about it or with one
That's my late brother Art heading this page. He had a ton of fish stories [photographer unknown].
Fish Story is included in Goodbye and Other Stories.
"It's time for your walk," said Rosie to the old man in the Barcalounger.
"Ole' man, it's time for your walk," she said again. The old man continued to lie still, as he had for the better part of the afternoon. Still, that is, except for his eyes, which followed Rosie as she loaded folded laundry into his dresser.
"Trying to get rid of me?" he asked.
"Just like ah do ever day," she said.
"Why don't you take a day off from nagging me," he said. “It would be good for the both of us."
"Might be good for you, Ole' Man," - she preferred `Old Man' to his given name of Stanley - "but ah like nagging you. If ah don't nag you, what will ah do?"
The old man didn't answer.
"Now listen, Ole Man, you git. Ah gotta clean this pig sty."
"You don't have to clean. I prefer to wallow in it when you're not here."
"Look, Ole' Man, You get up off your lazy ass and get it on outta here. It's a beautiful day outside an your house stinks like the smoker's lounge at the center and it takes six secretaries to stink that place up. We have this same conversation ever day and you know ah'm gonna nag an' nag 'til you get up off that lazy ass of yours and get it on outta here."
The old man slowly pushed the lounge chair forward and with great effort lifted his tired body out of it. He began to shuffle his way out of his room and then, turning, stopped to add something new to the conversation he seemed to have every day with the stout woman who cared for him.
"You know I used to live in LA. Used to go out to the Colisium on Sundays to watch the Rams play football. You know the Rams? They're in St. Louis now. They had this big lineman on that team. You know what his name was? Rosie. Rosie Grier. That wouldn't be you last name."
"Git out, and take that fresh mouth with you," she said, shooing the old man out the door.
Stanley paused once outside, absorbing the sunshine that hit his cold face. He was not surprised to find how glad he was to be back outside. He felt relief that today he sensed an energy in his step reminiscent of better, easier days. That wasn't always the case. Sometimes he walked in agony, his tired legs aching their protest. But once he was out he always tried to walk a ways at least, if only to satisfy Rosie.
Still, though he never admitted it to Rosie or anyone, he realized that his daily walk through the park behind his house provided the only time he felt as if he still could do anything better than wait around to die. And even that knowledge was bittersweet when his walks along this same busy park-path every day brought with them the realization that the world was still busily engaged in its own living, and that every duck and dog was going on happily without him, and that when his end did come life would continue just as it did every day and save for his sons and a few other good people no one would even slow down long enough to miss him. So sometimes he found himself enjoying his walk and seeing again that the world was still alive, and other times he found himself dreading that very fact.
Today, though, the sun was shining too brightly to hold it against the day. Stanley stopped his labored walking to feel again the warmth it brought to his weathered face. He slowly let his gaze wander across his field of vision, absorbing the park's host of activities as a single sensation. He left his mind open to drink it all in until his eyes caught sight of the line of people standing on the wall at the edge of the park's large pond.
Stanley focused on the row of long poles arcing away from the line of people.
“Can't be much worth fishing for there,” he thought to himself as he noted the shallowness of the water in front of the people as well as its lack of vegetation.
He scanned the water past where the wall ended. There among rocks and roots leading down to the shore was the vegetation Stanley would have sought if he were looking to fish. Typical, thought Stanley. People are more interested in being comfortable than they are in finding where the fish are.
Stanley began to move along toward the coolness of the park's picnic grounds where the smooth paths meandered through thick stands of trees. He paused at the scene of this fruitless fishing often and always was forced to move away rather than dwell on the success he'd enjoyed with a rod and reel before fishing became too much of an effort and a nuisance. As he began walking again Stanley noticed one girl standing a bit farther down the shore, well past the end of the wall.
"There," he said softly to himself. "That's a decent spot."
He watched the young girl, who seemed well-equipped with a spinning rod and busy-looking tackle box. She stood on the bank, frozen save for her eyes, which scanned the nearby wall, more intent on observing others fishing than on her own effort. Then as she noticed others casting and reeling she began with obvious hesitation to reel in her own line. As she managed her aimless cast Stanley caught sight of the enormous lure the girl had attached to her line.
