Grindstone Island, February 1943
School was closed for a couple of days in February to celebrate George Washington and Abe Lincoln’s birthdays. Breakfast was in progress when the outer door of the small outer shed on the back of our kitchen opened and in came my cousin John (Dano). John was a couple years older than me, and he was forced to sit and eat with us; cereal, pancakes, bacon, a couple of homemade donuts, a glass of milk, and then he told us the story of why he was there. Aunt Cecile was John’s mother, and she was the only nurse on the island. She was the one you called for any sickness on Grindstone Island.
My Aunt Eleanor (Calhoun), my father’s sister, was pregnant; we were told that she was having trouble with the pregnancy, and she needed a doctor. Aunt Eleanor’s husband, Uncle Benny, had picked up Aunt Cecile from her house and took her to their farmhouse on the north side of Grindstone. Cousin John was sent to get the doctor from Clayton and headed to our place for assistance and breakfast. We finished up and quickly set off on our way to retrieve the doctor.
It was decided that we would take the smaller ice punt to Clayton since it was smaller, lighter, and faster than the more rugged heavy hauler that we used more often. It was built out of half inch pine with solid oak frames, with a mast for sailing across the ice. The runners on the bottom of the punt went the full length of the boat, carved to fit the hull, and were shaped like ice skates, making her rock like a tea saucer. We quickly approached the boathouse and there she sat, sheltered inside, dry with the oars tied, and the runner on a wooden roller ready to spring like a cat!
We were both wearing ice skates attached to our boots, so it was easy to push the punt off the wooden roller onto the ice on the east side of the dock. We hoisted the mast, and the strong wind was whipping at about 20 miles an hour and was tearing at the mast head. I set the jib and now the sail was snapping in the wind, making loud sounds like gunshots. The full force of the strong wind shot us quickly out into the bay towards our destination.
My aim point was the western end of Pine Island; that angle put the full force of the wind on the sail causing us to glide at about 20 miles per hour over the frozen River.
The River ice was old and a solid one foot thick – maybe thicker. The recent rain had reduced the snow to nothing, so between the wind, the recent rain, and the cold air, the ice surface was very rough. Water puddles from the rain had been blown into small waves on top of the ice and were frozen 3 – 4 inches thick. We were airborne at times on our journey – flying and happy!
Cousin John was on the front handles and was trying to select a few patches of smooth ice as we slid sideways as fast as we were sliding forward. I could see my mark now in the middle of Pine Island, the wind still pulling and pushing and as we approached the head of Pine Island, I turned the boat towards Clayton. Oh, how we flew, we sped up the frozen river and somehow with great luck – not skill – we swung the punt towards our goal, now catching the wind turning us sideways. Now with the wind blowing on a slack sail, we slid under the large Consaul-Hall Coal sign and into the semi-shelter of the Clayton docks. We quickly dumped the jib and rushed to get the doctor at his home. We waited for Dr. John Fowkes on his glass porch. We explained the urgent medical situation and he asked how we’d gotten to Clayton. We told him we had sailed, and Doc Fowkes practically beat us to the punt!
We quickly realized that Doc Fowkes was a sailing master. He seated himself in the punt, grabbed the main sheet rope and we were on our way back to Grindstone. He set a course straight for Flowerpot Island, a small island off Calumet. We were sailing almost into the wind, then at some point, he turned and like an arrow, we shot over the ice towards our new target – the Rusho Farm. We sailed mostly on the starboard runner, a crafty balance with almost a 90-degree angle from the mast to the runner. I watched the master as he balanced the boat on one runner – the man and boat were one. I have no idea what speed we were going, but I do remember that the port runner was not in contact with the ice – we were basically flying on top of the ice. We approached the Rusho dock and Doc slackened the sheet. Uncle Benny was there with his horse waiting and off across the island on the northside to the Calhoun’s they went.
By mid-afternoon, they had returned to our farm, and it was a rather mild ride, just for pleasure, going to Clayton to take Doc back home. Another day on the River that I will never forget.
By Manley L. Rusho
Manley Rusho was born on Grindstone Island nine+ decades ago. Back in 2021, Manley started sharing his memories with TI Life. (Manley Rusho articles) This Editor and his many friends wish him continued good health and we thank him, most sincerely, for sharing - as the life and times on Grindstone Island are special and should never be forgotten.
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