A fish story

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Every summer, my mother packed my bag and dropped me off on my grandparents’ farm with a week’s worth of travel-size cereal boxes and a can of bug spray.

I was about 7 years old, and during my second day there, Grandpa announced we were going fishing. I’d never been fishing before, and I’m sure he felt it was his duty as a grandpa to teach his descendants the fine art of sitting in a boat for hours, waiting for fish to bite.

He packed up our poles while Grandma tied an oversized sun hat on my head to protect my ivory skin which already had a smattering of freckles. We picked up Grandma’s sister, Aunt Eunice, and the four of us bumped down a dirt road with a little green fishing boat trailing behind the truck.

Once we were in the boat and trolling along the banks, Grandpa opened his tackle box. They all began rigging their lines with colorful plastic worms, discussing which ones would likely get a bite. Grandpa tied a red plastic bobber on my line and told me to watch it closely because, when it dipped under water, it was time to pull up the fish.

I fished hard during that first hour, never taking my eyes off the bobber. But after a while, I got frustrated. Grandpa had already hauled in three fish of his own. I was convinced he would catch everything in the lake before the fish could swim by my line. He’d just caught his fourth fish when I asked Grandma how he could catch so many while I was still waiting for my first.

She nudged up the brim of her sun hat and glanced at Grandpa and then at me. “I don’t know, honey. I guess he’s holding his mouth just right.”

Old country phrases like that run rampant in fishing boats, but a 7-year-old kid doesn’t know it. So, I took her at her word. I spent the next hour studying Grandpa’s face, mirroring the exact position of his mouth, which was stern and straight except for the occasional sip of Pepsi. I held my mouth the same way, waiting for the bobber to dive beneath the murky water.

But the tug never came, and soon the sun drained my energy. When it comes to fishing, 70-year-olds have more staying power than 7-year-olds. Aunt Eunice propped my fishing pole in the handle of the ice chest with the line still in the water, promising to keep an eye on it for me. Grandma made a bed of life vests on the floor of the boat, and I settled down for a nap.

I don’t know how long I’d been sleeping when Aunt Eunice started yelling. “You’ve got a fish! You’ve got a fish!”

I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and saw that the bobber had disappeared, and the fishing line was taut and quivering with the weight of the fish below.

Grandma grabbed the little pole by the ice chest and yanked it up. Out of the water sprang a shimmering gray-green fish flailing against the hook. She handed me the rod and told me to keep the dangling fish out of the water while Grandpa got the net.

Once it was hauled in, Grandpa unhooked it and held it up so I could get a good look at my catch. “That’s a fine fish,” he said, dropping it into the catch bucket.

Aunt Eunice said, “See there? You caught your first fish!” And Grandma and Grandpa agreed, praising what a fine fish it was. I desperately wanted to take credit for the catch, but there was no denying that I’d been asleep when it happened. And I didn’t feel too proud about being outfished by an ice chest full of Pepsi.

Nevertheless, it had been a successful day. With plenty of fish in the bucket, we headed back to the farm and had a country supper of fried fish and potatoes.

When the small cereal boxes and the bug spray ran out at the end of the week, my mom came back for me. She asked what fun things I’d done, and I told her we’d gone fishing.

“Did you catch anything?” she asked, and I struggled to answer. Grandma stepped in and said, “She’s so good that she can catch ’em with her eyes closed.” And I agreed.

It was the truest fish story I’d ever heard.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Send comments to her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon.

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