Out of the Mouths of Fishermen

I am walking in the woods. I am going to a place where I have fished for a lifetime. I used to call this spot my “Honey Hole.” It’s a secluded place on the bay where live oaks drape over the water and the crushed beer cans are plentiful. I love it here.

I have made many important decisions at the Honey Hole. This was where I decided to apply for college. This was where I cried when a girl broke my heart. This was where I officially gathered my courage before asking Jamie Martin to marry me.

When I was sad, I would visit this shore and somehow feel hopeful again. Hope can be a fleeting thing. Trying to recapture it is like trying to catch a gnat with a pair of Barbie tweezers.

As a young man, I would sit on an overturned five-gallon bucket, holding a rod, listening to the sound of my spinning reel, and shutting off my brain.

The reason I am at the Honey Hole today is because I need to clear my head. I need to think. The world has turned into a troubled place and it’s been hard on everyone.

Since the novel coronavirus hit, depression rates have skyrocketed. Crisis centers are reporting a 40% leap in the number of those looking for help. Substance abuse is on a meteoric rise. And 4 in 10 Americans admit that fear due to the pandemic has wrecked their mental health.

I’m trying to take care of mine today.

I stop walking. I can see someone is already at the Honey Hole. I hear voices in the woods. Childish voices. When I get closer I see two boys sitting on five-gallon buckets. They don’t see me.

One boy has white-blonde hair, the other is Latino, with dark cocoa skin. They sit side-by-side, holding fishing rods.

I hear their little voices reverberating across the water, happy and strong. The last thing I want to do is interrupt them. It’s not polite to interrupt a man when he’s fishing. So I listen to their conversation:

“What time we gotta go home?”

“Four. My mom makes me help with dinner.”

“My mom gets mad when I’m in the kitchen, and she’s like, ‘Quit eating all the dang pickles!’”

“My mom lets me cut stuff with a knife sometimes. You wanna come over for dinner?”

“I have to ask my dad.”

“We’re having chicken. Mom doesn’t know how to make anything but chicken.”

Boyhood is beautiful. The lull of their gentle conversation is one that’s familiar to my ears. I remember the cadence of childhood. I haven’t forgotten its language. I could probably even participate in their conversation if they gave me the chance. But I never get the chance anymore.

I don’t know how it happened. One day I was reading Superman comics; the next day I had lines around my eyes and osteoarthritis around L5 and S1.

When people get older we don’t get all jazzed up about little things like we used to. Grown-ups talk about mortgages, headlines, and how complicated it is going grocery shopping during a pandemic.

But I remember earlier days. I remember passing idle hours discussing the intricacies of my mother’s meatloaf, my disgust for red cabbage, and the veritable hell that is congealed salad.

The boys’ laughter is so loud it’s probably scaring the fish. I am about to walk away to give them privacy, but something inside me is moved, seeing them shoulder-to-shoulder. A white kid and a dark-skinned kid. They are happy. They are cheerful. And they are sharing. I needed to see this.

Last night, I turned on the TV to see sadness on every channel. So I switched to international channels. I was hoping to see a British mystery, or a period drama, or at the very least a cooking show. But there were riots on those channels.

The two boys are sharing a bag of Cheetos.

The blonde kid reaches into the bag, removes a handful, eats it, then licks his palms. The other kid reaches into the bag and does the same. They keep doing this: eating, licking, eating, licking, etc. It’s pretty gross.

But it makes me smile. Because I finally realize what I am seeing here. I am seeing you and me. I am seeing the best parts of us in kid-form. I’m seeing something that is nothing short of profound.

Behold, one of the sacred children speaks:

“Do fish go poop?”

“Of COURSE they do.”

“But fish don’t have butts.”

“Yes they do. Everything has a butt, even ladybugs got’em.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Fish butt.”

“FISH BUTT!”

One kid burps.

They eat more chips.

I decide to leave them alone, but my feet rustle in the underbrush. The boys stop their conversation and look right at me.

Immediately, I feel bad for ruining their insightful conversation about aquatic anatomy. I shouldn’t have eavesdropped.

The boys wave. They say hello. They are polite. Someone has taught them very good manners. However, if they offer me any chips I will respectfully decline.

“Did you catch anything today?” I ask.

One kid frowns. “No.”

“Not yet,” says the Latino child. “But I’m about to catch something.”

His friend shoves him. “You always say that.”

The kid smiles. He becomes half child, half messenger, though he is unaware of this.

He says, “Hey, you can’t give up when it gets hard.”

And somewhere deep in my heart, I know that child was talking to me.

