And then there was Annie. Annie is seven years old and is sort of a pseudograndchild. She is actually the grandchild of my closest friend from boyhood, Frank, who was my age, and died six years ago of leukemia. Anyway, Annie came down from Dallas to visit with her family and I think it’s fair to say we hit it off pretty well, almost like we had known each other for a long time – which we had not. When I learned that they were coming and that she wanted to do something down at the river, I baited the trotline at almost the last minute. I baited it at 10:00 am the day they came, instead of the night before as usual. The wind prevented baiting it the night before. So, I thought there might not be enough time for the fish to bite much before we had to run the line, but you make bouquets out of the flowers you can reach, right? When I suggested, around 4:00 pm that we might go down to the river, there was an enthusiastic yes from Annie. I thought “Well, that’s a nice thing to hear”. So we went down there with her mom, Melanie (sorry about the headless photo, Melanie), and got in the boat, with Napoleon of course. We put an extra paddle in the boat so that Annie could help if she wanted to. As we began to run the line, me not knowing what to expect, fish on the hooks started coming up. The sen
se of wonder on that little girl’s face was worth a lot to see! As the catfish would come up, sometimes two and three in a row, each one was met with a squeal and an announcement of how many we had caught so far! She was life itself in that boat. And then a gaspergou came up and she named it an “ordinary fish”, like, it’s what pictures of fish usually look like, I guess. Now there came up a whole series of these ordinary fish, including five-pounders, and then something different that looked like a snake – which she declared to be an eel. How does a seven year old know that? Her dad says she has had very limited fishing experience. As we went along the line, every so often she would bail out some of the water in the tub of fish, and replace it with fresh water from the river. As we neared the far end of the line she tallied what we had as 19 fish, or 20 if you count the eel, or 21 if you count the one we gave Napoleon, or 22 if you count the one we had to leave on the line because it swallowed the hook. Whatever it was, it was a lot considering the line had only been baited for about five hours, and in the daytime at that. We paddled back across the river and she helped with this. When we got back to the dock she helped me take the fish from the boat and put them into the live box hanging on the dock by handling some of the “ordinary fish”. If we had cleaned some of the fish, I feel sure she would have been up for trying that too.
How do you put a value on an experience like that – for her or for me? If I could bottle it I could sell it to grandfathers all over the world – or more likely give it away because it’s really not about economics. What seems unique is that when a child identifies with something you are doing, and that something is really a part of your “core”, she can almost validate your existence. It is that powerful. And then, for her, it’s harder to define the value, maybe. The memories of something pleasant, and exciting, yes, but where do t
he memories lead? And what lifelong patterns might be built using these memories as a foundation? And what a privilege it is to be able to share in whatever comes from fishing that trotline today! I hope she comes back.
Napoleon and his sumo trainer Alcibiades caught my eye today. Notice the ritual bowing to each other?
The river today is at 3.6 at the Butte La Rose gauge. The north wind last night blew out what water we had left! But here comes the cavalry, the Ohio and Mississippi are rising fast and substantially – three feet a day! Some of that water is already coming down the Mississippi and we will have a three-foot rise by this weekend. If the Ohio continues like this, we could have our first high water later this month. Looks good!
Rise and Shine, Jim