One morning while murdering fish I said: “Dad, do you remember Newfoundland when I was sick and on the couch downstairs and you came home drunk, smelling of drink and dead tobacco and you wanted me to talk?”
His eyes grew heavy as he chewed his lower lip while baiting another hook.
“You got so mad at me for judging you. You took off a shoe and beat me. Do you remember, Dad?” I whispered that while we sat alone on Lake Monroe in a fog-shrouded mist and I, too, baited another hook, looking at my minnowless hook.
When I looked up there were tears in my eyes reflecting the tears in his. I was, fair to say, a study in standoff and undemonstrative mostly, much like him. And it would irk me no end when that quirkily smiling bride of his used to remark from the time I quit wearing shorts to Sunday School until the week she died “you both are so much alike.” Made me want to puke.
In that quiet, awful moment of moist honesty all I wanted was acknowledgement of memory, seeking neither remorse nor extending expiation: just acknowledgement of that moment. His nod as the barb sank into that baby fish’s left eye and he cast it over the side about four feet deep was all I ever wanted: in that quiet fleeting moment I know I became a bit more human.
And, neither of us ever spoke of that moment again.
But my mother – ever the instigator and the propitiator at once – related a serial tale one Wednesday after I had come to do her monthly (before the exterminator came to spray) big house cleanup and go fish the next day with dad: “Honey,” she said quietly while passing me a fresh-made waffle, “do you ever go fishing with other people or just dad?”
Some times I take a couple of guys out on The Indian River when I’ve got dad’s boat in tow, or take a girl along the upper Saint Johns near Lake Hell-n-Blazes, I seem to recall replying. “But mostly, no. I often go no-fishing by myself over in Titusville – take a rod-n-reel or one of the cane poles and put some split shot on the line below the bobber, but no hook. Just sit on the bank or in a rented boat and drink a beer and read a book. That way the fish are no bother. Most often I just wait until I get home from the newspaper midweek and since Dad retired from Disney we go murder fish Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Why do you ask?”
She smirked. “You know Shirley’s husband Ralph goes fishing – ” I interrupted: “Yeah. From 9 a.m. to noon and then the silly bugger goes to Mayfair Country Club for ‘golf.'” But she never missed a beat: “well, I asked him why not and he said…” And I interrupted again: “I’ll wait for J.” Her high laugh reminded me of an earlier ask of hers about my fishing habits to which I replied: “I’ll wait for Dad,” instead of her suggestion that I ask one of their neighbors to go fishing.
Well, damn. So she got the admission of alikeness after all. But I never, not ever, raised a shoe at anybody.