Learning to Fish, Spiritually

Jeff and his mother Sarah Ann, had moved back to her hometown after the accident. Not having his dad around was a bitter tragedy to take for Jeff. It had been sudden, with no chance to say good bye or I love you. Jeff pulled back into a shell, with no sign of coming out.

Sarah Ann was hurting also, only twice as much. She had lost her husband and was losing her son. Her friends had rented them a house on the river. And so they settled in.

Early one morning, Jeff decided to go for a walk, down along river. As he walked along, lost in his own mind, he walked up on an old man sitting on the fishing dock. Startled, Jeff said good morning and started to walk around the man.

"You come here to fish or what?" asked the man.

"I was just walking, sir" answered Jeff."

"Cain't fish walkin, boy.'" offered the old man, as Jeff walked away.

"I am not fishing, I am walking" Jeff said rudely, as he was getting mad.

"Don't get yer panties in a knot son, I thought ya came to fish."

"I do not wear panties, even if I did, they certainly would not be in a knot." retorted Jeff. "I'm just walking, that's all, okay?……I'm walking."

"You're totin' a lot of pain, ain't ya?"…….."So we gonna fish or you want to talk bout it?"

Not wanting to talk about it, "Okay….let's fish"

"Got any tackle?"

"What is tackle?"

"Oh hell, boy, you don't know what tackle is?"

"No….I was walking"

"What say we use my tackle?"

"Whatever…..what are you doing here anyway?"

"Teachin' you to fish" replied the old man innocently. "or tryin' to anyway."

"What do we do?" Jeff asked, giving up.

"First, let's start by you givin' up that attitude. I ain't here to listen to that, I'm here to teach you to fish, got it?"

And so began Jeff's life long love of the sport of fishing. The old man explained structure, bedding, weather, position, and bait. At 4 pm the old man said it was time for him to head home. Jeff returned to his house and he was starving, had he been down at the river all day?

When he came in Sarah Ann asked if he was hungry and where had he been. Jeff, who hadn't talked in some time because of his grief, opened up and told Sarah Ann everything. He told her about the old man and fishing, and how the day had past without him knowing it.

"Isn't there some tackle in the basement?, I thought I saw some when I put that box of dad's things in down there.

"I don't know" she answered still in shock over Jeff's willingness to talk. He hadn't said much more than no ma'am or yes ma'am, since the the phone call about his father had come.

"Well, do you think they would mind?"

"What?" She asked, totally in shock.

"Your friends, do you think they would mind if I used the tackle in the basement?"

Trying to recover from the shock of the change in Jeff. "I can ask"

"Cool, I'll go get it"

She reached for the phone hanging on the kitchen wall. Who was this old man who had returned her son, anyway? She'd ask Billie, he knew everyone in that part of the country, he'd know.

Sarah Ann was cooking dinner when Jeff came up from the basement with a fishing pole and a tackle box.

"What did they say? Can I use it? Is it okay? I'm going back tomorrow okay? That old guy is so cool" as Jeff put the equipment by the back door. "What's wrong mom? Why are you crying?"

"It's nothing, just onions" she said with hope in her heart.

"Billie says to use what ever you want. And he said he was off day after tomorrow, and would like to come fishing with you."

"That's cool, the old guy says, fishing is for sharing, I'm going to take my bath, the fish can smell you, you know?"

Talking and a bath, who the hell was this old man anyway. She really wanted to thank him.

8am…Jeff rolls out of bed with a purpose. He was ready to meet the old man in about 10 minutes. He even made his bed. Down the hall he came, his mom said breakfast was ready, to which replied he didn't have time for that. Sarah Ann said to make time. He sat down ate two eggs, two pieces of bacon, four pieces of toast, two glasses of milk, and a small orange juice.

Sarah Ann told him to get out and to bring home some fish for dinner, with a big smile on her face.

The old man was sitting on the dock, looking out at the river, when Jeff arrived with the borrowed gear. And they began the learning process. Today, he would learn lures, presentation, throw netting for bait and cleaning fish. Again, it was 4pm when Jeff left the dock.

Sarah Ann was standing at kitchen window, drinking coffee, watching Jeff and his borrowed gear coming up from the river. As he entered the kitchen door, he threw a zip lock bag full of fillets on the counter, and said the old man says people can smell fish, too. He went to take his bath.

When he returned to kitchen he was clean and shiny. Jeff relayed the old man's recipe for fish to his mother, who thought for a minute and decided that it was better than hers. Sarah Ann started to cook, Jeff said he wanted to get a head start on his Saturday morning chores and went out to do so. Sarah Ann stared at him as he went out to work, I have to find a way to thank this old man, baths, chores, and opening up. It was a miracle, she thought.

7:30 am, brought a knock on the kitchen door, Sarah Ann said to come in, it was Billie. He looked different without his game warden uniform. He asked if Jeff was ready, no, but soon was the answer. He hadn't been able to find out who the old man was, but he had a friend at the sheriff's office looking into it. Jeff kissed his mom and gestured toward Billie, stating he would bring Billie back alive. Billie thanked him for that, laughing. Down to the river they went.

Billie watched as Jeff prepared his gear, that's the way his great grandfather had taught him, he thought. They started to fish, Jeff searching for the old man the whole time. When Jeff's pole doubled over he set the hook, and the fight was on. This was no Sun Perch or little bass, this was a monster, and it took 2 hours to land it. It had taken all of Jeff's strength and new found knowledge to get it in. Billie assisted in getting it up on the dock. Billie was sure it would be a record for that part of the river and told Jeff so. Both of them were excited by the events and little Jeff was worn out. They headed home.

Billie cleaned the trophy on the back porch while Jeff told his mom the story and how the old man hadn't showed, adding he hoped the old man was all right. Billie brought in two fillets each about the size of sub roll. They cheered, and Billie said he'd buy lunch.

"So, what does the old man look like, anyway?"

"Wears a red and black flannel shirt and jeans" answered Jeff.

"What else?" Billie asked.

"He had a scar from here to here." replied Jeff, indicating a line from his chin to his eye brow.

Billie sat back and stared at Jeff, then got up and went to the basement. Jeff looked at his mom as if to ask what was wrong, she shrugged as if answer don't know. Billie returned with a dusty old picture frame, in it was a old photograph.

"This him?"

"Hey, that's him, do you know him?"

"Yeah, I know him." Billie answered looking at Sarah Ann.

"Why don't you go get cleaned up so we can go to lunch."

When Jeff left to tidy up, Billie handed the frame to Sarah Ann.

"That's the man that taught me to fish."

"So, you do know him, can I meet him?"asked Sarah Ann.

"Not likely, that's my great grand father, he died 15 years ago, saving some kid from drowning."

Jim "Popi" Meadows
Andice, Texas

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