Off the Porch
A memory can be triggered by a myriad of experiences. Most of the time, I have little idea of why I remember some obscure event or time in my life; this memory was different.
The scene was almost identical except this time, I was watching it happen, rather than doing it. I’m pretty sure the rod was the same length. The reel in the memory was a Mitchell 330 that I’d just acquired from my Uncle Gorrell; the rod was a True Temper. Now, the reel was an Okuma and the rod was a Tica. The physical results were identical, thus the almost 50-year-old memory was triggered.
Charlie carefully followed the instructions I’d given him. He placed his hands on the rod handle with his right hand’s fingers split around the reel’s shank. He cranked the bail over so his index finger could pick up the line, letting it hang from the tip of his index finger. He carefully moved the bail out of the way, swung the rod around behind him and launched his cast straight overhead. Previous casts had slammed the rig and sinker into the sand or launched the rig skyward in an arc that threatened to brain one of us, but this one went straight and well. The bait, rig, and sinker arced gracefully and splashed into the surf in the middle of the short slough in front of us. The cast was straight and about 30 yards, quite good for a ten year old non-athletic grandson. He turned to me for approval and his mouth and eyes showed a broad smile. Charlie had just made a great cast.
Charlie is the grandson that anyone except a sports nut would gladly claim. He’s polite, smart, sociable and kind. He’s also not an athlete in the classic sense, and that, if possible, endears him to me even more because I had little athletic prowess and got interested in the outdoors instead of team sports as a result.
It’s occurred to me that God created a quite accurate facsimile of me to commemorate my 50th year. I look at my fourth grade photos from Mrs. Ellington’s class and, they come pretty close. The eyes look the same, the hair is straighter, but the freckle pattern is almost the same. The mannerisms, bookishness, and lack of athletic ambition mirror me perfectly. He is a 50 years younger replica of me and watching him learning to cast proved it.
Our trip was a fall reprise of a summer trip to Cape Lookout. From Davis, North Carolina, via a short ferry ride on a commercial ferry, Great Island or South Core Banks is a primitive part of our Outer Banks barrier islands. There’s no electrical service on the island and only a few permanent structures consisting of a few maintenance buildings and some rental cabins owned by the parks service. There are no paved roads, no stores, and few amenities other than an office where you can buy gas and ice and a single campground type bathhouse with the indulgent luxury of hot water and two shower stalls.
What the island does offer is miles of lonely beaches, a spectacular night sky, and one each, unencumbered sunrise/sunsets, per day. It also offers a chance for grandson and grandfather to get to know each other better and that’s exactly what Charlie and I did for four days.
I can’t speak for what Charlie learned about me but I learned that he’s a sensitive person and a deep thinker. At one point in the trip, with no prompting on my part, he launched into his belief that everything happens as part of a much larger plan, and that things we sometimes see as painful can be part of a larger plan that ultimately benefits those involved. I thought this was a pretty large conclusion for a 10-year-old. It happens to mirror my philosophy and it occurred that maybe he’s heard it from me but, even if he did, it just means he listens.
I learned he’s a great fan of Ben Franklin, I learned a great deal about the life of Dr. Seuss. I learned that, in his opinion at least, Milk Duds were made for “people with teeth than can bite through steel”. (I learned this during one of our Halloween candy binges, brought on by the presence of a Zip-lock bag full of loot from trick or treat) We had great discussions of what constitutes the ultimate candy bar and why. We discussed dog training and his aspirations to learn to use a cast net.
I already knew my grandson had a capacity for hard fishing. This summer he fished eight hours one day and only beached a single spot. This year, his efforts were rewarded by lots of puppy drum and bluefish. On the drive down, Charlie told me his goal was to catch a red drum, hopefully a citation drum. On our summer trip, I’d caught a 36” fish but I couldn’t hand the rod off to Charlie because I had the fish on a 13-foot surf rod and, with ten feet of rod extending past my hands the fish had a five to one leverage advantage. There was no way Charlie could have managed to hold the rod with the fish having a five to one advantage. I explained this on the occasion of landing the big drum and, on the drive down; I told Charlie that we were both going to fish nine foot rods. This, I explained, would prevent the fish from having as much mechanical advantage as the drum had enjoyed on my 13-foot rod.
Besides Halloween candy, we dined on sausage and eggs, fried bluefish, pheasant and venison Creole from the freezer, and Jesse Jones hotdogs. Charlie advised me that Jesse Jones is now officially his favorite hot dog. He said it reminds him of the hot dogs from Tommie’s Barbeque he had before my Mom, and his Grandmother, died five years ago.
Charlie reached his goal of beaching a drum. He landed a keeper fish on Saturday, several on Sunday including a double, (something I’ve never done) and he landed another keeper on Monday. We took multiple photos of the double catch and sent text photos to Mom, Dad, and Gramma. Later, he was standing on the beach, holding his rod and said, to no one in particular, “I am so happy.” His face was in perpetual smile mode. I was happy, too.
Over our time on the island, we caught more drum than we could give an accurate accounting of and, on Saturday night as we went to bed, Charlie rolled over in his sleeping bag and sighed, “I’m sore and tired all over from catching fish. Man, today was fun.” I lay in my bag and counted my blessings. I don’t remember a better fishing trip.
During the height of our fishing on Sunday, when we were catching small bluefish and undersized puppy drum, he looked at me during a lull in the bite and said, “This year, for Christmas, I want a drum rod of my own. Just make sure it’s short enough to not give the fish too much mechanical advantage.”
Guess what Charlie’s getting for Christmas from Papa.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites. He’s fished both fresh and salt water most of his life. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com.