As a young girl, I spent every possible weekend at my Granddaddy and Grandmother Stricklin's farm. I'd walk or ride my bike the mile and a half to Mer and Pap's house Friday afternoon after school, and stay until Mom and Dad took me back home after church on Sunday.
I can't remember anything I enjoyed more as a child than fishing with Pap. Saturday afternoons, Pap would take a quick nap in his recliner while I sat on the floor at his feet and completed the tedious assignment of turning every single page in a ginormous Bible dictionary. Flip. Flip. Flip. Tick. Tick. Tick. Time. Crawled. Past. Sometimes, I thought I'd NEVER reach the back cover of that book. Finally, Smack!, I'd slap the book shut and return it to the shelf. "I'm done! Let's go fishing!"
Just down the hill from their white frame house was a small pond stocked with bass and bream. Grabbing cane poles and a bucket of worms, Pap and I headed down the road and through the gap to the pond. My favorite spot to fish was under a willow tree that hung out over the edge of the pond. Confident that record-breaking fish lurked in the dark shadows beneath the tree, I passed countless Saturdays sprawled on the bank beside Pap, listening to the hum of dragonflies and the gurgle of red-wing blackbirds. Sweet, sweet memories.
One summer, my family traveled to North Carolina for vacation. I don't remember much about that trip except The Fish. While in North Carolina, Dad took us to a trout farm - one of those places where you watch fat trout swimming lazily around stocked ponds, hoping they'll nibble at your golden kernel of corn. We had several kids in tow, so my siblings and I took turns fishing with the few poles available.
Pole-less, I plopped belly down on a broad, sun-warmed boulder that curved out into the pond and waited my turn to fish. I dangled my arms in the cool water, kicking my bare feet in the air behind me. Suddenly, the biggest fish I'd ever seen swam up just below the surface of the water, nibbling at stray pieces of corn that drifted in the shallow ripples along the edge of the pond. My heart skipped a beat. Would it be possible....? I froze. Sure enough, that monster fish swam right up between my outstretched hands. Giving a whoop, I clamped down and then flung him over my head!
I jumped up, screaming and flailing my arms. Mom and Dad came running, afraid I'd somehow injured myself. "I caught a fish! I caught a fish! I caught it with my bare hands!"
Dad took a picture of me holding the prize fish before we cleaned it for supper that night. I wanted documentation. I couldn't wait to tell Pap my Fish Story! He was going to have a hard time believing this one!
Before we returned home from North Carolina, however, Pap went to the hospital in Union City to have some tests run. He'd been having a lot of pain in his lower back and the doctor wanted to find out what was the problem. Turned out he had pancreatic cancer. Pap never came back home, and I never saw him again. Riding from the church to the cemetery the day of Pap's funeral, I looked out the car window and prayed, "Lord, please don't tell Pap my fish story. Please, wait and let me tell him when I get there."
It's been many, many years since my Pap died, and I wonder sometimes if he knows yet, knows my fish story. And, by the time I get there, my silly fish tale may not seem very significant in the glory of heaven. But maybe, just maybe, there will be fish stories, even in heaven.
3 weeks ago