The old man sat at the picnic table, bundled up in his old, worn Carhartt coat. It had seen better days, but like so many things late in life, he’d grown comfortable with the feel and the smell of it. The new coat his wife had given him several years back was still hanging behind the mudroom door.
Under his denim bibs, he wore a set of long johns, but they did little to keep the cold from reaching his eighty-six-year-old bones. It really wasn’t all that cold, it was maybe in the upper forties, or so he reckoned, and there wasn’t much wind. The cloudy day and an occasional sprinkle of rain left a chill on the nape of his neck going clear down his spine. He grimaced as he realized just a few short years earlier he wouldn’t have been touched in the least by such weather. Then he cracked a smile, by golly, the forecast was for a warming trend over the next week, meaning the early spring doldrums were about over. Spring also meant it was time for his number one passion to begin. It was time to start bass fishin’.
He mused on the fact he was getting too old to walk down to the big pond anymore, at least by himself. It was just down at the bottom of the hill, and it had produced many a big bass, crappie and an occasional catfish over the years for him and his family. Many a meal of fresh fish had adorned the dinner table from that very pond. But now it was too steep of a hill to walk down, and he didn’t even dare to try it with the truck, at least by himself. He sighed again, lamenting his age and the pains that came with it. He hated that he carried on and worried so, it wasn’t his way.
Suddenly he laughed. What the heck. Pretty soon the boy would be here, and they had plans. It was the last day of high school for the senior, and at eighteen years of age, his great-grandson was a chip off the old block, even if twice removed. The boy loved to fish. Heck, he loved anything the old man did, and they had spent many an hour together these last ten years or so fishin’, squirrel and deer huntin’, and trapping the waters and hollers around the old home place.
This spring was special because the two of them had teamed up on a new boat. Well, it was new to them, but the ten-year-old beauty was a yacht compared to the old tub they had fished out of for so long. The two had spent many an hour this late winter and early spring updating the new rig, and it ran perfectly. The next two weeks were going to be dedicated to the pursuit of their favorite fish, and the old man felt a surge rush through him as he contemplated bass fishing in the upcoming days.
As he sat there in the cold waiting for the boy to come, he wondered why Mary, his wife of sixty-four years, wasn’t yellin’ at him from the back of their old farmhouse for being such a fool sitting out here where he’d likely catch pneumonia. Especially with the old wood stove sending its baking heat throughout the house. But the old man liked it outside, and he’d be damned if he’d let the cold chase him into the house when the boy would be here any minute.
His long vision was still pretty good, and he looked off over yonder to the creek bottom bordering the west side of his property. He’d made about a million memories in that creek over his long life, and many were with his great-grandson. The fish there didn’t run large, but they taught some useful lessons, and the boy had made many of his first conquests there, just like the old man before him. The creek meandered along like creeks do. It was a lazy creek, and it demanded a little bit of laziness from those it allowed to fish it. You were simply not allowed to get in too much of a hurry or work too hard to catch fish from its waters.
Mostly shallow, it ran up against the deepest hole for several miles right before the old county road. The bluff bank there fell off into the clear water, and over the years had been the source of so many bass, sunfish, and catfish. The bass, both the green largemouth and their brown smallmouth cousins, had been the source of many of the old man and his great grandson’s memories.
It had been a natural thing to introduce his kids, his grandchildren and now the great grandchildren to this spot. While the tackle had changed, the old man’s first bass ever here had come while using a steel rod with an old bait casting reel with no level wind and cotton line. This first bass was caught using an even older Dowagiac (he’d pronounced it “Di-Jack” back then) plug he wished like hell he still owned, the “WHOOP!” of a child, as he or she got bit, was still the same. A lot of excitement and a little bit of heartache had taken place at this fishin’ hole, and of course the big pond above it, over the years.
The old man wiped his running nose on the sleeve of the old coat and realized how dirty the thing was getting. With the warming weather maybe he’d have to give it up for a day for Mary to wash. He was surprised she hadn’t complained about it already; generally, she was on him like a dog-tick over such things. But she was getting on in years too, and maybe she was starting to overlook some of his more disparaging ways.
The old man looked up the road. It wouldn’t be long now, and he and the Boy would be back at it again. They’d tinker with the boat some, fiddle with the tackle a lot, and when it warmed up tomorrow, they would be on their way to yet some more adventures. The boy was smart. Unlike so many his age, he worked hard and would have none of it when the old man had offered to put more money than him into their “new” boat. He’s paid his half and then some, and when it came to the work on the boat, it had been almost all of the boy’s. The old man had helped with things and made an occasional suggestion, but the boy was the workhorse. “Not enough like him around nowadays,” the old man thought to himself for the thousandth time.
The old man startled, danged if he hadn’t dozed off! He looked towards the house, certain Mary had finally yelled at him to get his scrawny butt in the house, but no one was at the back door. Something about this bothered him, but he dismissed it quickly. Mary was almost certainly taking an afternoon nap. Lord knows the old girl deserved it.
Soon he was lost again in the thoughts and memories of the past, both the recent ones with the boy and those from far back and away. There was one good thing that came with age if you had lived right, there was a pile of good memories to look back on.
Yep, it had been a good life. He and Mary had raised a right-smart family, and in turn their two children had returned the favor, providing the couple with two more generation of kids that the old man found to be mostly tolerable, and culminating with the boy who was so much like the old man, Mary just had to smile and shake her head. Mary was truly a peach herself.
It was a great life. And thinking these thoughts, the old man’s chin dropped, and this time he really fell asleep while re-living all those great memories making life worth living.
Mary finally woke him up, and with her holler of “Come in you old fool,” he was ready. He headed towards her, and the smile on her face brought one to his own. What she was doing down by the gate leading to the pond he barely wondered on at all, the boy would find him when he got to the house, and that would be a fine thing. They had a lot to do this afternoon.
When the boy finally arrived at the old man’s house and found him sitting at the picnic table, the smile took some of the boy’s sadness away. A little anyway. Folks said the old man wouldn’t make it a month after Mary passed, but that had been three years ago now. The boy had spent every available minute with the old man after her death. They had shared a lot of good times over the years, and it would take a while for it to sink in that those times were now over.
The boy stared at the worn, wrinkled face of his great beloved grandpa. How could death be that bad, if you left the world with a smile on your face?
See you on the water,
For more great stories and some amazing bass catching information bookmark Dale’s blog, The Dream Part II