Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

October 24th, 2004

I Fish With Ghosts

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

This year my dad, if still alive, would be a century old. The story I'm about to tell may raise a few eyebrows. I will say the same words to you as Mr. Ripply said, "Believe it or not."

A man of morals, integrity and a sense of honesty that was projected by a handshake and his word, and the most important ingredient was his common sense and his heart, a heart he couldn't hide from me.

He could be quite crusty at times, answering my youthful questions with a grunt or a "one-liner." I didn't understand some of those one-liners until I grew older, and somehow they would slap me in the face as I repeated his same answers to myself years later as I faced the same predicaments. You see, he was a master carpenter; there wasn't anything he couldn't do with a piece of wood, a few nails and a large hammer. I can't put two pieces of wood together without making a mess. I remember I used to nail down decking to trusses as a kid. He would be on the ground cutting the one-by-twelves to the perfect length. I would miss more times than I hit and sooner than later I would hear his voice from downstairs yell out, "You lookin' where you hittin', or hittin' where you lookin?" I would start to giggle, making me miss the eight-penny nail even more. Every time I miss a nail, I hear him clearly. Even Linda gets behind a hammer once in a while, and when she misses the nail a few times, she just looks up and says, "Don't say it!" But I do anyway.

I remember helping him put up solid walnut paneling in a house. The old lady that owned the home was pretty well off, and had hired my dad to install it. The paneling was over fifty bucks a sheet, and that was back in the mid sixties. I watched in amazement as he nailed the paneling to the wall with little brads and a twenty-two ounce framing hammer. He would leave the nails sticking up a sixteenth of an inch and my job was to set the nails and cover them with a new-fangled colored putty. I was scared to death I would leave a hammer track in the expensive, dark wood. He never missed. So, I asked, "How come you never leave a hammer track in that wood?" He didn't answer for a while and I thought maybe I had asked a question too dumb to be answered. In a bit, never looking up, he just said, "'Cause you ain't supposed to." What other answer would have suited the question better? Every time I leave the imprint of a hammer's head in a piece of wood, he taps me on the shoulder.

I was around ten years old, and one Christmas morning we had just finished eating breakfast. Mom was in the house finishing up the dishes and Dad and I were sitting outside on the old glider behind our enormous hedge that surrounded the front yard. An old black man appeared from nowhere and asked my dad if he could bother us for a cold, glass of water. He wore worn clothes and had humbleness in his voice; a sojourner that appeared on this special holiday. Dad had always told me never to turn away anyone who appeared hungry.

My mother's name was Mariah, spelled Maria. Dad always called her "Riar."

He asked the old man when was the last time he had eaten. The only reply from the stranger was, "I don't won't to trouble y'all none."

"You didn't answer my question." My dad's tone of voice was the same as if he had been speaking to me.

"Riar!" My mom appeared at the front, screen door. "Any of those grits left? Fix him something to eat." A platter soon arrived heaped with biscuits, eggs, ham and grits. The old man bowed his head and said grace, then wolfed the food as if he had never eaten before. Before the old man left us that crisp, Christmas morning, Dad emptied a hard candy bag in his old, tattered coat pocket. He thanked us and again, apologized for interrupting our morning. My father never mentioned it again. No need to, I had learned a valuable lesson, again.

I tell of these few stories to let you in on what kind of a man he was. Here's "eyebrow raising" part.

He was clairvoyant. He never called it that; he only said it was a gift. He could find me whenever he wanted me, no matter where I was at any given time, even though I never told him exactly where I would be. He could do the same with Mom, and I could do the same with either one of them. I could "see" them. Mom didn't seem to have this "gift" and it irritated her somewhat, I think.

He often spoke of guardians that watched over us, and would guide us through dangers unseen. We had a friend of mine that stayed at our home for several months, and one night I told Tommy of my dad's reference to these guides, and the "gift" of being able to "see." Tommy, of course, told me I was full of it and totally dismissed what I had told him. The next morning, at breakfast, my dad looked up at me, without knowledge of what Tommy and I had discussed and said, "Some will believe you, some won't. Just know that you have this gift." His words scared the hell out of Tommy, and he was convinced I had ratted him out to my dad.

In 1973, Dad left this Earth.

Several years ago, my best friend Jim Wilson and I had traveled down to Stuart, Florida for a long weekend of offshore fishing. Jim brought his motor home and we had a place reserved at a local County park on the water.

One very early morning, I awoke at exactly 3:05 am. My boat was anchored just off the beach and the stern was tied to the front bumper of the camper. I was sleeping on the dining table that made into a bed. It was raised high enough so that I had an unobstructed view of the boat sitting in perfectly still water. What I saw jarred me out of a deep sleep. A man dressed in dark pants, a light jacket and a ball hat was walking around in my boat lifting hatches and looking all around the cockpit. I shook my head, looked at my watch, and shook my head again, basically doing a reality check on my senses. I looked out again…he was still there.

I looked to the rear of the motor home where I could see Jim's feet sticking out from under the covers on his bed. "Jim, are you awake?" Jim answered that he was and I explained that someone was in the boat. Jim asked if I had my pistol, and we exploded out of the camper to apprehend the rather large man that was in the boat. No one was there. I apologized for waking everyone and I lay in my bunk the rest of the early morning, watching for the man to return.

Monday morning, Jim and I got together to divvy up the bills over lunch. The "sighting" still bothered me. I again apologized for being the idiot that woke everyone, when Jim looked up at me and simply said, "I saw him too." Jim went on to ask me if I knew who it was. I knew, but thought he would think I was nuts if I admitted to my thoughts. Before I could answer, Jim just says, "It's your Old Man. I always have to walk around him every time we go offshore. You've never seen me sidestep him?"

Tears welled in my eyes, and now I could confirm what and who I had seen that very, early morning. I knew it was him when I first saw him. But one doesn't admit to those things. I do now.

A couple of gals bought the house three doors down from our home on the lake. I fly-fish for bluegills and bass right behind their place in waist-deep water. They are from Philadelphia, and I rag on them from time to time for being "city girls" and need to get out in the lake and let me teach them to fly-fish.

During the past hurricanes, their home was extensively damaged and I went down to see if they needed anything, and Nancy and I began talking about my Florida native background and why the lake doesn't scare me. She went on to speak of her dad that had just recently passed on and how much he loved to fish. Nancy began to tear up and said she sometimes sits on their patio and can see her dad right there with me fishing along 'side. Before she was finished we were both in tears as she spoke of her dad and I spoke of mine. "Nancy, he's more than welcome to fish with me any time he wishes, Terry, Steve and my dad do." I explained to her what I was speaking of.

A few months ago, Linda and I sat on the screened-in back porch overlooking the lake behind the house. She went to say something, and then hesitated, then went on to tell me that a few nights prior, she had been sitting out there, unable to sleep. While sitting in the dark, she could see the lake from the reflection of lights from the street, then suddenly a shadow of a man, half walking and half running appeared, he stopped instantly, seeming to sense she was there. He looked in her direction, and then was gone as quickly as he had appeared. I smiled and asked her if she knew who it was. She just nodded and asked me, "You know who it was, don't you?"

"He's come to check out the new house. After all, he was a homebuilder."

I've lost a few good friends over the years, so have you. Their spirits still linger, and I believe this to be true. I've seen them. So, here are my simple thoughts on this.

You are welcome to believe me, or not.

Nancy's dad, my dad, Steve, Terry, and Leon Chandler; welcome aboard. It may get crowded once in a while, and I may appear to be speaking to myself. But am I? I fish with ghosts...

See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.


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