The Court Jester and Lee Van Cleef
When I was very young, I remember both of my grandfathers taking me fishing. Sometimes it was on their boats, sometimes it was on the bank and sometimes in a float tube. I learned to catch perch, crappie, catfish, bass and carp. I learned different techniques, about different lures, how to cast different reels and how to watch a line.
Probably the most important lesson I learned was to appreciate nature for its great intricacies. All of the serious conversations I had with these formative men revolved around fishing stories and metaphors. I learned how to speak with adults half a century my senior when sitting at the Whataburger either before or after a trip. Nickel Mug coffee and Breakfast on a Bun still represent fishing and breakfast to me even though I can have neither.
These men were completely opposite in their personalities yet so much alike.
Papa Jim was very stoic and appeared to be the long lost brother of Lee Van Cleef. He taught me to work hard to enjoy the rewards of time off. His last words to me, as he lay in a hospital bed, were ” Chris, you look bad. You’re working too hard. You need to go fishing.” I went that next day with my family and I caught the largest smallmouth bass I have ever caught, with my son right there helping me. He understood the seed he had helped plant had intertwined with my soul. It was something he could offer a remedy to. Though we spoke less and less as I grew older, moved away, and started a family, a glimpse of me could tell him what I needed. I miss that man every time I get on the water.
The other was a joker. PaPa, in any situation, was the court jester. My six year old has all of his spunk and fire so I am constantly reminded of him especially since his passing about a year ago. The first question we always asked each other was about the fishing report. This was a man who had pulled my leg hair with needle nose pliers, told girls I brought to the fishing hole I said they were ugly, and could find a sore spot to tease a rhino. I always had fun when I was around him. He made fishing fun. He always liked to compete too. When I was in high school and even into college I would spend spring break with him fishing at area lakes and keeping score the whole time. I can’t count how many times we went fishing but it’s a lot and not enough at the same time. When Papa Jim passed it was Papa that I hugged the longest. I sobbed so much I must have soaked through the shoulder of his suit. Unfortunately I had no grandfather left to comfort me when Papa passed last January. The torch had been passed to my Dad.
I see my Dad doing the same things with my son as my grandfathers did with me. I hope they come to feel this strongly for him. I am almost sure of it. Fishing, camping or even just spending time in nature with the grandfathers in your life should be a cherished time. It eventually ends and the torch may some day be passed on to you.