the year than during the summer.
We made it across, but were uneasy with the way it got rough at the approach to Thorne Bay. We topped off our jerry jugs at the fuel station and then headed for the store without waste of time. The tide was high enough that we could drive up the small creek that curves around the store. We beached the skiff below the parking lot and I climbed up to discover that the lot was much fuller than usual.
The small store was bustling, crowded with shoppers. One of the clerks, Laura, saw me and came over with a piece of paper. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “We couldn’t shop your mom’s order. It’s just been too crazy busy. Can you shop it?”
It was a long list so I was worried about the time it would take added on to my own shopping. But by then Jamie had reached the store and when I told him what had happened he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m in no rush. The boat rides good even in the worst weather.”
I hoped he was right, or that the weather cooperated. I went out and told my dad, who was waiting down in the skiff for me to bring out the frozen goods my mom had ordered, what had happened and told him he better get back across the strait as quickly as possible before it blew any worse. With his heavy load of fuel he’d be taking a lot of spray as it was. He managed to take on a few more groceries, left over from the last week that we hadn’t been able to pick up due to weather, and took off.
Back inside things were chaotic. Rob, the manager of the store was attempting to fill meat orders. As quickly as he put things in the freezers they were snatched up. He directly delivered from his hand to my cart several of the things on my mom’s list. Willie, an off-duty clerk doing his own shopping, was promptly impressed into service.
Another clerk, Bubba, mixed and matched to fill out a couple cases for me and asked if I’d need a courtesy right, which I gratefully accepted. I filled up one cart for my mom and went back for another.
Jamie was filling his own cart with meat and case lots and I wondered how he managed to move so deftly around all the other carts and the stacks of case lots taking up space in the tiny store — he’s six foot four and built like an NFL linebacker.
We got to the register and I almost didn’t get one of my mom’s carts tallied up — it had gone astray in all the bustle. Jamie snagged it and hauled it over for me.
We packed the back of Bubba’s truck full and headed for the dock where we unloaded everything into the large dock carts there. Jamie and I wheeled one after another down to his boat. He climbed aboard and I handed the boxed groceries to him. He’d had the forethought to put fresh ice in his fish tote and we put the meat and frozen goods in it. We tried to position the boxes that wouldn’t fit in the cabin or fo’c’sle on the backdeck where they’d be somewhat protected from the weather.
“I’ve got one last stop,” Jamie said, “at the liquor store to grab some wine, then we can take off.” I asked him to pick me up some vodka that I use for making soap and mouthwash. He shook his head at the waste of perfectly good alcohol and strode off.
We took off as soon as he returned and found the strait had kicked up considerably. While Jamie lowered the trolling poles and dropped the stabilizing anchors overboard to give us a smoother ride, I called my mom to see how my dad had fared.
He’d just made it home and was drenched in salt spray. He’d had an ugly ride home, but had made it safely.
The Islet rode the 5 to 7 foot breaking waves neatly, though I did bang my head during one particularly big swell. On the trip across Jamie regaled me with harrowing stories of his first fishing trips after he set out on his own to become a commercial fisherman at the age of sixteen.
When we got across the strait we found the tide was out too far for us to reach his skiff to load it with me and groceries and take me home, so he took the boat our to my place. The engines quit just before we got there but he got them going again. I couldn’t help thinking about what could have happened if they’d stopped out on the strait.
Jamie got the stern of the boat close enough to the seaweed cover rocks at the point where I live and I leaped out. He promised to bring the groceries over the next day when the tide was high.
Another fall stock up trip successfully survived!
• Tara Neilson grew up in a burned cannery in a remote area of Southeast Alaska. She still lives in the wilderness, in a floathouse near Meyers Chuck. She blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com and readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.