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A thousand words for Bill (but I could write a million more)

Everyone in the family has their own stories and memories of Bill, and I’m sure many of our memories will overlap. How could they not, when we have such a large extended family and spent so many happy days at camp on Madagascal when we were younger.

Aunt Cathy and Uncle Roy and the Lyle boys would show up every summer, and we’d spend the next 10 days swimming and fishing and eating and sitting around the campfire listening to Roy and Bill tell stories well into the night. In the morning, on the rare days when we weren’t up before dawn to head to Merrill Brook, or Sandbank Stream or all the way up to the Wassatakuoik, we’d wake to the sounds of Bill shoveling out the bean hole and then smell the warm aroma of molasses and salt pork as he pulled the lid off not one, but two big pots of beans. Of course, that meant beans and biscuits for breakfast, served up with heaps of bacon and more often than not, eggs cooked over easy in a giant cast iron pan on the fire.

Soon after the Lyle’s left, the Fouches would show up. Aunt Chrissy and Uncle Ted would arrive with Caroline and the blond-haired twins Dee and Di with the southern twang in their laughs that made Bill work even harder to tell funny stories around the campfire. More swimming and fishing, especially in the old row boat for perch before sunset, followed by camp coffee around the fire, and youngsters trying to stay awake well past bedtime so as not to miss another story, even if we had heard them all before. And without fail, more food, always including fresh caught trout or perch, and followed with berries and whipped cream sitting on top of the fluffiest biscuits you’ve ever had. I know Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray never met Bill or had one of his biscuits, and that’s too bad for them – they might have been successful if they had asked for his recipe and advice.

And Bill didn’t just entertain family from away – we had a near constant stream of local family too. Uncle Ray and Aunt Pat had a camp just down the shore, so they and Bobby, Michael and Kevin were frequent visitors around the campfire, as were Uncle Bozo and Aunt Becky, sometimes with David, Mark and Kim joining them. Let me tell you, Bill was a storyteller, and if you have ever sat around the fire listening to a great storyteller, you know yourself what a wonderful joy that is. Nothing like it, in fact, unless it’s when you get not one, but two and sometimes three of the Fogg brothers together around the fire.

Those are such beautiful, magical memories and we can’t think of Bill without thinking of the sounds of an oarlock creaking in the twilight as we made our way to shore, the splash of brookies tail-dancing across a beaver pond heading toward Bills outstretched hand, or the crackling fire nearly drown out by the roaring belly laughs of family and friends.

But those aren’t the memories I cherish most when I think of Bill. As much as I loved the smells and sounds of our large family gatherings, the most meaningful and lasting moments are those shared by Bill and me when we were together alone. Hearing his hoarse predawn whisper “Danny, it’s time to get up” as he and I prepared to head to yet another trout stream in the spring, or to chase deer in fall. How many times in my youth did I awake to his call? A hundred? Two hundred? More?

And on how many fishing trips did we stop at a corner store on our way home for an ice cream or bottle of pop? I have no idea. But I do know that often, when driving home from our more far-flung tandem trips to Whetstone Falls or Katahdin Stream, I’d fall asleep on the long stretch of dirt road before we got back to pavement, only to awaken when I heard the truck door slam as Bill climbed back in after stopping at the Stacyville general store. Noticing I was awake, he’d hand me a cold bottle of Moxie and a bag of salt and vinegar chips, and I’d straighten up and finish them both with hands that still smelled of trout and Ben's bug dope. Nope, I don’t think I ever had a bad breakfast when Bill was serving.

My best friend in the world, who has spent time with Bill and me in some of our favorite fishing spots, called me this morning to offer his condolences and asked me how many brook trout did I figure Bill and I caught together when I was a kid. I just laughed and said I had no idea. But I remember a cold May morning when I was 14 and Bill and I were standing shoulder to shoulder on an old beaver dam, rain pelting down so hard we couldn’t lift our heads up for fear of drowning from the torrent pouring off the brims of our caps. Every cast was a trout. We stood there, cast after cast pulling in a shimmering slippery brook trout. The smallest we flipped back into the black water at our feet, the biggest went, with a quick neck snap, into our creels. As the rain started to subside, I caught and tossed back number 37, and told Bill I was done since I was out of bait. He pulled out one more night crawler, broke it apart and handed me half. “Let’s get one more each then go get some breakfast. My next cast caught number 38, his caught number 39.

So how many trout did Bill and I catch together when I was a kid? Just like my fond memories of Bill, way too many to count….

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