He is in my fishing spot. A kid. Blonde. Freckles. He is eating Doritos.
The kid fishes with frozen shrimp from a Ziplock bag. His cellphone is beside him, blasting modern country music.
I’ve been fishing this wooded grove since before the earth cooled. And I’ve always called this “my spot” even though it doesn’t belong to me.
The kid is sitting in a dry-rotted plastic lawn chair I placed here years ago. He is sort of smiling, cranking his reel.
The Choctawhatchee Bay has strange powers over boys.
I approach slow. And even though I claimed the exact place where he sits long before Lincoln was sworn in, I ask the boy if he minds letting me fishing next to him.
This is a custom among fishermen. You would never fish next to a fella without asking. Such barbaric behavior would be worse than taking your buddy’s mother to prom.
We shake hands. We introduce ourselves. We talk.
The kid says, “Did you hear they caught a GATOR in this bay?”
This is male conversation at its best. Murderous creatures with jaws big enough to crush average-sized Buicks. Men in boats, wielding heavy artillery.
“It was HUGE,” he adds. “Like sixteen feet, I think.”
“Wow,” I say.
Actually, the gator he is referring to was only twelve-foot long, but who’s counting? The thing was caught months ago, and it was a big deal because gators are not common here.
Though, in my youth I heard plenty of gator stories. I never put stock in any of them.
I once knew an old-timer, for instance, nicknamed “Snoopy,” who claimed he caught an eight-foot gator. I never believed him because Mister Snoopy also claimed he invented the first pay phone.
The kid asks, “You ever seen gators in this bay before?”
“Nope,” I say. “But upshore from here, about twenty years ago, my cousin and I saw an elderly couple skinny dipping in knee-deep water.”
“Really?” he says.
Really. And it gave me vivid nightmares for many years.
Anyway, the kid tells me he found this fishing spot by accident this morning. His house was full of girls because his baby sister had a sleepover last night. It was too much estrogen for one boy to handle.
Then we talk about his family. He’s eleven. He moved here from Atlanta with his mother and her boyfriend. His real dad lives in Houston.
He doesn’t say much about his old man, but I know the look on his young face. It’s the same face I have seen in my own mirror for the last hundred years. He misses his father.
Then, he shows me a photo of a man with several earrings, holding a fish.
“That’s my dad,” he says. “My dad and me caught this fish together in Georgia. I was five back then.”
It was the only time he ever went fishing with his father.
The kid hasn’t seen him in five years. He called his father last month on a whim. It went straight to voicemail. His father didn’t call back. So the kid kept trying and finally got him on the phone. And by a miracle from above, he convinced his father to come to town for a visit.
Thus, his father is going to be here in a few weeks and the kid is excited. It will be the first time in a long time.
The kid is letting his hopes soar. He is anticipating doing things that we fatherless kids dream of doing with our fathers.
Things like: backyard football, building wooden structures with hammers, hearing stories, and of course, fishing.
And while he speaks, I am hoping against hope. I’m hoping this kid’s father is man enough not to disappoint his boy. No. I am doing more than hoping. I am writing about it so that you might hope, too.
All of a sudden, the kid gets a bite. His rod bends. He reels. He tugs. It is only a pinfish, so the kid throws it back. But he’s overjoyed to be fishing here just the same.
“This fishing spot’s awesome!” the kid says. “Maybe I’ll bring my dad here and we’ll fish together, and it’ll kinda be our spot.”
Well. I hope with all my heart that you get your wish, buddy.
Say a few words for Mark today.