By Michele Vannote (nee Gaffaney )

                My grandfather, J.E. Gaffaney, Sr., was always a formidable figure in the eyes of his grandchildren.  He was the founder of our family business, Gaffaney’s Office Specialties, Inc., and our earliest collective memory was of the ‘uncles’ (his sons and son-in-law) developing that business in the corners of North Dakota.  My dad, Paul Gaffaney, was the third son and given the task of building the business ‘from the ground up’ in Williston, North Dakota.  (He was later joined by his brother-in-law, Carold McLaughlin, who was married to dad’s only sister, Beth.)  We moved to Williston when I was four years old and our weekly conversations revolved around sales, commissions, and J.E.’s leadership.  I got to visit my grandpa at the head office in Fargo at least twice per year and he also visited our home and the Williston operation intermittently.  The longest sustained period of time that I spent with my grandfather was a week on Oak Island in about 1950 — when I was 6 and he was 52 years of age.

                My dad, mom, and I drove from Williston to Warroad where we boarded a float plane to go out to Oak Island.  It was there that we stayed on grandpa’s floating house and I got my first taste of ‘the woods’!  I can still recall the fear of boarding that plane, since it was inconceivable to me that a plane could actually land on the water.  However, we made it and therein began my adventure that was full of playing in the woods, digging for worms, catching frogs, and eating fish – real fish.  However, the flies and mosquitoes were a problem and the best respite was going for boat rides on grandpa’s house.  Grandpa had purchased a Pullman train car from the railroad and loaded it onto a barge.  For a couple of years he pulled it behind the Wabisi, so that his fishing entourage could go to various islands to find the best fish.  (Sometime after I visited, he had had the Pullman installed on Oak Island for his use as a cabin: tucked back in the woods, which was quite cozy: and plush!)  This Pullman car had sleeping capacity for 12 and the Wabisi had an additional 3 bedrooms: two smaller ones plus the captain’s quarters.  There were also many bathrooms on both vessels.

                My final ride on the Wabisi was on our return to Warroad, and it was a trip I still remember.  The water across the ‘big lake’ was extraordinarily rough, and I spent much of my time below deck: clinging to my bed, utterly green – until my dad took me topside to try to help me ‘fix my eyes on the horizon’ (which was nowhere to be seen).  In fact, “the trip across Big Traverse was so rough, I thought I’d die.  The sea was high, I heaved a sigh, and fed the fishes too.”  To this day, I have not taken any cruises, by my deep love of the woods and the lakes has only deepened with time.

                Having now discovered the song “My, My Lake of the Woods”*  in the Lake Trails Songbook, I look forward to singing it in future summer family reunions with my Gaffaney/McLaughlin cousins: as we pay tribute to the man you knew as “Mr. Gaffaney, but just plain Jim to you”.         

*  From the Song “My, My, Lake of the Woods” in the Lake Trails Songbook.