Fall 2006

Cast a Spell


One of my favorite pastimes is fishing, and my husband isn’t about to complain. Often, when his co-workers ask him what his plans are for a particular weekend in the spring, summer, or fall, he’ll say, “The wife and I are going to do us some fishing.” He savors the response: “Your wife likes to fish? Man, you’re lucky.”

I’ll leave it up to Scott to determine how lucky he is overall, but yes. I do enjoy fishing. I’m not sure where my love of fishing comes from, but I have a suspicion. When I was growing up back in eastern Pennsylvania, my mother and father rented a cabin each summer for a week in the Poconos at a state park named, appropriately, Promised Land.

Before one of our week-long vacations to Promised Land back in the mid-eighties, my father decided he was going to teach me and my younger brother to fish. David never developed the passion I did, partly because fishing requires a lot of skill as well as patience, a virtue bestowed on neither of us. He also enjoyed his sleep, and the first time my father tried to waken him at five-thirty in the morning, my father knew my brother was a hopeless cause.

I didn’t enjoy eating doughnuts and sipping coffee in the blue hour of the morning, either, but once I got going, I was all right. My father and I are a lot alike in many ways, but we’re both quiet people until we fully wake up, and we don’t enjoy making polite conversation with anyone while we shake the sleep off of us. We indulged one another for who we were, ate silently, and finally my father would say, “Whelp. Let’s get this show on the road, kid.”

Over the years, our fishing became a ritual. We’d get up, let the rest of the cabin snore, fish for about five hours, and call it a day at about eleven. Sometimes we’d have a good morning full of bluegills, sunnies, and pickerels, while other mornings the fish eluded us. It didn’t matter, really, because part of fishing, at least for me, wasn’t about the fish at all. For five hours each morning, I had my father to myself.

I learned a lot about my father, who is a wonderful verbal storyteller; he’s probably one of the reasons I became a writer. But I learned a lot I didn’t know about the sort of person he is, about the man he is when he’s not being a husband or father.

He’d tell me stories I’d heard many times before: the time he took a bus home from a bar after too many scotches and saw a donkey walk out from behind some shrubbery. He didn’t tell anyone and swore off scotch for a while, at least until he heard that someone in the town actually did have a donkey and it did get loose.

He told me things I’d never heard before: how, at nineteen, he was home alone with his father when his father had yet another heart attack, this one fatal. It was my father who called the doctor, who in turn said there was nothing to be done. And after my nana rushed home from the cigar factory where she worked, it was my father she turned to and said, “You can call the funeral home, now.” My father had never told anyone that story, not even my mother, and I’m not sure why he told me.

Whatever the reason or reasons, I think fishing is one of them. Fishing does that sort of thing to you. When we weren’t talking to each other or reeling in our lines, hopefully with a fish, we were surrounded with beauty: the still lake, a doe and a fawn moving out from behind the brush, the hawks above us, the crackle of the woods behind us and the mystery they held. Sometimes mystery is revealed — you can’t make a fish strike your line. Sometimes mystery remains hidden. And sometimes, if you’re with someone, mysteries reveal themselves from within.

The miles that separate us prevent my father and me from fishing together anymore, and I fish with my husband now. But my father is always with me in spirit, and I carry him with me everywhere Scott and I go. On those slow evenings when the fish aren’t biting and I’m lost in one of my reveries, Scott often asks how I’m holding up. I tell him I’m just fine. I have everything I want. I’m doing what I love with the people I love, because I have my present as well as my past. I carry all of that along with my tackle gear.

I am surrounded with bounty.