John LeClair - The Captain of Captains

Capt. LeClairI don’t do obituaries in our tabloid and we won’t for 89 year old Captain, John LeClair. He’d be P.O.ed! “Just have a short one on me,” he’d say. “Thanks,” I/we’d reply.

“Don’t thank me. Just thank God we’re alive to sit here and have this drink,” he’d rebut, while leaning forward and pulling his corncob pipe from his lips. Then he’d empty the cashed ashes, reload the weathered pipe, and relight.

“Ring the bell,” he’d chime. “A round for the bar, or the house, Captn?” I’d ask when employed as the Dunes Saloon full time bartender.

“You know the drill, kid.” Kid at age 33 was right! The Captain retired in 1959, only to work as hard after retirement. Serving 20 years in the Coast Guard, he then commercial fished in Wisconsin, the south and north shore of the Upper Peninsula, and he eventually settled in Grand Marais. He also co-owned Aggies Airport Bar, in Newberry, during its heyday. He became pretty much state renowned when the DNR shut down his commercial fishing operation in East Town, Grand Marais, Michigan in the 80s. “Closed, Gestapo DNR,” the sign read for half a decade in front of his closed market before deteriorating.

This is beginning to sound too much like an obituary. “Sorry Captn!”

“Don’t rock the boat, kid” 

“That’s 73 bucks for the round, Captn.”

“Take one out for yourself” I’d hear when walking to the till. “Have a short one, too”

I’d return with change and glance down the bar.

“Ring the Bell.” 

“Another round, Captn?”

“You know the drill, kid.”

“Kid, Aggie liked you best (a helluva compliment from a couple who’d been around the block) as he took a pull from his pipe and leaned back to turn in his stool at the end of the bar (the only Dunes stool I remember him sitting in); to witness life on Grand Marais’ main street. Leaning forward again, “each time we came to town she had to go where you were working. You spoiled us; having our drinks poured before we got through the door.”

“That’s the drill Captn; and Tanko?”

“As long as you had a full glass with no head, you were good, kid.”

Then I’d hear “The Best!”

“I need a short one this round.” “Two years ago, New Years Eve, you and Scaife (using Pam’s last name), at Alversons; a full house and full bar, with four in the kitchen? “The Best, you and her together were “The Best”. Get yourself one, and get yourself a short one with it.” 

“Thanks Captn!"

“Don’t thank me! Just thank God we’re alive to sit here and have this drink,” he’d reiterate, as he leaned forward, pulling his pipe from his lips.”

I’d return with change from his second hundred dollar bill.

“You get one for yourself and a short one?” I’d hold up a short one (Jack Daniels, of course, back when drinking was part of a bartender’s job description). We’d toast “To the Best” for he was “The Best.” 

“One more time, eh! Ring the bell, kid!”

“Captain, you’re crazy!”

“No, just challenging you! Anyway it’s Friday night. Get yourself one too, and a short one.” 

“Eh, Captn, can you hear the bell ringing down here; to the Captain? The entire cast is here, Captn! Must admit, Dorothy, your last significant other’s nephew, Kevin, is a little green behind the ears. But we’re breaking the kid in Captn. He’s having a tough time handling Jack. Yet, we’ve been here two days. Kevin, too!”

“Captn, you now know better than we, when time outlasts age and a worn body, the soul escapes it, and whenever a bell rings, another Angel earns his/her wings. We’re all here Captn, and the bell is ringing and we’re drinking short ones to ya! You have wings to spare Captain! With those wings, we’re certain you’ve bypassed the way station on your way to heaven; God love ya, after all your thanks Captain.”

“Thanks, kid, eh! Will see ya along the trap line!”

“Captn, don’t thank me! Just thank God, up there, we’re alive to sit here and have these drinks to you. Here’s toasting to you, Captain 'The Best.'”