Location: Oregon, United States

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Classic Lydia Stories: The Fish that Got Away. Thank God.

I haven't been inspired to write much about the day to day lately. Partially because I can't really talk about work, so that's out, and partially because I'm toast by the end of the day, so writing in general is out. But I miss it, and it's good self care, and I keep thinking that maybe if I write enough it will all start to make sense. Then Thomas showed me "Hyperbole and a Half", a blog that is HILARIOUS, with hand drawn pictures, written by a young woman with a great sense of humor who talks about things in the present and in her childhood. And I got inspired again. But I'm not attempting the pictures.

So, which story first? It has to be the one about:

The Fish that Got Away. Thank God.

When I was little, we used to go to Florida each year to visit my grandmother, Nanny, at her place on the beach near Daytona. My aunts and uncles and cousins from my dad's side of the family would all be there and we would play in the pool, then the ocean, then the beach ALL day long the whole time we were there. Except for a few breaks to walk down the street to 7-11 to get a slushie. Or go into town and play Skee-Ball and pinball at the arcade. But the thing I loved the best besides the beach was to go fishing with my Dad and Nanny. She was the best fisherman of us all even though she was also the kind of grandma that wore shiny gold flip flops and all sorts of diamonds.

One time when I was about 10 or 12, we went for our annual trip to the Indian River to fish. This river empties into the ocean nearby, so when the tide comes in the water mixes with saltwater so you can catch ocean fish without having to go deep see fishing. This was totally cool because the fish were so amazing compared to the ones in Minnesota. The shanty where we usually rented a boat and got our bait had crushed shells that made the pavement crunch under the tires of the car and smelled like fish, heat, and water. We got our boat - a regular fishing boat with an outboard motor - and some shrimp for bait and took off down the narrow river with the mangroves hanging in on either side.

I never knew how dad navigated that river. We were in the Delta, so it fanned out, but there were so many places where the river split that I lost track. Everywhere there were the mangroves on either side, creating an open-air tunnel for us to travel through. We had to watch for manatees so that they wouldn't accidentally come up under our boat and tip us over or get injured by the motor. When we did see them, they were often already scarred by run-ins with other boats and propellers.

We arrived at a spot and fished to our hearts content. At one point, I lost half my shrimp to a smart fish, but decided it was enough to keep using as bait. I lowered the line again and pretty soon after that, I felt a strong, slow pull on the line. This was not cool because it felt like I'd gotten stuck on a log and that is SO EMBARRASSING when your trying to be as cool as the adults in the boat. So I kept quiet about it and tried to work it loose. I reeled it in and it slowly came up. I pulled it in some more and it still came up. I reeled it in again and started working it up. By this time, Nanny noticed something was up and said, "What have you got, a WHALE?" and I said, "Well, I thought I was stuck on the bottom but it keeps on coming up". Which is when my dad noticed.

When someone has a large fish on the line, my dad goes into hyper-over-drive. "Reel in your line, Mother! Hand me that net! Put this over there! Lydia, keep the tip of your pole up! Now bring it around here! Not that way! This way!" It's like he figures we all forgot how to fish and need to follow his orders. So we do, just to keep the peace, because now is NOT the time to be arguing when you have a lunker on the line.

So I kept on reeling it in, and bringing it over to the side of the boat Dad wanted it on, and he was ready with the net and Nanny was out of the way when all of the sudden we saw what I had on the end of the line. And if we were in a Wild West movie in the middle of the desert there would have been that sound track that is like a buzzard seeing it's next meal when the good guy is about to die. But we were in the middle of a Florida river and there wasn't a sound to be heard because there at the end of my line was a SHARK about half as long as the boat we were in. And we all looked at each other with eyes as big as saucers and my dad said real quietly to Nanny, "Hand me that gaff" which she did without a word.

Now in Minnesota, no one carries a gaff around on their boat. It would be like toting a shotgun around in the middle of the suburbs. It just doesn't make sense. But in Florida there is always a gaff on the boat. A gaff is a long metal stick with a large hook on the end that is used to grab or gut a large fish. We had never used one before, but if we had, I would have had a crying hissy fit because it was "so mean". This time I didn't need to ask if there was another option. Even though I clearly had a lunker, it wasn't exactly a keeper and there was no way we were going to use the hemostat to get the hook out of the shark's mouth.

He directed me to bring the shark up to the side of the boat. Strangely, the shark was not thrashing or fighting at all - like I said, I thought I had a log on the end of the line. So I slowly and quietly brought it up to the side. And then I watched as my dad raised the gaff to gut the shark, his lips pressed together in a thin line, hating that this was the only option. But then, with my dad's arm partially raised while we all watched as if it were slow motion, the shark moved ever so slightly like it was coming around, angled it's head and looked my dad in the eye. It was as though he knew all along what we were up to, like he'd played this boring game with us and was oh, so, done, like he was wise and old and teaching us a lesson. He looked at my dad right in the eye, shook a bit... jerked his head.... jumped off the hook... and swam away. And just like that, it was over. My dad stood there in the boat with the gaff in his hand, my grandmother said something like, "Well, I'll be damned..." and I sat dumbstruck, holding on to my rod with the bit of shrimp dangling at the end of my line over the side of the boat thanking God that this fish had gotten away.


Blogger Kristen said...

Okay. THAT's a great story. And well told. You know this already, I hope, but you are an excellent writer, Lydia.
I also just read your post from June. (I'm a little behind, obviously.) Made me cry. I miss you. Let's catch up soon.

7:30 AM  
Blogger ~bethany joy said...

i'm even more behind, just catching up on your stuff. I was looking at some of Marcia's pictures today from our shenanigans around this time last year around! :)
but on topic I really enjoyed this story and it was really really well written! i especially appreciated the description of the smell of the place where you bought the bait and rented the boat.

7:49 PM  

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