Bender’s Fishing Camp
(Recently, I spent a week with my brother Bob and his friend Gonzo at Bender’s Fishing Camp in northern Minnesota. The place is so beautiful and away from everyday life that it is almost mythical in my thinking, a place like Avalon. In the far recesses of my mind, I’d like to write a play that takes place at the camp. Here’s how it would start).
The setting: Benders Fishing Camp in Northern Minnesota.
Rustic log cabins sit among the pines along the shore of Island Lake. In contrast to the idyllic setting, great swarms of mosquitoes– the state’s unofficial state bird– harass the guests as they make their way about the camp. Occasionally, the mournful and somewhat eerie call of a loon– the official state bird– can be heard.
Most of the action takes place in the dining room of the big house where meals are served; the fish house where bait is sold; or in a boat in the middle of the tree-lined lake.
The walls of the dining room are decorated with an eclectic mix of mementos including oversized snowshoes, an ancient outboard motor, antique guns and several large fish, stuffed and mounted. Lighting is soft and warm from various lamps about the room.
The fish house features a large metal counter where the fish are filleted. Next to it is a large rack of gleaming knives. On the walls hang saws, ropes, chains, life preservers, oars, bait buckets and various signs with clever messages about fishing. Lighting is bright and harsh from overhead fluorescent tubes.
The boat is an 18-foot Lund with an extra large outboard motor off the stern. The bow sports a large trolling motor. Two fishing seats sit high on either end and a third lower seat is located mid-ship behind the steering wheel. Lighting is natural and varies depending on the time of day.
Richard Bender: The patriarch of the family. He is a big, strong, slightly unkempt man in his mid-80s. In fish house scenes, he stands at the fish-cleaning counter wearing a large rubber apron as he slashes away at the Walleye, Northern and Perch brought in that day. In contrast to his flashing hands he moves slowly and speaks even slower, like Northern Minnesotans. He is not slow of wit, however, and makes cunning observations at the speed of a turtle. In scenes away from the fish house he wears bib overalls.
Patsy Bender: Matriarch of the family. A small and vibrant woman, she’s as meticulous in her dress as she is with keeping the camp books and scheduling reservations. Until recently, she was also the camp cook whipping up three meals a day, including her famous chicken dumpling soup. Her daughter-in-law Patty now takes care of the kitchen.
Joe Bender: A big man in his 50s, Joe loves to hunt and is seen (or not seen) about camp wearing head-to-toe camouflaged clothing. Also a slow speaker, Joe’s humor is more biting than his father’s. He’s expected to take over camp operations soon from his father Richard.
Patty Bender: Joe’s second wife. An attractive woman in her early 40s, she has taken over cooking from her mother-in-law, Patsy. While she uses the same recipes, they never seem to turn out as tasty. The marriage is also Patty’s second and she brings two minor children with her: Cassandra and Luke. While at home in the kitchen, Patty is also an outdoorsy gal who takes her turn when it comes to hunting bear.
Terry: A 50-something neighbor and friend of the family has been helping out at the camp since he was a kid. Thin and scraggly, he is a skilled artist. His specialty is chainsaw sculpture, but he can also sketch and paint. He is dressed in a well-worn plaid shirt and blue jeans. His mannerism is somewhat odd. While talking he tends to look away from his audience and make odd gestures with his hands and body that are disconnected from his speech.
Cassandra: Daughter of Patty, is a pretty, petite 13-year-old, with her hair in braids and a constant smile on her face. She is a talented singer and hopes to make it big someday.
Luke: Son of Patty, is a good-looking boy of 12 with a mop of hair that partially hides his face. Shy and quiet, he is hard to draw into a conversation.