Friday, July 20, 2012

Gramping by Proxy

I call myself an avid indoorsman. So when my seven year old grandson asked me to take him fishing, I scowled at him and made excuses.

“It’s too hot,” I said. “Fish aren’t biting.” And “Fishing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. You have to sit still and be quiet for extended periods.”

I figured that last one would quell his enthusiasm, but one of the boy’s talents is persistence. Another is his ability to turn into a human tennis ball, and start bouncing himself off the walls. Used simultaneously, both of these gifts began to wear me down.

So I called a friend. Larry and I have known each other since we were fourteen. As is nature’s way, sometimes opposites become best friends. I lived in town, Larry lived in the country. He grew up learning the great outdoors, gaining skills in hunting and fishing. I grew up watching Andy take Opie fishing on TV. After half a century, nothing much has changed in that regard between Larry and me. I knew he’d be a good guide for us, would succeed in showing my grandson the skills and pleasures of fishing where I would fail. A surrogate, he could be the grampa I wanted to be, and I’d still get credit for taking the boy fishing. Win-win.

“What should I bring?” I asked.

“A little cooler of drinks, some snacks. Maybe a couple sandwiches in case we stay past lunch. I’ve got everything else,” Larry told me.

We set a date. I told the boy we’d have to rise early to set out. Not a problem for him. You would’ve thought it was Christmas morning; he jumped on my bed at 4:30 a.m. “Get up, Gramp,” he said. “Let’s go.”

On Fishing Eve the boy and I had made a trip to WalMart to provision up. We got an eight-pack of soda pop, some chips, some cookies, some energy bars (a.k.a. PC candy bars), some peanut butter filled crackers, some kind of sour apple drink he spotted, some bottled water. Oh, and some cheese and ham for sandwich makings.

We made our rendezvous with Larry, and rode forty minutes in his pickup into the hills of eastern Oklahoma. Larry said he knew a spot. The road dipped and rose, curving sharply through the deep back woods. I got more apprehensive the further we drove, started whistling “Dueling Banjos.”

“Ah, here it is,” he said, sliding to a dusty halt on the shoulder of the narrow road. The spot lay below a bridge which crossed the finger of a small lake. At a bend in the finger, the waters of a rocky stream emptied swiftly into it, the sound of its rapids babbling in its cascade. A well-timbered bluff cast shade across the waters of the fishing hole – the pool at the finger bend and the mouth of the brook. If fish awaited us in those waters, it would be a perfect spot.

We head for the spot down a path winding through a field of poison ivy. First thing off the bat, not five minutes into casting out his line, the boy hooks a fish. “Reel it in! Reel it in!” Larry and I shout, and the boy takes off running backwards dragging the fish to land. It’s a nice sized channel cat, about a pound (Larry tells us).

Shoot this fishing thing’s easy, the boy decides. He snags seven perch in the next hour, then the rapids of the creek become too enticing.

Wise to what a kid would want to do, Larry had brought a child-sized float vest. He straps it on the boy, and the two of them ride the rapids of the brook out into the deep pool of the bend. I’m a little nervous, Larry’s in perfect control, in his element. The boy sloshes up the creek, far into the woods, and floats down to the mouth butt first. And then again. And again. He spends more time doing this than fishing. When the sun tops the trees above the bluff drawing back our shade, Larry and I decide to pack it in. The kid voices his displeasure with the decision, sorry he’d been brought there by old men.

On the way home the boy wants to know when we’ll go fishing again, says he’s already itching to go back. I tell him it’s probably the poison ivy.

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P.I. Barrington said...

Aw, I loved this and not just for the tugging of the heartstrings either! Your use of descriptive prose is spot on; not over done and not too sparse. It evokes the mental visuals wonderfully! I loved the analogy of the human tennis ball too.
Excellent job Phil!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the country but I was never really a fishing nut. Dad took us, and we took the kids a few times, but I was the one sliding down the little falls in our rivers. Good times. :-)

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the country but was never that much for fishing. I'd be the one sliding down the waterfalls. Thanks for posting. Good times!

John Biggs said...

This sounds like a good plan. How do I book your friend to take me and my grandsons fishing?

Pamela Foster said...

This put a smile on my face. Nicely done. Thanks.

Leslie Truman said...

I remember going to that little fishing shack with the hole in the middle of it, near Port Aspinwall. It was fun until Granddaddy pointed out a baby black snake. That ended my fishing career, so good thing I can sing. Love your writing Unca Moose!