In honor of what would have been my beloved father’s ninety-second earthly birthday, I wrote this fish tale based on a treasury of childhood fishing trips. The lessons, laughter, and love shared during those times remain priceless gifts. He loved fishing in creeks, lakes, and rivers, especially with his children, grandchildren, and brothers. Best wishes that he enjoy an eternity of fishing in heavenly waters.
Happy Birthday Frank Thomas Snyder – 8/24/29
“I’ll carry my own tackle box,” she says. “I’m over five and a half and pretty strong.”
“You sure are,” you say to your youngest.
Few clouds ripple across the endless sea of blue sky. A morning breeze whispers sweet secrets to waving spring buds and leaves. The sunshine that warms her head doesn’t cause complaints about sweat like when she jumps rope and plays hide-and-seek. She rarely sees you sweat though, even when it’s a scorcher. Maybe because she never sees you jumping, hiding, or seeking. You play non-sweaty sports like horseshoes, blackjack, and fishing.
She chats the whole five blocks to your fishing spot on the Ohio River. She leaps ahead, hopscotches over sidewalk cracks, and runs figure eights back to see your big smile. You quietly follow, never ignoring her jabbers.
“Are we there yet?” she asks every time. Enthusiasm squelches her patience. “It’s been a zillion blocks.”
“Just one more block,” you answer.
“How much is one plus a zillion?”
“One and a zillion.”
“You’re one and a zillion, daddy.”
You will turn fifty this summer and laugh. “Yep, I’m your zillion year old man.”
“Not an old man, daddy. Special. One and a zillion is a ton of special.”
“Thank you. You’re two and a zillion.”
You pass the bridge and traipse down a grassy hill that she’d rather roll down. Last time, she went too fast and ended up rolling onto the gravel beyond. You tell her you need her help carrying the gear. She obliges and you make it to your spot on the riverbank, free of grass stains and scrapes.
You crouch to see if the grass is still dewy and she flicks the wide brim of your bucket hat.“I like your cap.”
“Do you want to wear it?”
“No thank you. I don’t want to mess up the pigtails mommy made.” She tugs her long braids and says, “Choo Choo!”
“You’re funny too. What’s that joke in our pop-up book again? The one about the fish?”
“What do you call a fish who goes to church?”
“Oh yeah! Holy mackerel. Ha! What’s mackerel?”
“It’s a type of fish. It’s great bait because bigger fish love it. Do you want to bait your hook?”
“Not today, but I’ll pick it for my rod.” She opens the butter bowl and plucks out a nightcrawler. “This one is named Squirmy. Why do worms like butter?”
“Because they don’t like plain toast.”
“Oh, I don’t either. I love buttered toast and butter bread. I’ll have it hot or cold.” She drops the worm into your hands and you hook it.
She casts her line three times before it plops into a lucky spot. She sits cross-legged in the cool grass, waiting for her red and white bobber to go up and down like how Santa does in kids’ chimneys.
After she gets all set up and still, you cast your reel and take a seat next to her. You light your pipe with a match and puff on your Captain Black. Sweet vanilla tobacco rises to swirl around the sun. She opens her tackle box and squishes the rubbery lures. Under her collection of purple sparkly ones, she finds a Dum Dum lollipop. Even though she just had breakfast, scrambled eggs and warm butter bread, the toasted kind, she claims she’s hungry and bites into the lollipop. Mmm. Butterscotch. She is crunching like a puppy on a Milk-Bone biscuit when a hungry fish bites into Squirmy.
She leaps up and tugs her rod. “Here we go!”
“Don’t get excited,” you calmly advise with your favorite line.
“I am excited though!”
“Okay, but don’t scare him. Let’s be quiet.” You know that nibbling fish can’t hear her on the shore. You are just trying to guide her to control herself and be silent when asked to. You stand behind her and whisper, “Get that bad boy.”
She says nothing and pulls. The pole bends a bit. Her little hands meet with some resistance, but she grips her rod and keeps spinning the reel. The glistening catfish surfaces, splashing and flapping while she reels him in. You take it off the hook and hold it in both of your big calloused hands for her. Ever since last spring when a fish flopped out of her cupped palms into the dirt, she refuses to hold one. She doesn’t like dirty fish.
“He’s one and a zillion inches.”
“Well, he is certainly the biggest one you’ve ever caught.”
“Bigger than both of your hands and mine.” She spreads her arms as wide as they’ll stretch.
“Do you want to touch him before we give him back?”
She gently pets it like a hairless newborn kitten. His name is Slimy. Silmy #5.”
“Isn’t he Slimy #6?”
“No, this bad boy is #5 too. The rest that we catch this year will be #5.”
You didn’t question her young logic of repeating fish names. “Good idea.”
“Daddy, he has a funny face. I like his whiskers and big mouth. I hope he liked Squirmy.”
“Squirmy is gone, so he must have. Great job! You caught him on your own.”
“Yesire. We better put him back now, so he can catch up to his family.”
She taps its tail and says, “Go home Slimy #5.” You release him back to his home and she waves goodbye.
You pick up flat stones to skip. Yours bounce and spring. Hers sink, but she doesn’t mind. She prefers watching yours prance in a rock dance recital staged on the river.
Noon nears, and it’s time for home, and like usual, the return causes her to lag behind. She follows you and has just enough zest left to sing something she learned in music class: “Little fish, little fish, I have a wish.”
Having left the grassy seats of the morning, you reach the homefront comfort of your living room. She plunges into her blue bean bag, and you sink into your soft swivel chair. Your silence becomes scores of snores. She naps too, her hand clutching her new skipping stone, just one of the many treasures she found from a day with you, her favorite fisherman.
Memory Eternal – 6/8/06
* Kevin Snyder started fishing with Pap Frank, his father, and his cousins as a kid. He has grown into an avid and talented fisherman, winning numerous awards. His best, so far, is the 2020 trout belt he earned for placing first in The Big Fish Fight Club, Trout Division. His current goal on the water is to catch a 40 lb+ catfish. Sending many catfish wishes!