There’s something very romantic and nostalgic about a kid holding a fish–especially if it’s a first-catch.
There’s that mix of pride, fear and joy that is far different than you find with most any other kid-meets-creature encounter. Far different than the parent holding a camera shouting: “Nope. Go back to where you just ran over that worm with your bike. Get down on your hands and knees and smile!”
It’s nothing like stepping on a spider or worm-steamrolling–both instances are necessary for sanity or unavoidable just after a rainy day…or one of my more vivid bits of cruelty as a child–Ray-of-Death with a magnifying glass and a pedestrian ant.
And I’ve been that parent. When we’re on the dock and accidentally actually catch something, it’s a big deal! “Go get mom,” I would holler to the other kid. “Have her bring her camera or phone or something!” And there we wait, with the fish looking at us hopefully from the bucket or attached embarrassingly to the stringer hanging down into the water.
I always want the kids catch the bass and not the bluegill. I’ve never been adept at digging the hook from deep down into the frisbee-like innards of the poor guy–especially because his mouth was so small. Even those cool hook-removers that I purchase through the years don’t work–or there’s a part of the manual I didn’t read. My mortality rate with bluegill is frighteningly high for catch-and-release household.
My grandfather, Leon, died when I was in sixth grade. He and my grandma had already moved to Florida by the time I was six. I have vague memories of their house around the block from us, then suddenly we had moved and they had moved…but to a suburb of Disney World!
And for Leon, it was the perfect scenario. Just down the driveway, hang a right and there was a dock and a lake a stroll away.
For Leon and my Uncle Jerry, fishing was meditation. It was a peaceful moment in a hectic world.
And I think my grandma took so many pictures of him fishing was to capture his happiness for both of them.
A treat for us was Jerry, driving us on his boat at his retirement home on Canadian Lakes. But near at hand was a rod or two–or six.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jerry and fishing this week. A year ago, this Sunday, Jerry passed at his home near Grand Rapids, with its small lake just outside of his window. I was downstairs on the phone giving an update to a relative just ten minutes before he left us. I was standing just on the patio when Jerry’s granddaughter Kelly motioned for me to come upstairs.
After I quickly hung up the phone, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a crowd of small fish lurking near the shore. “Hang on, let’s grab a rod.” I could almost hear Jerry’s voice–the same voice, as a 12 year-old that I heard in the dark to me and my three cousins before we’d cram into the rowboat.
“Wake up, Butcher Boys! It’s time to catch some fish!” After one crazily successful day, my cousin Brian and I ended up cleaning 25 perch and blue-gill. I never quite agreed with that verb–I can still feel the sticky fish-guts between my fingers.
That summer of 1976 was one of the highlights of my childhood. Sure there was a gift-shop up the street in Houghton Lake where you could buy whoopi cushions and smoke bombs. There was a chicken-shack that had a pinball machine that you could somehow con into free games. But I think those early mornings with Jerry shaking me awake, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes in the foggy, wet-seated rowboat may have been the reason for that summer being special.
So maybe a kid with a fish, while somewhat gross and certainly morbid, is also something else.
In Jerry and Leon’s case you were holding a ticket that was good for the rest of your life.