He was two-foot tall, happy faced, chubby. He had the gift of gab. He stood at the public boat ramp eating Cheetohs, holding a cheap rod and reel.
The little fella’s first words to me were: “I guess fish hate me.”
Welcome to the club, Tex.
We talked about things. About life. The weather. It doesn’t take long to make fast friends with chubby, chatty kids.
I should know, I was one.
That weekend, his mother bought him a fishing rod, wrapped it in a red ribbon, and left him a note reading: “No more video games. Go fishing today. Love, Mom.”
He rode his bike to the public boat launch and that’s where he met me.
The truth is, there were better teachers. I’m a mediocre fisherman at best. Even so, I did my utmost to show him how to tie knots, how to cast, and how to yank a popping cork hard enough to frighten millions of innocent sea creatures.
He was clumsy. The same as I was during childhood. It took some practice, but underneath all his baby fat was a natural.
He caught a trout. It was his first one. Tiny.
He shouted, “This is the greatest day of my LIFE!!”
And he meant it.
We drank gas-station Coca-Cola and ate potato chips. He did all the talking.
He carried on about fighter jets, rifles, and his runaway father—who left earlier that year. Who never picked up the phone thereafter.
I told him I was sorry.
He shrugged, saying, “Aw, it’s okay, I don’t even care about my old man.”
Before he bid me goodbye he reminded me it was indeed the greatest day of his existence.
That was a lifetime ago.
Yesterday, I wouldn’t have recognized him. He’s a grown-up. He had a toddler with him. She was fidgety. She tried to say my name, but the task proved insurmountable.
He pumped my hand and said, “God, you look old!”
I thanked him for his unsolicited compliment.
He’s an electrician. He’s got three kids. A house. A life. It made me proud.
“I’ve thought about you,” he added. “Do you remember that day I caught that fish?”
I haven’t done much in life, son. But even if I had, I’d never forget that Saturday.
It’s not every day you meet a kid who has so much to say, he runs out of breath mid-sentence. Who reminds you of yourself. Who just wants to feel like somebody’s son once in a while.
It’s not often you see the greatest day of someone’s life.