I only spent that one summer with him, in 1973. Mom thinks that that wasn't enough time to form a bond, but she wasn't there. I remember she told me not to ask him about the war and I didn't. He'd been back for four years by then and was starting to – for lack of a better term - “come around.” So I didn't ask him anything...hell, I was only twelve years old anyways, I didn't have the nerve. It was enough to see that haunted look in his eyes, especially when he tied into that scotch that he liked so much...J & B? - Anyways...Mom is still pissed off at him that he went over to Asia. She's never said it but I know that's what it is; that's why she and Dad moved up here in the first place. No way Dad was going over there. Fine, that was their choice...it's not like Uncle Mac was really given one. Do your duty, serve your country, or go to jail...
January 23, 1983
Judy's been bugging me to start looking elsewhere for a pilot for the lodge. But dammit, this thing was supposed to be mine and Uncle Mac's. A joint venture. She's right though; everything is falling into place, EXCEPT for the fact that I have no pilot right now! Loans have been approved; Mr. Smith has agreed to sell if I can turn a reasonable profit this summer and if he likes the way I run the show.
I love Uncle Mac, but I gotta have my shit together before I step into the big seat. Smith will shit a brick if I don't have a competent pilot lined up. Hell, it took months of pleading to sell him on Uncle Mac to begin with. He knew about that scrap that Uncle Mac ended up in down in Georgia when he got back from his last tour...damn near killed the guy and ended up in the brig for thirteen months. Never mind that it was the other guy that started it, and that Uncle Mac has kept his nose clean ever since. “I don't want any loose cannons up here,” Smith said. “I've spent too many years building up my clientele...” - yadda yadda yadda. I get it though. Thank god that Uncle Mac has been “flying straight” for years...one thing Smith can't dispute is Uncle Mac's piloting credentials.
Forget all that for a minute. Where the hell is Uncle Mac? He was only supposed to be in Antarctica for the winter...
February 21, 1983
Wow, it's been awhile since I wrote. Maybe Judy's teasing has been getting to me, she says this diary is the one “girly trait” I have, ha ha. Anyways...she is really starting to show. If we have a boy we are naming him after Uncle Mac.
I feel bad but I finally had to go ahead and put out an ad for a pilot for the upcoming season. Uncle Mac still has a shot at doing this thing with me this summer, if he shows up soon or gets word to me somehow. But if not I hope he realizes that I couldn't wait forever.
I was thinking again about our summer at the cabin back in '73 and remembered that a buddy of his from the Army had spent a week there with us too. I really had to wrack my brain to get the guy's name: Frank Murphy, or “Murph” as Uncle Mac called him. Mac and Murph. The last time I saw Uncle Mac – two years ago – I remember that he mentioned Murph, and that he was still flying in the Army. I've been making some enquiries, haven't managed to find him yet, but there are only so many bases and only so many pilots in the US Army; I know I'll get ahold of him sooner or later.
February 26, 1983
AHA, success! Murph is based at Fort Bragg. Turns out his phone listing is under his wife's name, as I found out after trying a bunch of Murphys. He is deployed on training exercises at the moment, she told me, but she'll pass my message on to him...
March 4, 1983
I'm pissed off with my parents, and I guess the feeling is mutual. They have never been on board with my plan to run a fishing resort, and they have especially never been on board with my plan to run it with Uncle Mac. The last time I spoke with Mom she said “He's probably ran away to some tropical hot spot where the women and scotch are cheap and plentiful.” I said “Well, you'd know about running away, wouldn't you? Look who you're married to.” She hung up on me...well, fuck it, it's true. They packed up and moved to Canada, and Dad sat at a desk in a suit and tie while Uncle Mac put his ass on the line in Southeast Asia. The stupid part is that Dad came from money and even if he had been drafted, Grandma and Grandpa could have gotten him out of it, I'm pretty sure.
I know that Mom and Dad both indirectly – or maybe even directly – blame Uncle Mac for setting me on the “path” I am on now...that summer at the cabin changed me, no question. Even though I was a kid, it was probably then that I began to realize that the nine-to-five, suit-and-tie life wasn't for me. And after two semesters in that business program, it was confirmed. I've never been so goddamn bored in my life. Dad has a hard time understanding how anyone could prefer “zipping around in a boat and gutting fish” for a living as opposed to discussing stocks and dividends and whatever else he does in that office of his. Even when I showed him Smith's profits for the past five years, and the projected profits if I add the winter component – the heli-ski/snowmobile/dog sled tour packages – it didn't really sway him. Oh, he admitted that it is profitable and has the potential to be MORE profitable, but...ugh. Who cares? I'm sick of thinking about it.