38 comments

  1. Lori Klein - June 6, 2020 6:50 am

    Dude: You made me cry in my CPAP mask! I oughta know better than to read your column in bed.

    Thank you Sean. I needed encouragement today too. Thanks for being a messenger.

    Reply
  2. Leslie in NC - June 6, 2020 7:37 am

    At 66, I’m feeling the effects of aging, both physically and mentally, but I’ll always carry my fond memories of the simpler times of childhood tucked safely away in my heart. I still have a young girl inside me who yearns to come out and play!

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - June 6, 2020 8:15 am

    Sean, I read somerhing the other day. Sometimes the storms in life are just there to wash you clean & ready for the party. Thsnks for the reminder that listening to children is:s gift!

    Reply
  4. Toni - June 6, 2020 8:45 am

    Very happy and wonderful story. Thank you. I can feel the joy in my heart and the tension behind my neck loosening. I visited a friend I have known for a long time. I was happy because our small regional city in an island south of Australia has been planning a beautiful project in this city which is going to make many people more comfortable and feeling better about the future.

    Then we began to talk about sadder events in our country and other countries we both love and have visited. This is why I had all the tension and sad heart. So Bless you all and thank you again, Sean.

    Reply
  5. Mary Hall - June 6, 2020 9:15 am

    Thank you for this! Especially today, I’m going to focus on the “good” in people! I try to do that everyday, but the world is screaming other things at me! So today and moving forward, I’m going to focus on the good and when I remember “fish butt”, I’ll smile!

    Reply
  6. Sue Rhodus - June 6, 2020 11:01 am

    I went to my old home place this week. Some 60 + years ago my father attached a metal eagle to the front of the garage. The eagle was still there. I removed it..I had permission. I guess in hard times we regress to better days. It does clear the mind and brings simpler times to the surface.

    Reply
  7. Robert M Brenner - June 6, 2020 11:20 am

    Sean, your life must be “very special”, anybody that sees what you seem to see daily has been blessed! Thanks for sharing your life with your readers…Bob

    P.S. Of course fish poop! I mean what’s that saying about whale poop? 😂

    Reply
  8. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 6, 2020 11:52 am

    That little boy was speaking to the whole world, even though he didn’t know it. If you ever see him again, thank him for me.

    Reply
  9. Neill Morgan - June 6, 2020 12:06 pm

    Thanks, Sean. That hopeful attitude of a child with a fishing rod will help get me through the day.

    Reply
  10. Trilby Devine - June 6, 2020 12:35 pm

    Thank you Sean! I needed that.

    Reply
  11. Keloth Anne - June 6, 2020 12:45 pm

    Thank you for finding the good in life (lately it seems difficult (quarantined with tv 😷). Children could teach the world so much about goodness, kindness and acceptance.
    You mentioned how quickly you went from comics to lines around the eyes 🤔
    I often say— I went to bed at 25 and woke up on Medicare🥺— but my days in quarantine aren’t passing as quickly. Hang in there, stay healthy and know you and Jamie are loved and appreciated ♥️

    Reply
  12. Fran - June 6, 2020 12:50 pm

    Just beautiful to read. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  13. Margaret - June 6, 2020 12:51 pm

    Sean, God knew exactly what you needed…and He provided it for you, as He does for all of us, if we let Him. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Stephanie - June 6, 2020 12:55 pm

    This is so beautiful. We all need to find our childhood fishing spot and go there with our buddies.

    Reply
  15. Berryman Mary M - June 6, 2020 12:58 pm

    Out of the mouths of babes, Sean.

    Reply
  16. Sharlene Leker - June 6, 2020 1:22 pm

    I recently started following your blog. I love your storytelling and look forward t every post. Thank you for sharing. Today’s story is beautifully written and so appropriate for today. Always a nugget of inspiration.

    Reply
  17. Earl Williams - June 6, 2020 1:26 pm

    thanks Sean..🙋🏼‍♂️♥️

    Reply
  18. johnallenberry, Ph.Dude - June 6, 2020 1:31 pm

    Thank you for this. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jan - June 6, 2020 1:35 pm

    I needed that message today. We need that message today. The world needs that message today! Thank you, Sean. I am crying now but this is so beautiful …

    Reply
  20. Deborah Blount - June 6, 2020 2:10 pm

    This was a perfect account of how we should all live our lives. But as we grow older and ‘mature’ we loose what God gave us to start our lives out. The innocence of childhood. Maybe we should each reach deep inside ourselves during these horrendous times and find that innocence once again. We might find ourselves actually accomplishing good things that could improve all our lives.

