He was every old man you’ve ever met. And he wanted to go fishing. Doctors said it was a bad idea, but his son disagreed.
“Doctors don’t know everything,” says his son John. “Daddy wanted to fish, so by God, we took him.”
You should’ve seen it. A sunny day. Four men escorting an old man down the dock. They lowered him into a 14-foot camouflage boat.
The old man held them for support. He mumbled something to them. Nobody understood. The strokes had slowed his mouth down.
The men used ratchet straps to make an improvised seatbelt for him. And away they went.
The old man had been fishing here ever since the invention of red mud.
“Feesing heah wuh mah bess gurl,” the old man said through a contorted mouth.
His daughter translated for her kids: “Granddaddy says he used to fish here with his best girl.”
Granny. His “best girl.” When she was alive, they came here. The old woman loved fishing as much as he did.
The old man wanted a beer. He demonstrated this by reaching for the cooler. His daughter held a can to his mouth. Beer ran down his chin.
“Don’t tell Daddy’s doctor about this,” John said.
The boat was in motion. The motor trolled. The old man was smiling. Familiar feelings were in the air.
“I remember when Daddy took my middle-school boyfriend out here,” his daughter said. “I knew how to bait my own hook, my boyfriend didn’t. Daddy got a kick outta that.”
She also remembers a senior who once came calling on her. He drove a muscle car and wore too much leather. Her father greeted the kid on the porch, polishing his iron.
“Reckon you’d better keep a’driving, son,” her father told the kid.
The old man was something else. He was funny. He was clever. He was the best our land had to offer. A soldier, a salesman, a father, a fisherman. He was among the last of his generation.
He was a caretaker.
They say he sat beside his wife’s bed the morning she passed. He told her, “It’s alright to leave, baby,” right before her final sigh.
“Oh, he loved Mom,” says his son. “When she got sick, he cooked, helped her use the restroom, doctors appointments… It wrecked him.”
Then came his stroke. Then another. And more problems. He went downhill fast. The doctor said he didn’t have long.
Someone’s reel made a sound. A pleasant noise.
“Quick!” shouted John. “Give the rod to Daddy!”
John stood behind his father, holding the liver-spotted hands which once taught him to gut a bass. John did the cranking; the old man got the credit.
“Wee d-d-dugah!” the old man said.
“‘Wee doggie,’” his daughter translated. “Daddy used to say that a lot.”
That day came and went too quick. It seems like an ancient photo now.
“My daddy was the kinda man I wish I could be,” says John. “Getting him out there on the water that day, I just wanted to say, ‘Daddy, look at us, we’re the beautiful family YOU made.’”
Yes. It was a beautiful afternoon, even though a very important woman was missing from the passenger count.
But then, none of that matters now. Because a few days ago, his best girl met him at the gate.
And I’ll bet I know what they’re doing right now.