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posted: 8/19/2014 1:06 PM

A day of fishing rekindles childhood memories

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  • Two dads and two young boys fishing in Naperville's May Watts Park sparked all sorts of fond memories for our Stephanie Penick.

    Two dads and two young boys fishing in Naperville's May Watts Park sparked all sorts of fond memories for our Stephanie Penick.
    Courtesy of Stephanie Penick

  • A summer day of fishing reminded our Stephanie Penick of her childhood.

    A summer day of fishing reminded our Stephanie Penick of her childhood.
    Courtesy of Stephanie Penick


I'm surprised every day at what triggers flashbacks to fun times and lessons learned.

For instance, while crunching along the limestone trail in May Watts Park one recent Sunday afternoon, I was lured to joyful noises just beyond the footbridge.

Two dads and two young boys were fishing. The youngsters were receiving tried-and-true instructions about keeping their eyes on the bobber and tugging on the line just right for the bite while they practiced catch and release.

As I started across the footbridge, I couldn't resist adding my two cents to their conversation, reminiscing that our two sons had enjoyed fishing in that same pond as far back as 20 years ago.

Tep and Jeff kept their tackle box near their fishing poles in one corner of the garage. Along with a bunch of neighborhood buddies, they'd spend hours testing bait -- worms, grubs, canned corn.

As I stood on the bridge that Sunday, I watched fish nibble on the kids' bait-covered hooks. I asked to take a few photos.

Small bluegill and sunfish were biting big time.

When the youngster in the floppy sun hat cast his line way out into the pond, my mind flew back more than 50 years to the accomplished angler who'd lived across the street when I was a kid.

Charlie Kirchen fished often. He even took fishing trips to national parks and had slideshows in carousels to prove it.

One evening he arranged to take me and my younger brother, Jim, to the old quarry for our first fishing lesson. The fish were biting that day, too. We came home with a half -dozen "keepers" about the size of my hand.

We were eager to show my parents our first catch, strung on a string in a bucket of quarry water. I recall they were outside talking with other neighbors when we drove into the driveway that summer evening.

Charlie asked if I knew how to clean fish.

Puzzled by his question, I took the fish inside to clean them. A few minutes later I rejoined them. Charlie wondered how I'd cleaned the fish so fast.

I explained I'd washed them with soap and water, wrapped them in tin foil and put them in the freezer.

At that, Charlie instructed me to go get the fish. On a large cutting board in his backyard, he demonstrated how to scrape off the scales with a special tool. We also removed the guts, cut off the heads and disposed of them. Charlie emphasized the importance of proper clean up.

I also recall summer vacations with my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Roy in Sturgis, Michigan, where they had a cottage on Klinger Lake, complete with a rowboat for fishing and a speedboat for water skiing. Their five children were close in age and I fit in right between Rita and Linda.

We loved our freedom to fish in the rowboat. I became good at stringing worms on the hook.

One time when three of us had rowed way out on the lake, Linda's fishing pole slipped out of her hand. Rita and I stood up, trying to rescue the floating pole with our poles. I'll never forget the image of Aunt Jeanne along the shoreline, waving her hands, signaling for us to sit down as we rocked the boat.

Another time, Linda and I walked to the general store near their cottage to buy a box of rigatoni for the casserole Aunt Jeanne had planned to serve with pan-fried perch.

When Linda asked for it, the store clerk said, "I don't have any rigatoni, but I have rigor mortis."

Linda replied, "Let me see it. It might work."

The clerk laughed and shook his head. When we returned to the cottage, Aunt Jeanne explained why. And whenever I see rigatoni, I'm happy to think of Linda.

Back to Sunday at May Watts …

One of the youngsters expressed his desire to hook a "long fish," perhaps from another location. His father explained that fishing requires patience.

As I continued over the footbridge, I heard his dad add, "Be grateful for what you catch."

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