    Reply
  21. Elaine Dempsey - June 6, 2020 2:18 pm

    Sean….a beautiful story. I needed to read this today! Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Linda clifton - June 6, 2020 2:59 pm

    Beautiful ! ❤️🙏

    Reply
  23. Sandy Benson - June 6, 2020 3:52 pm

    Love this, Sean!

    Reply
  24. Greg - June 6, 2020 4:01 pm

    Sean , he WAS talking to you. I am glad you were present , awake and attentive enough to truly hear his message.

    Thank you for sharing your gift.

    Reply
  25. Dana Qualls - June 6, 2020 4:14 pm

    I love this! Thank you. Jesus said we all must become like little children. This is the reason why. Thank you for writing. You brighten my days with your stories.

    Reply
  26. Patricia Gibson - June 6, 2020 4:16 pm

    Amen Sean and thanks for the reminder. Kids are amazing teachers if we listen.

    Reply
  27. Heather - June 6, 2020 4:34 pm

    Thank you for always spreading joy, hope & love! Your stories always make me smile. You are loved!

    Reply
  28. cekey44 - June 6, 2020 5:05 pm

    I believe we are all born to love each other and the adults teach hate. Thanks for your great observations of humanity mm

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - June 6, 2020 5:29 pm

    I can picture those live oaks of the Honey Hole. I love draping live oaks. The cadence of my girlhood was gorgeous.
    Grownups who get the gift of growing older can still get jazzed up. I do! Two other gifts were, and still are, my children. Those two blonde kids were often shoulder-to-shoulder with dark-skinned kids who were their friends. FRIENDS — at birthday parties, swimming pools, and baseball. And I, this former child, am talking to you, Sean. Keep clearing your head. Keep writing. We need your insightful words, Messenger. MESSENGER.

    Reply
  30. Marc Beaver - June 6, 2020 8:46 pm

    Exactly! Exactly!

    Reply
  31. Ann - June 6, 2020 9:11 pm

    Talk about timing….Sean, I don’t know how you do it…but this column calmed me down and feel some peace…..the honesty of children….if only we ALL could see and learn…or recall….this is a true prize..❤️❤️

    Reply
  32. Brenda - June 6, 2020 11:34 pm

    Sean thank you for sharing your great experience with those two children. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the beautiful hiking that I enjoyed in Pennsylvania for so many years, my special places like yours, that gave me peace. Remembering how special it was when we were younger and we had no worries other then picking beautiful wildflowers or do fish have butts! LOL Those 2 young boys give us hope for a better tomorrow. Thank you for sharing 🤗

    Reply
  33. Melanie - June 7, 2020 3:55 am

    There is far more beauty in this world than we ever take the time to appreciate. Turn off the intentionally incessantly negative media streams. Look at the pictures from the Hubble telescope. Lay in the grass and watch the clouds. Read or even write a great adventure story. I’m half deep Alabama Baptist and half New England Yankee and if ever there was a more cheerless combination I’ve yet to find it. So I try to appreciate anything I can that is around me. Take nothing for granted. We have been blessed with unlimited, miraculous beauty if only we’d open our eyes and notice.

    Reply
  34. Joy T Lane - June 7, 2020 5:59 am

    This was a nice story to read today. I am feeling a little down. This made me smile.

    Reply
  35. Paige Byrne - June 7, 2020 12:14 pm

    Hi Sean,

    In a few weeks, my narrative painting class will start and this story inspired me. Would that be ok and would you have a picture of Honey Hole? I could use other resources for the boys. Thank you for considering! Paige

    Reply
  36. Sonja Allen - June 9, 2020 1:03 am

    I thought I had read all of your stories this week past week, but I guess I left this one out. Oh, the perfect timing! I am beyond words about what has been going on….and that seems to have gotten me in trouble…being silent. I don’t mean to be…I’m just at a loss for the appropriate words. Yours seem to have touched a deep inner circle of my heart. Thank you for your heart strings, Sean. They always seems to ring true to my heart & many others. You are loved, Sir!

    Reply
  37. Deb McLaughlin - July 15, 2020 2:09 pm

    Honestly, Sean, I never teared up until the very last line and then I sobbed. And I wonder if you realize just what a talent you have. Thanks for sharing your writing with the world. And many people will say, “Thanks. I needed that.”, and walk away with a smile where there was nothing much to smile about before.

    Reply
  38. Katy - July 16, 2020 12:54 am

    🥰 Sean, sure sounds like you found a couple of boys named Opie Taylor fishing by the bay! 🥰

    Reply

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