Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013
What Happened To My Little Fisherman?
By JAMES GROB
Once, when she was about six years old, we introduced her to fishing.
We were staying in a cabin on a lake in Minnesota, and it was hot -- and when I say hot, I mean it was crazy hot, as in, it was too hot to go swimming, because even the normally-cool Minnesota lake water felt uncomfortably warm against your skin.
So the typical fun Minnesota outdoors activities were neglected in favor of any activity we could do that involved being in a controlled, air-conditioned environment. That is to say, we went all the way up to northern Minnesota to do things like watch movies and go bowling.
It seemed like a waste of a trip, but there were some breaks in the heat, and during one of those breaks, I introduced my daughter to fishing.
On the dock one evening, just as the raging sun was finally resting in the western sky, the lake was calm -- with just enough of a breeze to keep the swarms of mosquitoes from tearing our flesh off.
And she was on a winning streak. After a few quick lessons, she began to pull fish after fish out of the water, like a magician pulling rabbits from his hat or doves from his sleeve. It was all I could do to keep up, perpetually removing the fish she had just caught from her hook, then re-baiting her, then removing another fish, then re-baiting her ...
"What kind of fish is this one?" she would ask, every time.
"This is a sunfish," I would tell her.
"This one is a crappie," I would say.
"This big one is a largemouth bass," I explained.
Over and over again, fish after fish. She caught them, I unhooked them, then released them back into the water. My thought was that the fish had been hiding deep in the water from the heat all day, and now that the blazing sun had finally relented, the fish were finally able to come into the shallow water. And they were hungry.
And my daughter caught them, one after another. Sometimes giggling as she did, sometimes squealing when the fish was a little heavier -- like in the case of the largemouth bass. Always excited and fascinated, always wanting her dad to tell her what kind of fish she had just caught.
Eventually, full darkness arrived. The mosquitoes started breaking through and it was time to call it a night.
"When we get back to the cabin, everyone's going to want to know what kinds of fish you caught," I told her as we walked up the path. "Do you remember what you caught?"
She hesitated for one second. She knew I was testing her.
"Yep," she said. "I caught some sunfishes, and I caught some crappies, and I even caught one big-toothed bastard."
I had said "largemouth bass." Somehow, this six-year-old girl had heard "big-toothed bastard." A legend was born, a story that would be told again and again, mostly by her grandparents. Of course, had their son said a word like that when he was six, he would have been severely reprimanded. But when their granddaughter says that word, it's as cute as the dickens.
Fast forward 12 years, and there she was, yesterday -- this little fisherman -- now a registered college freshman -- giving me a big hug before she walked into the union hall of a big university. Time to learn the campus, time to sign up for classes, time to meet other young people ready to start college. I am reminded that I have about a month to buy her a dorm fridge.
I'm not sure what happened between then and now. Twelve years passed. This smart dad of hers, who baited her hook and knew the names of all the different fish she caught, isn't as smart anymore. She's seen him do dumb things, she's seen him do things that are awfully embarrassing to a teenage girl. Like any daughter and any dad, there have been many moments when the two of us just can't seem to understand each other, as though we are speaking different languages on different planets.
She's a lot taller now. And she's gradually changed -- from darn cute to darn pretty -- to pretty darn beautiful. She can school you on the tennis court. She can draw a fantastic pencil-sketch of anyone you want in just a few minutes. She can tell you all about weather and meteorology. She can memorize any song on the pop charts after two or three listens. I don't know if all of that makes her ready for everything the world is about to throw at her, and I don't know if I can help her prepare for what's in store for her. I do know that she's a talented young woman, and I can't believe she's the same little person who caught that big-toothed bastard off the dock 12 years ago.
Because I would give anything to go back there, for just a few hours. Baiting her hook, encouraging her, explaining things to her. I would give anything to spend a few more minutes with that cute six-year-old fisherman and hear her giggle, hear her squeal with excitement.
I would give anything to once again hear those cute questions.
The questions I knew how to answer.
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