My dad just came back from a day waiting around at the dock for the mail plane to come in, and said he spent the time chatting with pretty much every person in the village.
The dock has always been the gathering place for the locals as far back as I can remember. People go there to wait for planes, school kids to wait for their skiff ride home (chopping up kelp and throwing it at each other in the interim), hang out, exchange tall fishing tales, gossip, tender sympathy.... It's seen everything from wedding parties, to graduation parties, to end of the fishing season parties. If there's a party going, the spot to hold it is at the dock. More than one person has been thrown off the dock, or bumped into the bay while music was pounding and spirits, of more than one variety, were high and flowing.
When we first arrived in Myers Chuck, as it was spelled then, there was a sturdy, central dock made of wood that everyone called "the state dock" since it was built with state funds. Along the wide, warped-plank causeway that led away from land and to the ramp down to the float system, local boys had laboriously carved current events and opinions into the wooden rail. Most of it involved the village's prettiest teenage girls and the local boys' territorial stake to one or the other of them, their admiration for both, and their unfriendly advice to and libel against competitors for the girls' affections.
I loved the dock as a child. It was the most alive, happening place in the world. I could go down the dock, the fishing boats rafted alongside each other two or three deep, and get treats as I went from one barbecue and dock party to the next. Who could say no to a pig-tailed blonde girl in a life vest bouncing on a pogo stick?
The men would gather in groups talking fishing, cards, and politics while someone's rock music blared in the background. The women were busy at barbecues, coming and going from their cramped galley kitchens, chatting about "Chuck Doings," the boats swaying and squeaking against the bumper buoys. The scent of saltwater and low tide mixed with beer, cooking chicken, burgers, and franks.
Some of my school friends lived down at the dock on boats. Two sisters had their own boat that was towed behind their parents' fishing boat wherever they traveled. I loved going aboard and seeing their tidy, cozy floating bedroom.
The dock was moored in place by a series of tall, barnacle-encrusted pilings that sea gulls stood atop, flat-footed, making raucous, melodramatic remarks and looking for handouts.
Could there be a better place to go pogo-sticking?
My cousin Mark has his own dock story:
August 16, 1977
As the only summer residents of the Back Chuck, along with our mom, during our first summer in remote Myers Chuck, my brother Alex and I often ate a quick breakfast and headed for the Front Chuck for some human interaction.
Myers Chuck was tiny, but its population jumped in the summer as boat captains sought refuge or came in to offload their fish at the tiny fish-buying/fuel station attached to the post office and general store. The store had the only land-line telephone in Myers Chuck, allowing us to collect call our father in Atlanta to say hello and check in on the world.
This particular day when I called my dad he told me that Greenie, my pet paraketet, had met his maker. I was devastated. Later, I'd find out the truth about Greenie's demise (an uncle's cat), but for now I just knew I was sad that I'd lost my close companion.
I went to the state dock to have a good cry and found that a grizzled old captain was having a cry of his own. He couldn't possibly have heard about Greenie, but at 9, I asked with all the innocence in the world if that was why he was crying.
He replied, "No, son. Elvis Presley has died."
I knew of Elvis from one of my dad's three 8-track tapes. Dad wasn't a big music guy, but we had The Beach Boys, Elvis, and The Outlaws. Not bad for a non-music guy!
Me crying for Greenie, and the old captain crying for the loss of Elvis, along with the rest of the world, is a day I'll always remember. Only in 1977 remote Myers Chuck could a 65-year-old weathered fishing captain console a city boy out of place about a rock 'n' roll star and a little green parakeet.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)