(October 4, 1996)
Jeremiah was eight years old. A junior fishing pole leaned up against the back of his locker, awaiting a few possible fly launches on his path home. Sometimes Jeremiah caught a fish, and quickly let it go; other times, he watched his catch flop along the rugged bank of the lake. On special days, he saved part of his lunch to eat beside the water. Occasionally, he threw breadcrumbs to the ducks, collected tadpoles in a pickle jar, or dangled his bare feet off a small peer. The water felt soothing and often warm to trod on feet. His imagination often got the best of him. He easily pictured Piranhas rushing in, quickly, and nibbling at a few of his bare toes. Or some marble-eyed alligator transplanted from Florida.
His favorite thing to do was open a can of Spam he bought from a mom and pop store up the road. At least he did when he could afford it. He sometimes threw a few pieces of the meat to the fish and watched them fight over the scraps. Jeremiah loved Spam. It was quite unusual, even for an eight-year old—at the end of the century. He had no clue that it was a trait passed down from his grandpa. On rare occasions, he used some of the Spam to hook a Catfish or a Carp—if to do nothing more than prove that fish liked it too.
The boy knew if he stayed very long, he would have to take his mother’s goading as well as her uninspiring words. Some days, he found, were well worth taking in the calm, well worth tempting the wrath of his two hundred plus mother.
Jeremiah knew if his mother ever truly struck him, he would receive a concussion like the toothless hockey players on TV. Or even worse. She had thumped his head, swatted his bottom, and yet—had never left an emotional scar. All matter of punishment Jeremiah felt he deserved. The boy learned the ramifications of his actions and consequences early on, when he came to understand that he held the power to lesson her wrath from the point of ‘having to spank’ him. In fact, it was through this control with which Jeremiah found true self-discipline.
Jeremiah considered wearing one’s hat backwards a curse. He felt the fishing real spin as if it ran on ball bearings, and he heard the click of its drag switch into place. His stepfather promised to take him out on a boat. The boy couldn’t wait. He imagined dropping anchor in a shallow inlet and catching Cutthroat Trout by the bucketful. He found fishing quite addicting. This could be found in the simple act of his having to cast out the line just one more time. Cledus’s kin even came to look upon the smell of Salmon Eggs with fondness. Even the distinct smell of fresh fish became less and less likely to make him gag.
An occasional rodent would greet him. Some dashed to the water for escape, while others chose dry land. Jeremiah was always mystified by Muskrats that formed a large V—at the surface of the water and the calm speed with which they propelled their bodies across the lake.
He told himself how Their teeth are lethal weapons. The boy quickly noticed little things others never saw—such as bugs who could make the same V-pattern, with a great deal more effort. Albino moths. Praying Mantis. Or, one simple but bland Rolly Poly. Skipping rocks across a lake’s surface often challenged his young arm. Once…. Jeremiah had struck a duck, without aiming for it, and it caused him to remember the painful squawk—for several days. He would sometimes dream of the flailing wings, the duck diving underneath the water seeking protection, and consider reconciling such an act with his maker.
The lake was Jeremiah’s for a half an hour every day…. unless crummy weather forced him home. He often imagined launching a remote-control speed boat and splitting the water V’s with its plastic hull.
One day Jeremiah met a stranger at the lake; a burly man that resembled Grizzly Adams.
The man had stretched out a rough hand.
“My name’s Hank. What’s yours, partner?”
The boy didn’t think it wise to give the man his proper name.
“Well, Jerry…What brings you to these parts?”
“On my way home from school. And just doing a little fishing.”
“Fishing is something to enjoy. So many young people today need noise and video games.”
“They can’t appreciate such a thing as fishing.”
The older fisherman looked upon the boy with living wonder.
“Why don’t you try one of my flies?” Grizzly Adams said, as he placed a freshly tied fly into the boy’s small hand. Jeremiah thought it felt like a Wolf Spider against his dry palm.
“Be careful not to stick yourself!”
“I want to stick a fish!”
The boy rigged his line, half expecting a story of—When I was a boy. Instead, the two fishermen became one with the large body of water; the lake resembled a body of generation crossing Nirvana. Neither fisherman was aware fishing rods were often sketched on the walls of Egyptian Tombs—around 3500 B.C. Neither was aware the first known fishing rods evolved over time to today's miracle, glass rods, which gave without breaking; rods that were now used for casting, rather than extending a baited line.
Caught in the moment, Jeremiah suddenly remembered what his mother once said about talking to strangers, accepting gifts from strangers, and easy trust. Jeremiah became a bundle of nerves. He looked the large man in the eye.
“I’ve got to be going.”
The mountain man turned his head, and returned, “Well. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Jeremiah was left to wonder how the man had developed such a vocabulary. The boy checked the new fly was barbed into the cork handle of his small fishing rod, while completely unaware the stranger tipped a leather skin hat goodbye.
About ten minutes later, the skies opened and dispensed rain. Jeremiah loved the clean smell of rain. He withdrew a baseball cap that had printed on it A Fisherman Has Larger Bait and plopped it atop his mop-haired head. Jeremiah thought about the stand-off that had gone wrong at Baileys, long before he was born, thought about how his great great great-grandpa died at the bank of a reedy swamp, and how his distant relative had become a local legend. There was no town he had founded. Cledus’s name was not associated with any positive sort of notoriety. But Jeremiah held a deep fondness for his distant kin, a man he could only gaze at in a few old faded photographs.
Jeremiah saw a landmark big tree, and he envisioned being home, shortly, and eating some warm soup. It will be s…o good to get out of these damp clothes and into dry ones. He thought, as he rounded the outward stretch of Hillsbury’s property. The boy walked with his head down, as he attempted to keep the rain off his face.
A neighbor girl, holding an umbrella, glanced his way from a chair sitting in a front yard and smiled. For some reason Jeremiah raised his head and logged the first time that a girl flirted his way. In fact, Jeremiah noticed enough to return an inviting smile. For several years to come…his olfactory often found ways to bring up her distinctive female scent. This caused Jeremiah to stop in his mind and talk to that cute, freckled girl, who he once found visually captivating. He found his mind replayed the smiling girl, within the context of passing—fondly, every time it rained.