FISHING WITH GRANDPA
During most of my growing up years he was always just Grandpa. He was my mother's father, and as a kid I always thought of him as an old man when in fact he was only in his early 50's when I was born. Grandpa had a rather stern demeanor but a heart of gold. Grandpa was a farmer; a dairy farmer to be exact, a man whose life revolved around milking twice each day, putting up hay in the summer and feeding it to the cows in the winter. He was a man of the soil, a down-to-earth, no-nonsense man who knew and understood what was practical and what was simply hype, and he had little use for the latter.
Grandpa appreciated good tools and he was a stickler when it came to their use and care. Tools were to be used for the purpose for which they were intended, they were to be cleaned when you were done using them and they were to be returned to their proper place. You didn't use the blade of a pocket knife as a tool for prying; it was a cutting tool not a pry bar. When you used a shovel you cleaned all the dirt off the blade before you hung it back up in the shed. If you left the dirt on it the blade would rust. When he finished using the plow or the disk he would clean them just like he did the blade on a shovel. Grandpa always bought quality tools and then he took care of them. "They cost money, you know," he would say. "Take care of them and you won't have to spend any more of it to buy a new one."
Grandpa and Grandma lived on a farm that his parents had basically hacked out of the wilderness. They lived in the old farm house that his father had built, and except for such modern conveniences as running water and electricity it was basically unchanged from the original structure. A large front porch swept across the front of the house, shielded from the heat of the summer sun with a generous roof and a large honeysuckle vine that covered the south end. More imposing than the house was the hip-roofed stone barn that stood behind the house. Fifty cows could fit comfortably in the stanchions that lined the bottom floor of the barn, and the expansive hay loft easily contained a winter's supply of hay. Two concrete silos stood at one end of the barn, and at the end of the summer would be filled with corn silage. It was all neat and tidy, well-ordered as was everything that Grandpa did.
My grandparents lived a well-ordered life. Theirs was a routine that never varied, set somewhat by the seasons, but within those confines there was an orderliness that never varied and never got old. Sunday was the Lord's Day and except for the milking chores it was a day for worshipping the Lord at the local church. The afternoon was spent doing something with family; picnics, a drive in the country, or perhaps a nap sitting on the swing on the front porch. Every day they were up before the sun with Grandpa off to the barn while Grandma busied herself in the kitchen preparing the morning meal. Breakfast was eaten at 7 a.m. sharp and then Grandpa was back outside. The noon meal was taken right at noon and supper was served at 7 p.m. after Grandpa finished the evening milking. There were normally a few chores to finish after dinner but the lights were always out by 9:30. On Saturday they would go to town. Grandma would do her shopping and Grandpa would visit the feed store and perhaps the local hardware store. They were always home for the noon meal.
Grandpa had four affections; Jesus, Grandma, farming and fly fishing. Grandpa had a hired man and he mostly helped with the milking, and on summer evenings Grandpa would occasionally leave the hired man to finish up the milking and he would slip away for a couple hours fishing before it got dark. There was a big creek that ran through the pasture and Grandpa kept it fenced off from the cows except for a couple places where they could drink. Grandpa had built a couple low dams, copied after ones that he read about in a book on stream improvements, and they formed some beautiful pools and provided cover for the brown trout and the occasional brook trout that occupied this stream. He had placed some big rocks in a couple places to provide cover and allowed the streamside vegetation to grow up to provide shade. The stream meandered for about 3 miles through the pasture and it provided some of the best trout fishing in the county.
Grandpa would take me along occasionally when he went fly fishing. In those early years I wasn't much interested in fishing, but I had a great fascination with the skipping rocks and chasing frogs. Grandpa would fish until dark and when we arrived back home I would be wet and covered with mud and Grandma would stick me in a hot bathtub and then tuck me in bed.
"How do you get so wet and dirty?" Grandma would ask. Grandpa would just smile.
"He's just a boy Mother," he would say. "Dirt's what makes him grow."
I guess Grandpa knew what he was talking about because those early years flew by and I grew into a young man. When Grandpa would go fishing I still accompanied him, first with an old bait casting rod that I found in the hall closet. I would procure an old tin can and fill it with worms from Grandma's compost heap, and Grandpa and I would go fishing that evening. I'd stake out a deep pool drowning worms in the deeper water and Grandpa would slip away upstream or down with his fly rod. In those days I was a fish killer and I would fill a stringer whenever I had an opportunity. Grandpa never killed any fish, but he never told me not to. He showed me how to clean them and Grandma cooked them without complaint.
Grandpa only had one fly rod, a fine Leonard bamboo rod complete with a Hardy Lightweight reel. He kept his flies in two large double Wheatley fly boxes that had compartments with little transparent covers that snapped closed over each one. He had a pair of canvas hip boots that he wore occasionally but normally he just wore his calf length rubber haying boots when he went fishing. He wore a heavy cotton shirt that had two large pockets on the front that held his fly boxes and two smaller pockets that held the other miscellaneous items that were necessary for an evening on the stream. He tied his own flies during the winter months when there were fewer chores to occupy his time.
When I was thirteen Grandpa gave me a fly rod, reel and a box of flies for Christmas. He told me that come spring he would teach me how to cast. The following 4 months were the longest ever, but in late April I was standing at my Grandpa's side learning how to make the fly rod work. "Remember" he said "it's a tool. Let it do the work and don't try to make it do what it was not intended to do."
He taught me how to string the rod, how to attach the leader to the fly line and the tippet to the fly. He taught me how to roll cast in tight places, which were plentiful on the creek in the pasture. He showed me how to set the hook and how to get the line on the reel when fighting a fish. He showed me how to land a fish with just your hands and how to revive and release them. He taught me to get close and cast accurately. He taught me to look first and cast later. He taught me all I needed to know about how to fish with a fly rod but the most important lessons he taught me had little to do with fishing.
Grandpa's greatest gift to me was what he taught me about life and about what's important and what's not. The fly rod and that he gave me when I was thirteen I gave to my son when he was old enough to learn to use it, and except for a new fly line it was just like it was when I received it. My son still has that rod and he intends to give it to his son when he grows up. Whenever I think about that I can hear my Grandpa saying, "They cost money, you know," he would say. "Take care of them and you won't have to spend any more of it to buy a new one."
He taught me the importance of a good day's work, the importance of faith in something bigger than myself, and the contentment to be found in a well-ordered life. He taught me to appreciate what I had and to give thanks for each day that God granted to me.
Tonight I took out his old Leonard bamboo fly rod and the Hardy Lightweight reel. I put the two Wheatley fly boxes in my vest and walked down across the pasture to the creek. I waded into one of the pools that he had constructed, wearing a pair of calf-high haying boots, and watched for a few moments before selecting a fly. When a butter-colored brown rose out of the depths and inhaled my offering I knew that I was still fishing with Grandpa.