"What the hell?" he muttered as he moved toward her. He knew she would never catch anything with that lure. As he approached her the girl started to struggle with the tangled results of her cast. Stanley noticed her round face and its deep and expressive brown eyes. The obvious irritation it reflected did not obscure its softness.
"Having a problem?" he said to her.
"This stupid thing keeps getting tangled in all those weeds every time I cast," she said, "but if I just leave it laying in the water nothing happens at all."
"Well of course nothing happens. You were right to keep casting," he said.
She looked at him and then, avoiding his eyes, turned away toward the pond, her short hair swinging with the movement of her head.
"Well it's a lot easier where they are," she said, nodding her head in the direction of those fishing from the wall. "They don't have weeds over there."
Now free of the weeds, she pulled her line from the water.
"I'm just gonna wait until somebody leaves and then I'll move over there."
"Actually," said Stanley, "this here is the perfect spot."
The girl stopped gathering her tackle and turned toward Stanley. He looked at the equipment with which the girl was casting, glanced down at the tackle box overflowing with lures, hooks, weights and line, and considered how the girl might have arrived at her choice of tackle.
"You know what you're fishing for?" he said.
"Umm, what I'm fishing for?" she repeated, puzzled. "You mean what kind of fish?"
"It would help, you know," said Stanley. "Different fish like to eat different things."
"Do you know what kind of fish are in here?"
"Well, they always used to stock this pond with bass, back when I fished here. Large-mouth bass. Of course I haven't seen anybody catch any. Not that I've paid that much attention, to tell the truth. Ain't cared much about fishing lately. Let me see if I can find anything in this box a bass'd go after."
Stanley leaned over to rummage through the trays of the open tackle-box but felt the pain that had dogged him for months return sharply. He froze, half-bent.
"You okay?" said the girl.
"Oh, fine," said Stanley in a tone of sarcasm too mild for the girl to detect. "Tell you what," he said as slowly he straightened himself. "See if you can find something a little smaller - and shiny. Bass like shiny things."
The girl bent down over the tackle-box, her bony knees and elbows at odd angles as she dug into the small piles of tangled tackle. She offered a few jingling lures that Stanley rejected with quiet and patient shakes of his head.
His "Yes!" came when she held up what looked like a huge safety-pin with shiny blades and a small rubber skirt attached. It was the very lure that Stanley had always favored for bass. He savored the sight of it for a moment as it brought to him memories of more than one healthy catch.
"That's perfect," said Stanley finally. "You see that metal spoon part there? That'll spin when it moves through the water. It'll look like it's swimming. Plus it gets a fish's attention. Now you have to take that thing off your line and tie this on right through that loop there." He pointed to the head of the lure.
Stanley noticed the girl staring at his gnarled and blackened fingers. She quickly set to the task of attaching the new lure, her freckled face contorting in concentration.
"Where did you get all this tackle?" Stanley said, realizing now that the girl had no idea what to do with it.
"It's my brother's," she said.
"Nice of him to let you use it. But it would have been nicer if he'd given you some advice on how."
“He doesn't know I have it."
"Gee," said Stanley with a chuckle, "maybe you should ask him."
"I have asked him. A million times I asked him. But he doesn't care. He never even uses it anymore. I always wanted to go fishing but he won't help. So I figured if I have to I'll just go and figure it out myself. I guess that's not very smart, is it?"
"You just have to be smarter than the fish," said Stanley. "You got that all set? Good. Now cast your line right out there."
Stanley pointed to an area surrounded by weeds and spotted with lily pads.
"You want me to cast right into the weeds?" said the girl in disbelief.
"That's where the fish like to be. You don't think they want to swim around out where all those lines are? Around here they can find stuff to eat in among all those plants. Plus they feel they got some protection."
"You mean all the fish are right where nobody's fishing?" said the girl. "I guess nobody else is very smart, either."
She focused on the spot to which Stanley had pointed and let loose with an awkward cast that nonetheless found its mark.
"Now let it sink and bump into things - like it's injured, say. Just for a second, though. Now reel it in a bit, and then stop and wait again."
Stanley continued as she waited a moment and then quickly resumed her reeling.
"You have to make that lure act like a fish or bug; something a bass will think looks good to eat."
The girl focused on following Stanley's direction.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Sarah," said the girl, sounding proud of it.
"My name's Stanley."
