SI Vault
John Underwood
June 29, 1981
At 62, the Splendid Splinter is none too slender, but he still is hard-hitting when talking of baseball and the outdoor life
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June 29, 1981

Ted Williams At Midstream

At 62, the Splendid Splinter is none too slender, but he still is hard-hitting when talking of baseball and the outdoor life

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"What happened?"

"The water's high and I wanted to fish a spot on the other side. I was standing up, poling across, and the pole got pinched against the middle of the canoe by the current. All of a sudden I was over."

(I had a flash image of a grim scenario: of the pole banging into his head, of the canoe smothering him, of his waders filling with water and tugging him down, of the river rushing over him. CANOE FLIPS; HALL-OF-FAMER WASHED INTO OBLIVION.)

"You better get right in and take a warm bath and get some dry clothes on," Edna said, her practical jaw set. She was looking at him sternly. "You'll catch your death."

"No time to shower. I'm going to change and go back," he said, and abruptly stood up and lumbered through the door. I watched the screen tremble and looked at Edna. She rolled her eyes.

"He'd do that?" I asked. "He'd go back now, cold as it is, after almost drowning?"

"It's still light, ain't it?" said Edna, and went inside. She had, after all, said her piece.

Roy Curtis, Edna's husband and Ted's guide, arrived soon after that. He'd been off in the pickup on an errand and came back to fetch Edna home just as Ted retraced the steps to the river in dry clothes and waders. Told of the near catastrophe, Roy joined me on the porch to watch, both of us now well jacketed against the evening's advance. He said that he and Ted had already fished a full day without luck at another place, and after Edna had filled them with the usual surfeit of calories, Ted announced his intentions to salvage something here, at the home pool.

The Curtises have been in Ted's employ since the late 1950s. They bestow on him a tender but cautious devotion, not so much on account of his celebrity, which they merely tolerate, but because of his uniqueness. He brings to their lives security in a wretchedly insecure world—a third of the citizens of New Brunswick are on relief in the winter—and the uneasy excitement parents might feel in rearing a generous but temperamental prodigy. In turn, they ensure that all his needs on the river are taken care of. The porch where we stood was built by Roy; he had, in fact, helped build all three cabins in the camp. In the fishing season, he not only fishes with Ted but also guides the visitors Ted favors with invitations to the camp. In the winter he makes repairs and sees to the cutting of wood for the Franklin stove.

I asked Roy if he remembered the first time they had fished together, and he said yes, in 1955, "when we were both young fellers." Roy is a stockily built man, 60ish, with cloudy blue eyes and cheeks that glow like slabs of country ham. In his taciturnity, he makes the perfect companion for a fishing genius. That and the fact that he's highly respected among the salmon guides of the province for his expertise make him special. The evaluations Ted seeks in fishing matters wouldn't be given by sycophants.

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