Sitting back in the restaurant watching the three of you talk was an amazing experience. Once again I saw my dad in a different light. He has so many facets to his life, and I am grateful for being able to see them as they surface.
He is a man of few words, and really doesn’t share much of his life, but with selected few. I am thankful for all the freezing nights in the ice shanty on Torch Lake, where I learned of his jail time in Mexico, and his running away from home when he was a teenager. His teachings of fishing and trapping, and the exposure that he presented to me as I was growing up.
I’m also thankful for his patience and demeanor when we stole some of his old, stinky cigars and climbed around an old boxcar on the tracks behind our home. The same cigars, I have lately come to realize, the Old Man turned him to. The same cigars that were lit by the matches and lighters responsible for a huge circle burned out of the bottom of said boxcar. The same cigars pursed between his lips during our bucket brigade of swamp water tossed on the smoldering embers.
I could go on and on. In fact, one of these days I just might. I might take some time and seriously write about what it was like to grow up with Smokey the Bear. All the hunting, trapping, fishing, canoes, boats, and bobbers. He hopes to go fishing with you soon, and is looking forward to it. His anticipation of Spring might make Winter seem a little longer, but I’ll bet money that it will be just a touch warmer.
Dad was getting a little choked up about the painting.
I can’t express what it meant to him being invited back to the pond. While being shown some of the hundreds of fly containers the old man had accumulated during his life, dad managed to spot the “Stahl Special” out of the second one he looked in. This was the fly that dad tied all the time, and had given a few to the Old Man over the years. It was hung on a shelf along with a few other flies already singled out for display for one reason or another. Dad was able to see all of those things that he’d used with the Old Man at the cabin and it was amazing to see my father relive those days, albeit quietly.
I’d like to talk about my dad’s relationship with the Old Man. Sure, the Old Man signed some of the books he’d written that my dad had, and he’d sign some for my dad’s brother out west. Dad has a couple of notes written with a green felt-tipped marker that the Old Man would send his way about a book he’d signed or something or other. None of the letters were more than 3 or 4 lines long, and he wouldn’t part with them for me to scan. When the Old Man passed away, my dad didn’t attend his funeral. He sent a letter to his wife expressing his condolences. The reason my dad stayed away was because of the reporters and sports writers that inundated the area. Dad wasn’t about that. He didn’t know the Old Man as a famous author, he knew him as a good friend and fellow fisherman. The other stuff wasn’t important to him. My dad wanted to remember him in his own way.
The ride home from Petoskey was quiet. I knew why. I knew where his mind was, and I knew his thoughts would slowly work their way up to the surface and he would talk about it. Which he did. Walking towards the house, he stopped by his truck and grabbed the Michigan Atlas. On the way home I had asked him where the Pond was, knowing full well that it was up to him if he wanted to tell me. Fishermen rarely tell their secrets. He threw open the atlas and was surprised by the map’s identification of the road, the pond and the cabin in honor of the old man.
For awhile he just sat in the chair with his cigar and bourbon, staring into the kitchen floor. The silence interrupted by a musing or something he wanted to say. He’s already mentioned to my mom that we’d all be going up to the campground near the Pond in the Spring. We’ll set the women folk up with a credit card and transportation and he and I would be out at the Old Man’s pond teasing mermaids with a fly.
He thanked me, which wasn’t needed. I told him I should be the one giving thanks…the Testament lives on…
Testament of a Fisherman
I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.
-John Voelker (Robert Traver )