Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gone Fishin’

Yeah, I'm gonna go fishing, that's what I'll do
Think about nothing, not even you
Catch a real big one, a big speckled trout
Snapping in the water, I'll pull him on out

Sweet talking liar, spin me a yarn
Tell me a story, big as a barn
Don't stop listening, I won't hear you out
I'm gonna go fishing and catch me a trout

              —Dr. John

Our house in Savannah was filled with hundreds of family photos, some framed, some in albums, and many tacked onto a bulletin board in the kitchen. One of my favorites shows my father holding up a fish he had just caught that must have weighed close to 20 pounds. The smile on my father’s face is brighter than in almost any other picture of him you could find in the house. I’m not really sure where that picture is now, but it is clear in my mind. For my dad, that was a fish that he didn’t have to spin a yarn about to describe. But then my father seldom told bragging stories about his fishing exploits or about anything else he did. I do think he would occasionally brag about my brother or me but never directly in our earshot. That wasn’t his way.

The one other fishing picture I recall involves my dad and our son Brett near Savannah Beach when Brett was five. They didn’t catch anything that day, but I’m sure they both had lots of fun together.

Brett and Abe, the fishing buddies

I am thinking about my father the fisherman because of something that happened a few weeks ago when Audrey and I visited our daughter Amanda in Atlanta (where she’s soon completing an MBA program at Emory). While Amanda was in class, Audrey and I decided to go to the World of Coca-Cola museum. We arrived early and followed the directions of an older man waving a red flag to park our car in the lot he was manning. We were the first in the lot, and he was happy to have someone to talk to at the beginning of his work day.

As he skillfully did some magic with the wiring of the parking ticket machine, which had inconveniently gone on the blink, he told us about his past, present, and future. The past was spent in Detroit, where he had been an electrician for more than 40 years. The present was living in Atlanta, where he had moved to be near his son and to see his family grow with the addition soon of a new daughter-in-law. (In a burst that I would describe as a “too-much-information moment” he proudly exclaimed that the young couple had been dating for a number of years but would be married as virgins.) The future would involve retiring, getting together with new friends he had made in Atlanta, and devoting a lot of time to his newest pastime—fishing.

“I didn’t have the time or the right weather to fish in Detroit,” he said. “Now I’m gonna slow down and sit back and enjoy being retired.”

Of course, I then shared how my father had spent nearly every free moment he could spare going fishing, both before and after he retired. Many Sunday mornings, he would be out of the door before sunrise. He used to say that you had to get your line in the water before the fish were fully awake. Fishing was his true love. And. while occasionally he would take my brother or me with him, he didn’t really like to share. Those fishing ventures were his personal time away from his everyday life.

Sometimes I regret that I have few memories of my father and me fishing together. But the ones I do recall are pretty unusual. Like the time I caught a cat. No, that’s not a typo; I didn’t mean catfish. We were standing on a dock, and my father was showing me how to cast my line. I reached the pole back over my head and prepared to move my arm forward when I heard an ear-piercing screech. The hook had embedded in the tail of a cat standing about 10 feet behind us. I don’t know who was more surprised, the cat or I, but I do know who was more indignant. The cat gave a snarl as we approached to remove the hook. Once free, it raced as far away from us as possible.

Or the time I hooked a hammerhead shark. Luckily, it was just a baby shark, but it gave me a grown-up fright. I had thought I was pulling in a small whale by the amount of weight I felt on my line. When I proudly brought my catch to the surface, we noticed its distinctively shaped head. I give myself some credit for not screaming “Shark!!!” and scaring all of the other fish away from my father’s favorite marshy inlet--though they were already staying away from the shark and his buddies. My father was calm, as he always was when he was fishing, and cut the line to let the shark escape.

This baby hammerhead seems unafraid of hooks like mine.
Given those two incidents, it probably isn’t surprising that my father seldom invited me to come along. As a result, I don’t have many of those great father-child bonding-while-holding-fishing-poles moments to recall. Nothing like the wonderful Trace Adkins song shown in this video. (Sure it’s sentimental, but I’m a sucker for father-daughter fishing songs.)


I don’t blame only my father for our limited fishing experiences. I was usually too busy to come along when I became a teenager and probably didn’t feel that the trips were very cool anyway. So shame on me too!

I hope the Detroit man transplanted in Atlanta finds as much joy in fishing as my father did. And I hope he gets to share that joy with his son, daughter-in-law, and future grandchildren. And I hope they each catch a fish almost as big as the one my father is holding in that picture in my mind.

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