When I was a young child, days seemed to last all week, especially if I knew the weekend would hold a car trip to visit aunts and uncles. Mama was one of ten kids so there were lots of relatives. Somehow, the weekend was shorter than any other time span, over way too soon. Until the week was used up, we had the fun job of entertaining ourselves. Fresh from orphanage, we had a whole town and its environs to discover.
On summer mornings when the dew dried fast on the lawn, my brother and I would grab whatever bakery was on the counter and head out the street to where it became road which devolved to cart path and horse trail. We waded in the creek, an offshoot of the Octorara, and did that with our shoes off, usually. The morning, already very warm, was relieved by the ice old running stream.
The day belonged to us. All we had to do was decide. Bobby’s goal was always the same: catch the ancient, large brook trout in the narrow stream, with his bare hands. It was never going to happen, but perhaps the fun was firmly lodged solely in the trying. A six year old boy is a believer in his own ferocious power. He reasoned that so long as he had two hands, it could be done, no matter what “it” was. He was predictable. And stubborn. So we had this summer ritual, worthy until the sun was too hot on our necks or he got bored or soaking wet.
Without too long a wait, the trout swam into the curve of the brook where we waited. The width of the little stream was the exact size of my brother’s rear end. Bobby eased himself into the water, sitting on the pebbled bed, still wearing his shoes. He planned to catch the fish bare handed as it swam into his lap. Well. The boy also believed in magic. He knew nothing about refracted light. The fish was never exactly where he snatched, finding only a handful of water slipping through his fingers. He’d be a full grown adult before he understood.
Bobby was a paradox. Easily ignited, with a flaring temper, he’d explode without preamble. Given to tantrums, handling him was a bit like a firecracker surprise. He parked all of that when it came to fishing. He’d mastered waiting almost overnight as soon as he understood the stillness and silence required to be invisible to fish. I couldn’t understand it, though I surely did admire it. Before my eyes he became some other kind of boy.
He never tired of the game, though in his childhood he had to apply the waiting principle to perfection. He learned he needed to be serious about using a fishing pole. He was quite adept. When he scored, his catch was usually the ugly whiskered catfish, less elusive than brook trout. To keep his interest, the occasional trout was his reward. Mama never failed to drop whatever she was doing when he tore into the house, fish in his creel. She cleaned them, heated the Crisco and fried up his mess. He waited, fork in hand, drooling until she plopped crusted, golden trout or catfish on his plate. I always expected him to devour it, but he became that hidden boy that only came out when the subject was fish. He ate his catch delicately, savoring every bite, careful to skip the fine bones, licking the butter from his fingers, one by one.
Fish held no magic for me. But the boy did.
While he was off in ambrosia heaven, Mama took me to task about his squishy wet shoes. What was I thinking? How could I let him sit in the stream? Don’t you know he could catch his death? Really, Mama? It’s ninety degrees in the shade and the sun is barely high in the sky. Think, girl. Don’t sass her! Saying those things aloud could loosen my teeth with one smack, so I held my tongue and swallowed the words that threatened to ooze out. The oblivious Bobby cleaned his plate and began to plan what we’d do with the afternoon.