I grew up with Zebco 202’s and caught quite a few bluegill, shiner, and catfish with Billy and Eddie in the pond next door. I even snagged a gator once but that was nothing compared to the nasty snapping turtle that tried to take his wrath out on my fingers. But I always preferred my bamboo fishing pole with the line tied to the tip, and a bobber. This may sound a little crazy but I really was a kid in cutoff bluejeans and straw hat chewing a blade of grass while the bamboo pole sat between my knees and the red and white bobber floated in the pond. Yep, and I even leaned back against a tree.
That bamboo pole taught me a lot about life. I learned patience sitting for hours between nibbles and bites. I learned to resist the urge to yank the pole up until I felt the living, wriggling fish through the fishing line and the pole and into my fingers. I learned to love the explosive feeling of success when the fish flew out of the water at the end of the hook and I swung it into my hand. I learned the love of nature when I removed the hook and held the fish underwater for a few seconds before releasing it. That living body in my hand squirming to break free told me a lot about what it meant to live free. Everything yearns for freedom. That pond was a little nation of freedom.
I recall the feeling of achievement when I took home first prize for the biggest fish at the fishing derby on the Hillsborough River in Tampa. I recall my disappointment when I didn’t place at all one year but dad told me there’d be a next time. We had sore losers in those days but they were pretty rare. Besides, losing was soon forgotten as we set our sights on the next Big Thing.
I missed out on the MVP one year in Little League Baseball, but took home the consolation prize: the Good Sportsmanship Award. I really wanted that MVP trophy. I remember all us boys on the pitcher’s mound sitting in a circle around our coach, Mr. Hallmark, as he explained his decision and then announced the MVP. I don’t remember his name, but the kid deserved it and I was happy for him. Disappointed, but happy. Dad came to nearly all my games and kept the sportsmanship trophy for decades on the bookshelf in the living room. I think he was proud that I took losing on the chin and kept on trying. He knew I’d succeed.
I used to wonder about my dad when we fished together. Who taught him all the things he taught me? I guess maybe his dad taught him. I guess maybe his dad taught him to love the simple things in life too; not much comes simpler than a bamboo fishing pole, a bobber, and a blade of grass between the teeth.
Dad was my hero, and I guess I’m a lot like him.
Image via Angelfire.com