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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

Amazing Grace

Gracie V. Wood and beloved Inky.

This whole trip is Gracie's doing.

Last year, when we were preparing to publish The Confluence, I had to get permission to reprint the famous soliloquy by Robert Traver called A Testament of a Fisherman, which Bob Chamberlin had included in his essay 'Art & Lit in the Grant.'

Robert Traver is the pen name of the late John D. Voelker, one of my favorite authors, who wrote Anatomy of a Murder (1958), which later became an Academy Award nominated motion picture starring Jimmy Stewart. Voelker also wrote two wonderful volumes of trout fishing stories: Trout Madness (1960) and Trout Magic (1974), in which 'Testament' appears.

Grace Voelker Wood is John Voelker's daughter, who manages the family foundation, Kitchie Hill, Inc., which owns the copyright. I contacted her by email asking permission. She asked me to tell her about myself and the book, and thanks to my total snow job, she soon gave us permission to use the famous passage.

I sent her a copy of The Confluence when it was published. In a lovely hand-written thank you note (why was she thanking me?), she suggested I come to the Upper Peninsula to visit someday, and she'd take me out to Uncles Pond- that famously secret fishing spot her father called "Frenchman's Pond" in many of his stories.

I don't think Gracie expected I would take her up on her offer. At least her husband, Woody, didn't expect me to. But, I couldn't resist and the entirety of the Storied Waters tour started with her generous, friendly offer.

I planned my other stops as a means to an end- to get to Ishpeming on the UP to visit 'Uncles.' At some point, Gracie invited me to stay with her and Woody at their home in Ishpeming (the same house that belonged to her parents). I thought that would be nice, but left things a little vague in case things got awkward.

Apparently, Woody had the same thought. Think of how many ways this could have gone wrong. Fortunately, I am happy to report that we hit it off from the start. As Woody said, "Gracie is a pretty good judge of people." And soon, Woody and I were giving each other grief like old buddies.

He also said, a few days later over a late breakfast after fishing, as we talked about family: "it appears you and I both married over our heads." I would say he got that right!

It's sort of creepy how, when we read an author, especially one who writes very personally, as much memoir as entertainment, that we feel we "know them." That is certainly how I had felt about John Voelker.

I can say that after meeting Gracie and Woody, and hearing their stories and insights about John, I felt like I was on the mark in my impression of the man. He opened his soul to the world through his writing.

Woody is a true devotee of John's legacy. I asked Woody if he had fly-fished before marrying Gracie. He had not. He got the bug from John, and has taken it to a level you can't imagine (loves his bamboo rods and vintage reels). He and Gracie are also fierce defenders of John's legacy.

The location of the pond is still a closely guarded secret. Woody blindfolded me and locked me in the trunk on the way there. Figuratively, of course. He told me I could say that it is roughly an hour's drive due north of Marquette. Yuk yuk.

Courthouse where Anatomy of a Murder was filmed.

Woody showed me not only the pond and John's cabin, but also many of the local landmarks, including the places where they filmed Anatomy of a Murder in Ishpeming and Marquette. If you have never seen the movie, rent it on Amazon or Netflix. What a terrific picture! The house where Jimmy Stewart has his office and a fridge full of trout is the house in Ishpeming where Gracie lived as a young girl.

Voelker's house in Ismpeming was used in the movie Anatomy of a Murder.

Woody lovingly showed me some of John's prized possessions, including his fly rod from "Morris The Rodmaker." He loves Uncles as much as John did (I don't really know that, but it is hard to imagine anyone could love the place more than Woody.)

John Voelker's custom Morris Kushner bamboo rod

I'll write more later about my delightful visit with Gracie & Woody, and my most memorable trip to Uncles (yes, I caught two trout), but first I want to share a short film clip from the 1960s about John Voelker and his storied place in fly fishing history. It is quite a throwback to an earlier day.

Here I am, sitting in the very same house that appears in the short film, having enjoyed three days of being treated as part of the family. I was also so pleased to meet Gracie's charming sister, Julie, last night at dinner.

I can't express how grateful I am for my new, dear friends and all their warmth and generosity and good humor. I hate to say goodbye, so I'll just say so long.

DVW and the irrepressible Woody

P.S. When Woody bought a 36 foot Cape Dory sailboat many years ago, he knew that Grace might not be so enthusiastic about the idea. So he named the boat "Amazing Grace," which went a long way toward earning her reluctant acceptance of his big toy. Shrewd move. He no longer has the boat, but the carved wooden nameplate still hangs in their living room.

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