Exit, ice; enter, salmon
Back in radio's salad days, there were things to hear, and I cherish memories of Colonel Stoopnagel and Bud. If you remember them, you are my age.
Every year, on Maundy Thursday, Colonel Stoopnagel and Bud would repeat (no taping in those days) their visit to the Hot Cross Bun factory, where they exposed the baker for putting five currants in a bun instead of the statutory four meticulously counted by the bun inspectors from the Board of Trade. Exposed, humiliated, and ruined, the guilty baker rode off into the Zane Gray and was never heard from again, until the next Maundy Thursday.
Somewhere about that time of year, another repeat radio show of total popularity was that of Parker Fennely, who faithfully helped the winter ice go out of Sebago Lake to open the salmon season. (Sebago = s'bsy-go.)
The National Broadcasting Company then had two networks, the red and the blue. On one of them, Mr. Fennely held the position of chief Yankee impersonator. If they wanted somebody to be a radio Down East hillbilly, they called on Parker, and he'd brush up his "Eyah, by cracky!" and collect his scale. The apex of Parker's career came when he was the annual Maine fishing guide on the day the ice went out of Sebago Lake. The script didn't vary from time to time, but never lost its appeal.
Understand now that the Atlantic salmon is the one Isaac Walton called the king of fishes. The Latin name is Salmo salar, a sea-run fish that makes a spawning run each year into the fresh water of northeastern North America. Maine is the only United State that sees them today. But a zillion years ago, certain Eastern rivers that nurtured Salmo salar got twisted a bit as the earth rose from the void, and Salmo salar that were on their honeymoons upstream couldn't get back to salt water. (The Salmo salar does not expire after spawning, as do the Pacific varieties.) These aboriginal salmon, being landlocked, formed a new society and became "Salmo sebago," since they were found first in Sebago Lake.
In Chile, in the early 1900s, Eastern salmon were introduced into a lake as a sports fish, and both Salmo sebago and Salmo salar were imported for the experiment. When, some years later, a beautiful salmon was taken in that lake, biologists were unable to say which salmon had survived. Only one man in the world was sufficiently expert to tell the difference, in the laboratory. He was William Converse Kendall of the US Bureau of Fisheries, a native of Maine. He said which Salmo it was, and Chile put in some more.
Now, the true arrival of spring is measured in Maine by the date the ice "goes out." It really doesn't "go" anywhere, but simply dissolves as the water warms and the wind is "just so." Then you have the best day of the year, the newspapers print a picture of the angler with the first salmon, and every workplace in Maine celebrates absenteeism. It was around this that NBC built its poignant story of the Sebago-Lake ice-out and made a national idol out of Parker Fennely.
A gentleman from New York City was told he should relax by trying the salmon fishing at Sebago Lake. Being ignorant of the joys of "the contemplative man's recreation," he demurred and said that wasn't his "cuppa." But cajoled and outvoted, he set off by steam-train. He arrived at Sebago Lake Station, where he gazed at the 44 square miles of Sebago and was dismayed.
A sheet of ice with a windchill rampant, Sebago looked to him like the last place he should be. But, lo! He is met by Good Parker Fennely, who says it's a fine spring day in Maine and by cracky the ice'll be out tonight and tomorrow they'll catch a salmon! In this way, the man from New York agrees to stay, and doesn't sleep a wink for the unbearable silence.
Roused at dawn by Mr. Down-East Fennely, he is grouchy cankerous, impossible to please, and he doesn't want any breakfast. All he wants to do is take the train back to New York. Seeing no other solution, Good Maine Registered Guide Parker Fennely says, "All right, the boat is ready and I'll take you across to the station to catch the Morning Pokey." And to prove all Down East people are a good sort, Guide Fennely says, "I ain't about to charge ye one red cent for staying the night, by cracky!"
IF YOU remember the show, you know what happened. Sly old Parker Fennely has tied on a smelt and has a trolling rod ready, and as he begins to row across the cove he says, "By cracky, to give you suthin' to do whilst I row, why'n't you hold this?" And he passes the baited rod over with about 30 yards of line let out.
And yessir by cracky, this is where the NBC sound-effects crew took over. Like the surf breaking into Thunder Hole at Bailey Island, a master great Salmo sebago hits that sewed-on smelt, and 40 Old Faithful geysers storm into the morning sky. The fish is on, and this poor sap from New York has his bull by the tail. And above the din of a true salmon's uproar they can barely hear the train whistle for the stop.
The man from New York says, "Fie upon the foolish train! Let's find another one - after breakfast." Now, by cracky, I do believe that this reminiscent repeat needs just one thing to round out a many-told tale. The past winter was mild and miserable for Maine. Sebago didn't freeze over. There was no ice to go out. As Parker Fennely would say, We're makin' do, by cracky!