Seemingly excited with the enthusiasm of a colt, “Thumper” strained at her moorings, tugging against its restraining ropes and bouncing about the water with the will and whim of winds and waves.
It was a first for the charter fishing boat that had long been skippered by the late Ron Johnson who died from lung cancer some six months ago.
And now the boat was tied up where she belonged: Between a pair of former stablemates that she shared space with at Grand River Marina in Grand River Village.
There would be no charter this day, the July 4th holiday. And possibly there would never be another charter for the vessel.
On this day the boat was to have a much more somber mission, that being to take friends, family members and a minister out onto the lake for a final soiree for the boat and her captain. Plus a half-share portion of Johnson’s ashes.
But for two hours prior to their last journey together there was a fisherman’s wake of sorts for Johnson and in a way, for Thumper as well.
Food was in abundance, from fresh sweet corn donated by the Ashleys of Mentor whose Geauga County “farm” is maintained by savvy Amish growers to some of the best burgers, hot dogs, and pot-luck sides this side of Gorden Ramsey’s kitchen.
On the Thumper were tacked the vessel’s array of fishing poles and reels, each strung as if ready for action, respectively cleaned of crusted fish slime and scales. Along with the vessel’s deck and trim.
As one attendee said of Thumper; “It was never more clean.”
True, perhaps, but the old girl deserved to be tidied up a bit and made to look sharp and beautiful. In for nothing else than for the memory of a charter captain, friend, father, brother and colleague.
That July 4th was pegged for the memorial was fortuitous. For me and my wife for sure. For several years on July 4th Johnson would give my wife and me a go at Lake Erie walleye and steelhead, he knowing that the morning was our time together in an informal fishing trip.
That evening Ron would turn about the boat and take his son, Steve, daughter-in-law, Kathy, and granddaughter, Jordan, out to lay at anchor near the Grand River’s mouth. There the family would together watch the annual Fairport Harbor Mardi Gras July 4th fireworks show.
Others at the wake/picnic reflected on their life experiences with Ron, too, many humorous but all poignant.
Among the many comments were those directed at Johnson’s much beloved daughter, Meaghan. Once Johnson’s right-hand first-mate, Meaghan, is now a marine biologist studying coral reefs in Key West, Florida.
After everyone’s bellies were beginning to burst with way too much food, the low-key conversations were finished and the clock had slipped to the appointed hour, the crowd climbed aboard the various assembled boats for the ride to the lake and the final memorial for Johnson.
They didn’t go far, though. That was not Johnson’s way who frequently noted that it’s always best “not to burn the gas.”
It was the bitterest of sweet for everyone, knowing that they would each have to take back home with them the individual memories of a man they called “father,” “grandpa,” “brother,” and just as importantly, “friend.”
Time may very well diminish the pain each person felt though time won’t fade the fond collective recollections.
One of Johnson’s favorite sayings, it was told in the wake/picnic’s memorial tribute, was “Well, did you learn anything?” to which everyone could nod an unqualified “yes.”
So to each of Ron’s extended family, one can only say “fair skies and following seas."
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn