Fishing For Memories
by Elizabeth Crawford
photograph (c) Elizabeth Crawford
Times when I think I remember too much.
Sixty years plus is a mountain of memories,
each one a small stone or huge boulder.
Getting older makes it worse.
Sometimes curse the flow
on those days when I want to look back
and can’t seem to catch anything
but shadows slipping through doors
closed tight with locked latches.
What I remember most fondly is going fishing
with my father. Cool morning mist dissipating
slowly, like soft sensuous dream disintegrating
at awakening. Silence that wasn’t really silent:
water lapping, birds chanting morning prayers,
fish jumping for flying insects then dropping back
to gently plop leaving only an echo of ringed ripples at surface.
Threading hook with live crawlers
caught the night before with bare fingers
at edge of flashlight beam
(had to be quick or they’d slip back into darkness).
Letting the line down until it hit bottom
then reeling it up a bit so bait
would move with current, look enticing to perch
feeding in weeds.
Smell of dad’s cigarette drifting through air,
not many words shared, some quiet teasing
about who would catch first one,
the biggest, the most.
Long ride back from Sturgeon Bay or some other direction.
Didn’t make much difference, I was willing to go wherever he led me.
He didn’t make demands that I be a certain way,
dress in a certain fashion,
not be quite so passionate about things.
Coming home with a pail full of perch.
Silently watching him clean them, helping
where I could, taking my turn at scraping, cutting and gutting.
Hardest part might have been moving back into that world of others,
mother and siblings, having to share him again.
Elizabeth’s process notes:
My relationship with my father was both emotionally supportive (he was the only one who told me, in my formative years, that I could and would do whatever I set my mind to) and complicated by the shadow of a car accident that left me (at age four) with a permanent scar that shelters my ear, a steel pin to patch shattered skull bone, and a very dark pre-surgery prognosis of Cerebral Palsy (the doctor called me his little Miracle Girl for years afterward). I have often wondered if the guilt we shared silently was the reason for our bond or if it was allowed by my Mother to insure that neither one of us strayed too far away from family and home.
The photograph was taken, I believe, about ten months before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. He couldn’t join us in the boat (sick with chemotherapy) so was fishing from the dock of the rented cottage my husband and I had arranged for a family vacation. When I and my son and ex pulled into the dock grinning, he leaned over and said, “You caught a big one didn‘t you? I heard you yelling across the lake.” When asked how he knew it was me that had caught the Northern, he said, with a cheeky grin, “Cause I taught you everything you know and you will always be my favorite fishing buddy.”