"My uncle's name is Stanley," said the girl. "Actually he's my great uncle. He was my grandfather's brother. I don't see him much since Granddad died. He's in a nursing home."
Stanley watched the girl try to give life to the lure.
"Okay, Sarah. Pull it out and try casting again."
"The same place?"
"If you want. Or you could try a different place. It doesn't matter. Just try to find somewhere a fish could be hanging around. Think like a fish."
The girl giggled at the idea as she directed her second cast toward the target of the first.
"You know a lot about fishing," she said, half-questioning Stanley.
"I used to do a lot of it."
"Not much," said Stanley with a laugh. "There are much better spots than this, you know. I used to have a boat. We'd go north, up country. You go up there, you can get out on a lake bigger than this whole park, and you're the only boat on it, too."
"That's a lot different than this, huh?" said the girl as she delivered her lure once again to the water.
"Oh, I guess it ain't so different, when you think about it. You still look for plants and the like. You search around and try different spots - just over a bigger area. You're still trying to find where the fish are."
"You're still trying to think like a fish," said the girl, laughing.
"You're still trying to think like a fish," agreed Stanley with a smile.
The girl cast again and let the lure sink a bit before giving it some tugs.
"That's it," said Stanley. "Make it jump through the water. But not too fast. There. Now reel it in a bit.
"You're really starting to get the hang of it."
"It's more fun, too, than just standing here," the girl said.
She tugged again. The line grew taut.
"I think I'm tangled," said the girl. "No, it's moving! The line is moving!"
"You got a fish," said Stanley with a laugh. "Now keep the line tight. Pull the tip of your rod up. No - back toward you. Now reel in line - and drop the tip down. Pull it up again and reel as you lower it. That's it. Keep doing that."
Barely controlling her enthusiasm, the girl struggled to follow Stanley's direction, but soon the fish, caught close to shore, was out of the water. Stanley stepped carefully down to where it lay flopping on the ground. Slipping a crooked finger into the fish's mouth, he pressed his thumb to its lower lip. Then, struggling to keep his balance, he held the girl's prize up for her to inspect.
"That's probably around a three-pound large-mouth, maybe four," he said, admiring the catch.
The girl squealed and excitedly repeated, "I caught a fish! I caught a fish! I don't believe it! I caught a fish!"
"You sure did," agreed Stanley. "First time fishing, too. That's quite a feat. Now, what are you going to do with it?"
"Oh, I don't want to keep it or anything. Can't we just let it go?"
"It's your fish. But if you want to let it go you're going to have to do it yourself."
Stanley held the fish out to the girl, who stared at it fearfully.
"Look," he said as he lay the flapping fish on the grass by the edge of the pond. "I'll tell you how to do it. But you have to do it yourself. What's the point of catching 'em if you don't know what to do once they're caught?"
The girl slowly bent over the fish and put her hand around it hesitantly.
"Now don't be timid," Stanley said firmly. "It'll hurt the fish less if you hold it down good and pull the hook out quickly. Just grab the hook and slide it out. You just have to get in there and get it done.
"Good. Now pick it up and slip it into the water.
"There," he concluded as the girl dropped the fish into the shallow water along the pond's edge. "Simple as that. And he’s a smarter fish now, too. You taught him a lesson."
The fish disappeared into deeper water. The girl stared at the water long after the fish was gone.
"The first fish is always the hardest to catch," said Stanley reassuringly. "Now that you have an idea of what to do why don't you try it again?"
"Well, I really gotta get going," said the girl. "I gotta do some homework before supper."
"Oh. Well of course. Work comes first."
The girl began to gather up her equipment.
"I'll be back though," she said. "This was fun."
"Maybe I can give you a hand again," said Stanley. "When will you be back?"
"I don't know," said the girl, shrugging. "Soon, I guess. I can't say."
"Oh," said Stanley. "Oh well, I'll keep an eye out. I'm here almost every day."
"Okay," said the girl. "I'll see you later, then."
"Yeah," said Stanley, "I'll see you later."
Stanley watched as the girl hurried up the bank to the path. He started unsteadily behind her. Suddenly the girl turned back toward him.
"Hey!" she shouted. "I'll bring you a pole."
"That would be great," said Stanley, smiling again. "Then I'll show you some fishing."