What is it about fishing that stirs such romantic soulful nostalgia? If there is any activity that is more deeply ingrained into the heartbeat of American culture than fishing, I don’t know what it is. I blame Mark Twain. It’s not even possible to think of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn without a fishing pole. I dare you to try.
And who can ever hear the theme song to the Andy Griffith show without visualizing Andy and Opie strolling along that river bank with their tackle boxes? Later that night they’d be gathering around the supper table eating “a mess of friend trout” cooked by Aunt Bee. For me, it just has to be trout, you see. I have my own memories attached to that.
Then there was that commercial with the little kids begging their parents to take them fishing. I could almost cry right now just thinking about it.
I remember this. I remember the garbage can full of water in the backyard for the boat motor. I remember my Dad cursing it when it wouldn’t start. And I remember the victory when it would. And the Saturdays when we would drive to the Delta, the four of us on a bright California day.
I don’t remember Mom ever getting in the boat, but she would pack the lunch. It was always sandwiches and barbecued chips. Always barbecued. Even now when I close my eyes I can see the brilliant sky overhead, and somehow attached to my memory is the sound of a plane lazily buzzing overhead, that, and the rhythmic melodious sound of the waves gently lapping against the boat. Sometimes we’d fish from the shore, looking for the magic spot, straining our eyes to watch for fish jumping.
As a squeamish girl, I wasn’t into the fishing much. It was mostly the anticipation and excitement of the possible tug on the line. I never could attach that worm to the merciless barb. I remember the bright pink plastic tub of salmon eggs and the debate about which was better. And there was always someone’s favorite lure. This is the rhyme my Dad taught me from long ago:
Fishy, fishy in the brook, Daddy catch em with a hook, Mama fry em in a pan, Baby eat em like a man.
As an animal lover, I hated to see anything suffer so I could never watch the fish flopping around gasping for air. I thought it was more merciful to toss them in a bucket. I was always secretly glad when a fish was deemed too small and felt a private thrill to see it released and swim off into the deep.
But I also remember that there was nothing better than fresh caught trout and crispy skin cooked over an open fire, and weather so cold the rubber souls of your shoes would smoke.
My Dad raised us all to have a deep and abiding respect for nature and all her gifts. I was glad that he never hunted. He always said he could never look a deer in the eye and kill it. He did enjoy fishing, and even more than that, he enjoyed us all being together under the sky. For me, it was never really about the fishing. It was about being together in that magic place, when the world seemed perfect.
When I close my eyes to this day, I am there all over again. I can hear our laughter across the water, calling me back to simpler times, times when we were all young and still had so much ahead of us. A line tossed out…..a line of hope that we would always be together, always just that way.
Many years later I would think of this, sitting in a Mexican resort in the middle of my own nightmare, one memory that never leaves me. It was what my brother said through tears, “All I wanted to do was take Jody fishing.”
And it’s only a feeling I have that someday, on that great and wonderful shore, Jesus will bring out some fishing poles and Jody, my brother and my Dad will fish together. Maybe even Jesus too. That day it will be catch and release without the hooks. There will be no need of sun, because we will have the Son right there with us.
It’s how we’ll always be, forever.
First photo, courtesy of www.wildlife.state.nh.us