Even though ten years have passed, I remember
the phone ringing as if it were yesterday,
and the cycle of events that followed.
It was my friend Peter. "Nicholas can you do
me a favor? My best friends son David is coming
from Ontario to visit him. He is only twelve — he
has leukemia and has gone through several rounds
Peter told me that David had phoned his Father
asking him if he knew anyone who could teach
him how to fly-fish. Like many young kids he
had watched fishing shows on television, and
had gone spin fishing with his step-dad most
weekends, but what he really wanted to do was
to fly-fish. His Dad, knowing no fly-fishers,
phoned my friend; who knowing my love of
fly-fishing asked me if it was possible for me
to take some time of from my schedule.
Of course - I said yes.
I went into the living room and was discussing
this turn of events with my wife and daughter,
when the phone rang – it was the high soprano
of a young boy almost breathless with excitement.
"Hi! I'm David, and my Dad just phoned to tell
me that you are going to take me fly-fishing!"
We talked for over an hour, as he told me about
fishing for walleye, and perch, and pike. In that
hour, my half of the conversation was a mix of -
"uh huh – yup - I never caught one that big!" -
I could tell right away, that the fishing part
would be easy.
Several weeks later the phone rang, and the now
familiar voice announced his arrival on the West
Coast. We arranged to meet when he came to Saltspring,
and I met David and his Dad at Peters house. My
immediate impression was one of just another kid,
but it was early September and a toque, (to cover
his bald head ), and the pale translucence of his
skin, were obvious signs that something was wrong
with this little boy. The two of us went for a walk,
and I was barraged with question after question about
fly-fishing. David had the boundless energy and
enthusiasm of the young; blessed with a quirky
smile and a politeness that spoke of good parenting.
Back at the house the atmosphere was a little strained,
as everyone was overcompensating in their cheerfulness,
so David and I changed the subject to fishing stories,
(I'm good at this part, just ask my wife). Between
the two of us we soon had everyone laughing and
relaxed, and over supper we arranged our itinerary.
His Father had to clean up his business affairs, so
it was going to be just the two of us for a week
of camping and fishing.
The first order of business was losing
Davids toque, so when I arrived home I put
my old fishing hat, (the one covered in
fishing flies and pins from my years of
fishing adventures) into the washing machine
using hot water, and then into the drier to
shrink it. Next I found my old aviator
sunglasses from my Indiana Jones period. It
was my daughter, constantly laughing at me
that convinced me that no matter how I tried,
I would never look like Harrison Ford. I stashed
my fly-fishing tackle and camping gear in the
car, and I was ready.
The sunglasses and the hat were an immediate
hit with David. He put them on and off we went.
With some kids the art of casting can be very
difficult to teach, but David was a natural.
It didn't take him long to learn to throw a
decent line. Fortunately it was September and
the creeks and rivers were low, so short casts
with mostly dry flies brought enough fish to
the net to satisfy us both. We camped and fished,
cooking the odd one up at night over our campfire,
and never once talked of his illness. I think he
had had enough of being "the patient, and if he
didn't want to talk about his rounds of chemo,
and his (at times) obvious pain, then neither
would I. Sometimes he got tired, so being an
old guy I would collapse at the edge of the
creek complaining that he was wearing me out.
We talked long after dark about life and
girls - and of course fishing, and first I,
and then we, tied flies. Looking back I can
say it was one of the best weeks of my life.
I am blessed with a lovely daughter. But for
that week, I felt I had a son...Too soon it
was over, and back we went to the real world.
I didn't see him much after we got home, as
his Father having sorted out his affairs spent
all of his time with him. A couple of times we
went lake fishing. David and I, and my daughter,
and the two of them being close to the same age
got along famously. But too soon his holiday with
his Dad was over, and he had to go home, to submit
to the rounds of constant blood tests and anxiety.
On the day he was leaving, both father and son came
by to say goodbye, and I hugged David close,
promising that next year we would go for an even
a longer holiday. I insisted he keep my hat and
aviator glasses, and I presented him with a handmade
wooden fly box, full of flies I had tied. We promised
to keep in touch...and then he went home.
Over the next few months we did keep in touch,
through phone calls and email. He sent me a
letter containing a picture of him fishing in
Florida in my old fishing hat, minus the shades,
as he had sat on them. He sent me a package of
flies he had tied, and he was getting pretty
good. He was in remission - but it was not to
His Mom phoned me the day he passed away to
tell me how much David had enjoyed our time
together. How much — just going fishing had
meant to him. She asked me if I wanted my
old fishing hat and flies back - I declined -
told her to find a good home for them. My
British reserve didn't help much - we both cried.
Peter went out for the funeral, and dropped
by on his way home. He told me how beautiful
and touching the service was, and how the
church overflowed with friends and family.
He told me that the casket was covered in
flowers. In the middle of the casket - was
an old fishing hat - and a box of flies.
He told me that the hat and flies were buried
I'm just a regular guy who goes fishing, just
like all of you. Sometimes, we are given a
chance to do something special, not even really
realizing it at the time. My time with David
haunts me; in a positive way. I don't tell this
tale around the campfire at the end of a days
fishing, even with my closest fishing friends.
I don't have the right words to express how I
feel about it, and even the writing down of the
'facts' I have found very difficult. What I can
say, is that my time with this little boy was a
defining moment in my life - a moment I treasure.