A story is best written the way it is remembered.
Attempting to match his step with my stride, I bounded from one peaked rock to the next. All the while dodging the green ones. He had told me that they were dangerous, though I didn't believe it at the time. Nevertheless I refrained from trespassing as long as my grandfather was watching, venturing out of line only every now and then to test my own waters.
In one hand he carried a rod and reel. His other a mixture of worms, Vienna sausages, and Cokes all bundled together in a grocery bag. Mine were left vacant for now, needed more for balance than burden till I had gained the experience he had. The water was clear. Like cold air. I was looking down when I hopped to his occupied rock and nearly sent us both into the creek.
He had stopped suddenly though we were still one straight away from his favorite spot. I peered around him and saw what he saw. Gus Brown perched on the earthen seat just above my grandfather's eddy. Down where the cool water rolled over the big rock and dug out a nice little bed for the good ones to rest. It was the perfect spot.
Granddad wasn't happy with ole Gus. I could tell not only from his demeanor but also the colorful language he used to describe him. Gus had pestered granddaddy for years wanting to know where he caught all those big catfish. Granddaddy had held out for years too. But Gus promised not to go back, he just had to know, and granddaddy was a trusting sole.
You can't really hold it against Gus. He meant it when he said he wouldn't go back. He just couldn't help it. He was a fisherman after all. And that desire burnt straight through his fear and respect of my grandfather. But granddaddy looked at me and winked. Said, "Don't you worry sugar boy. Gus's ole lady will be expectin him home soon. When he's gone, we're gonna ease down there and catch that one he's been after all day."
I had no reason to doubt him. He was my hero and Gus the villain. Why would good not prevail. We eased down the creek bank a little further to a second string hole. I watched as he readied his rod. Plucked the line to be sure it was up to the task ahead, carefully selected just the right weight, tested ten hooks on his fingernail till he found one sharp enough to suit him, then tied an exquisite knot that he could tell I had a hard time following.
With the patience only a grandfather poses he let his line unravel back through the eye. Then slowly tied it again. Each bend, loop, and twist a masterpiece created from memory. It was second nature to him and an inheritance that I cherish to this day. It still amazes me how he could transfer a wealth of knowledge without a single word.
Gus had spotted us and was getting kind of nervous. My grandfather was the nicest man alive and all the while a terribly intimidating individual. Old school is what they call it. He'd give you the shirt off his back unless you tried to cheat him out of it. A man worthy of a boy's admiration. And a man commanding the respect of his peers.
I was doing my part while we waited, catching Alabama's finest swimbait, bream. While I caught the bait he set the world straight. Told me how things should be and how I had the chance to make them that way. It was too late for him and his era. Yep it was up to us. And he had faith. We both knew where each other stood. He steadfast and I in his shadow. It was simple and perfect.
Gus eased up the creek bank across from us. The path less trod for sure but the loose footing and snaky habitat loomed much less threatening than the close proximity that the normal path held to my grandfather. Like an old dog he kept his head down, daring not meet my grandfather's glare. Had I not been there the roaring creek would have offered little protection from a stern talking to.
However right and wrong wasn't the lesson for the day. Instead he would teach me about investment once we reached the honey hole. I watched as granddaddy hooked my bream just below its back fin. I had grown quite fond of that little bream and it pained me to see this. But he said it was a sacrifice we had to make. A little reluctant I allowed it. I had faith in him too. He'd never steered me wrong before.
He stood there for a second, rod in hand just inches from the water. He solemnly stared out over his old friend. It's hard to say what exactly happened during that short time. Maybe he was determining exactly where he wanted to place that first cast. Maybe he was apologizing for betraying that special bend in the creek by showing her to Gus. Maybe he was just saying hello. But there was a definite transaction made. Only he and the creek know for sure.
The whip of line running through rod guides broke the silence. His weight had just the right fall. That little bream couldn't have hit bottom before his rod tip bounced like it had so many times before. And with a quick grin directed at me he let in to her. Good thing he had checked the line because it now screamed from his reel. That knot was holding up too. Strong enough to bury the sharp hook into the monster's lip.
I had seen granddad catch allot of fish. But I could tell this one was different. This one was big. Bigger than big. He would always fight the small fish but believed it to be more of a dance with the big ones. The goal, to lead. Make her react to you. Let her lead and she'll reach the current. No stopping her then. Or perhaps she'll head for a deep hole and use the logs to her advantage. Better to deny her the chance.
I watched my grandfather turn one ounce bream into a thirty pound cat. As he lifted her from the water I could see my future in his eyes. The shine that fish produced would be my salvation and my end. I would catch that fish alongside him for years to come. I've caught her a thousand times already. At school and at work. On the front pew of church every Sunday and eating potluck dinner the day we buried him. Every time I pick up a rod I catch that same fish.
I sure cherish those memories. Perhaps it’s because that old creek's finally silted in and that old hole's not quite as deep as it used to be. Maybe because my grandfather and I have made our last fishing trip for a while. Or maybe it’s because they help me appreciate the trips I still get to make with my father. It could be that without them I'd have slipped on allot more green rocks over the years.
There are countless reasons and they're growing by the day. Some days when this life gets a little hectic I wish I was sitting on that old creek bank again. Most days truth be told. I wish I could ask him a million questions. Wish I could just sit there in silence, watching that cork bobbing in the current.
He made a fisherman out of me, and therefore a storyteller. And as a storyteller I’m not a fan of facts. I think they take away from the feeling. So I must admit the timeline is a little fuzzy. All of it happened. I'm sure of it. Maybe just not in that order. But the pieces were all there. He was my dad's dad and a man's man. He was my grandfather and he called his shot.
Maybe it’s just an old story my dad used to tell. Or perhaps it happened to you. Did you see my grandfather’s face or yours just before he set the hook? If you felt this story it’s not because my grandfather meant something to me but because yours meant something to you.
And if you did then you know what I'm talking about. You've been pulled into this same game that so eloquently illustrates life. Right and wrong. Lessons and their benefit. When to dance, when to fight. Faith, patience, investment and sacrifice. A grandfather. His pride in you. The legend and the lure.