Merton DeWitt Strom stumbled his way down the cliffs behind his house. His eight-year old hands grasped the ancient rocks and moist moss of the rocky path and his blond, bleached hair was lightly bathed by the misty air. The eyebrows of the elfin German boy were rigidly angled and sharply placed - to the point that if it weren’t for his German homestead and contemporary clothes, the boy could easily have been mistaken for the imperturbable student of a Hellenistic Stoic philosopher. Yet, beneath those stolid eyebrows shone the bright and curious eyes of his youth - sparkling sea blue, with specks of grey - like the tranquil, speckled sky above him. His high cheek bones were lightly freckled and he held up his sturdy little chin high as he walked, imitating his father.
It was Friday - a fast-day for his family. For the whole village, really, since the only church for hundreds of miles was a small Roman Catholic parish. And, Friday meant the traditional fish fry when the community of fishermen brought together their choice catches; the women cooked and chopped for hours; and the children entertained themselves with fantastical games and dangerous escapades. Merton had become tired of aimlessly walking around the house, waiting for relatives to arrive, and smelling food which made his empty stomach rumble. That old trail of his grandfathers’ and uncles’ stories seemed enchanting enough, despite his past fear of the place. He wondered what he would find at the end of this difficult, rocky collection of rocks leading to the long-deserted lake.
As he neared the water, his once clean shoes were christened in mud and the trees arched lower than usual to kiss the ground. After parting the dew-heavy greenery, he stopped suddenly, realizing that he had reached the very edge of the shore, before it sank into the crystal lake water. Just beyond was a stressed hut of some sort. Small, old, with its pathway sunken beneath the water. From where Merton stood, he could see a window casting light on the crude shadows of what seemed to be buoys and cages. His stoic eyebrows raised in fascination and his eyes gleamed with that dangerous curiosity of childhood. It was still March, and the water was freezing, but he still waded his way to the make-shift door of the fishing hut - fully drenching his trachten socks.
The interior was hardly a mansion - containing all that was familiar to him - that is, the tools of a fisherman. He found a bucket to stand on and hoisted himself up to the window with his scrawny arms. He leaned out to see the view like so many before him had done as they waited for their fish. He shivered. It was cold. His thin trousers, linen shirt, and suspenders were hardly enough to keep his petite body warm during this frigid spring season. But he stayed, nonetheless, and played with the white puffs his every breath created in the frosty air.
In his play, he never saw what happened behind him. The ghosts of his ancestors came from the moss covered walls - all at once and struggling to be free. Their eerie shapes walked, sat, and shuffled about the hut behind Merton - broad shouldered men just as blonde, just as freckled, and just as curiously stoic as him. One phantom mended a net. Another cast one. A few others laughed in a corner, enjoying some equally wraith-like beer. The genesis and history of his family walked behind him. Each man passing on the trade of the net-and-hook to the next.
Then, deep voices rang in the distance and the smell of frying fish finally invaded the little hut. The families had come. Merton didn’t want to go and he didn’t know why. The view and hut felt like home. But, still, he put his tyrolean alpine hat back on and turned towards the door. The phantoms faded quickly into the past and into his heart. He walked home, but now - now, he was connected to that place. He would go back again and again, until his blond hair was silvery grey, and his hands were weathered by the lake and sea. Like the threads of the delicate nets, he was now mended into that legacy of fishermen from his past. And, later his son would join that webbed net of heritage, and so would all the young men after him - haunted by the phantoms of their fathers.
For those of you who enjoy name origins, here are the meanings behind the German/European names of the main character: Merton (one who settles by a lake) Dewitt (blond) Strom (brook, stream).