Buckie's chowder

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All but one thing had been packed when Bill Dornbusch arrived punctually from winter quarters in Bennington and we were ready to head into the Maine woods on the 20th annual Grandfathers' Retreat - an occasion calling for a considerable wangan, as we refer to the ample supplies that will sustain us for a week. The one thing not in the boxes and bags in the pickup truck gives me a chance to tell about Buckie.

Lester Buck was a registered Maine guide at Kennebago Lake for years, a fixture who had his regular list of sports. Buckie knew where the trout and salmon were, and at nooning he would row his double-ender into one of the many lunchgrounds around the lake and prepare the usual trout chowder.

Buckie didn't just make a chowder, because anybody in that region could make a chowder. Buckie made a Buckie chowder, and although he was faithful about placing the boat over feeding fish, the chowder had much to do with the repeats - some of his sports had been guided by Buckie until they came again bringing grandsons who, in turn, sang the praises of Buckie's chowders.

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Buckie had no family that I ever knew about, and when the angling season came to an end each fall and the hunting season opened, Buckie ceased guiding for the year and moved downstate for the winter. Buckie had a soft spot for the deer, and didn't want to be around when the shooting started.

For one thing, he had started taming deer years before, and amused a great many paying guests with his uncanny ability to call them from the woods. Some people have a knack with animals, and Buckie had one with deer. Before the first anglers came in the spring he would ride down the lake to the lunchground at the Big Sag and crumble some saltines on a stump. Then he would sit quietly by and now and then make a little sigh, something like the way a doe talks to her fawn. Being Buckie, he soon had a deer peeking out, and as deer are fond of salt, the crumbled crackers enticed. Two or three visits and Buckie had a tamed deer that would come charging out to get crackers whenever Buckie called, ''Here, deer, come-come!'' Then, when his first sports arrived and guiding began, Buckie had the stage set.

''Funny we ain't seen no deer today!'' he'd offer while he was cutting salt pork to start his chowder. Then he'd work the remarks around until he would offer to call a deer if somebody would get the camera ready.

When Buckie came downstate in the fall, he'd take a room somewhere in Lewiston and sort of hibernate. Those of us who knew Buckie realized his winters were lonely, and we always did something to brighten him up. A couple of times each winter we'd fetch him to our house for Saturday night baked beans and a bout of cribbage - if there was anything Buckie liked better than a pot of baked beans it was to take two out of three games of cribbage. When he was ready, we'd drive him back to Lewiston.

The first time we did this, Buckie hitched his chair to the table and at the proper time lifted a forkful of steaming Jacob's Cattle, juice dripping so he had to lean over his plate, and at first taste he looked up at my wife. She, like all cooks, approves of approval, and she thought he was about to pay her a compliment. Not so. Buckie lowered his fork and said, ''You didn't put in no ginger!''

''I never put ginger in my beans.''

''You should always put ginger in your beans. Everybody should always put ginger in beans. Not a lot - just a doit. A pinch. A pinch goes a long ways. These'd be extra fine beans if they had a pinch of ginger.''

Since then, our family beans have always had ''a pinch of ginger for Buckie, '' and the next time he came for Saturday evening he admired my wife's beans over and over.

Well, as Bill and I were ready to take off for Caucomagomic Lake on our 20th annual, everything was packed but . . . . There was a can of B&M baked beans for one of our suppers, and as we were about to get into the cab and start off, out my wife came to wish us a pleasant week. ''Have a good time,'' she said.

And then she said, ''And here's a pinch of ginger for Buckie.''

We were to add that pinch to the B&M beans, not only making them better, but perpetuating a fine memorial to a good man.

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