March 21, 1983
Just got the latest issue of Fishing Quarterly. Funny story in the “Fish Tales” column, something about a fisherman in New Zealand bringing in something that he THOUGHT was a fish, but it “turned into a squid??” Apparently the guy and his two crew members torched the boat...weird. I'd say booze was involved. Lucky they were close enough to land to swim for it...
April 5, 1983
I've been so busy with things lately that I totally forgot that I'd gotten in touch with “Murph's” wife back in March. I guess he finally had a few moments...Judy picked up the mail earlier. There was a letter from a “Fred Miller” postmarked out of South Dakota. Here's what it reads:
This is your uncle's friend, my wife mentioned that you called. When she told me who/what you were asking about, I started to dig around a bit...I'm afraid I can't tell you much, and what I CAN tell you I can't verify; I am basically relaying RUMOURS AND HEARSAY right now, so please bear with me.
As you are aware, he took a contract pilot position in Antarctica with a combined NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) & US Geological Survey scientific team. The first week of winter, all contact was lost with the team; winter weather was setting in at the time, including severe storm conditions (contact was apparently lost with a nearby Norwegian research station a couple of days before this.)
I attempted to get in touch with the flight company that had the contract only to find out that they had closed up shop. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how odd that is...one of their pilots (and helicopters) gone AWOL in Antarctica, and they are now nowhere to be found? And I mean NOWHERE: I can't get a number from the phone company, can't get an address, can't get anything. I even made a point of it to get ahold of a friend who lives near the town in which this company is (was) located. He took a drive there and sure enough, their hangar, all aircraft, all company signs/logos, etc., are gone. It's like this outfit never existed...
James...I'm not sure what to tell you except, well, something odd is going on. There has been...talk...of a “team” being inserted just after winter (it is too dangerous to fly into that remote part of Antarctica during winter; they had to wait a few months)...a team that apparently never made it back stateside. I have heard of aerial photos taken by surveillance aircraft that show both the American AND Norwegian research stations...or what's left of them which, apparently, is not very much. And...I have been told in no uncertain terms that it would be to my benefit to NOT make any more enquiries into this matter. Unofficially, I have been told that we may have “had a problem with the Russians” down there...it was implied that I should take that as the OFFICIAL position of the US military/government, and that the reason they haven't gone public with it is that they are working on “defusing” the situation as quickly and as quietly as possible. What they are telling me (assuming they are being truthful) is that a handful of Americans (and Norwegians?) in Antarctica are not worth stirring the pot over.
Your uncle is a survivor...he was the best damn pilot I knew overseas. He kept himself alive during two tours, not to mention the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of grunts. I REFUSE to believe that he died in Antarctica. I intend to find out what happened down there...
I remember the week I spent with you and your uncle up there in Canada, what a beautiful place. And let me tell you this, he was – is – proud of you. He once told me that he considers you the son he never had. And I know for a fact that he is extremely excited about getting that fishing lodge going with you. He has made some good money over the years flying contract in these far-flung places, but he is tired of it and wants a steadier, less stressful gig...throw in some kick-ass fishing to boot, and well...like I said, he was excited...
Take care, I'll be in touch.
I apologize for the 'cryptic' tone of this letter but I have to be careful.
What am I supposed to make of this? Was Uncle Mac and that research team taken out by Russians for...what? Simply for being American? “Fred” certainly doesn't seem to think so, and I'm inclined to agree with him. Rumours...hearsay...shit. As much as I appreciate him writing me, this letter doesn't get me any closer to knowing where Uncle Mac is, nor whether he's dead or alive...no need to mention it to Mom and Dad. Not that they'd care anyways.
April 30, 1983
Only five more days before me, Judy and the baby head up north! I can't wait...things have smoothed over a bit between me and the folks. Mom and Dad both apologized...for everything: the way they've talked about Uncle Mac over the years, their non-support of me in my plans...I apologized too. I know I have been an asshole at times, and I know they aren't thrilled that their first grandchild is going to be born at a fishing lodge – no matter that Mrs. Smith is a highly experienced midwife. I told them there is an open invite for them to come anytime at all during the summer. And of course certainly when the baby comes along.
Mom asked if Judy and I plan on having more kids eventually. I told her, truthfully, that I don't know. This baby wasn't planned; I never intended to be a father at twenty-three. But here we are...everyone's excited, myself included. But I sometimes wonder if it is selfish – even unethical – to bring kids into this world. Between the Americans and the Russians there are enough nukes to destroy the planet a thousand times over. Pollution. Poverty. Disease. Violence. Hell, I was watching the news this morning; riots and murders in New Zealand...widespread arson...nobody even seems to know what it's about...and it's moved over to Australia now...