Fishing creates family bond that can never be brokenFishing creates family bond bond

Updated 11/3/2010 12:33 PM

The old man pushed himself back away from the polished mahogany.

The high barstool made a noise like a buzz saw when it scraped on the floor. He reached over and picked up the few remaining coins on the bar and dropped them in his coat pocket. They made a distinctive sound when they hit something metal in the pocket.

The old man was barely able to weave his way down the street to his house four blocks away. All he wanted to do now was plunk his tired body into an overstuffed chair that faced the street in the front room of his bungalow.

The neighborhood was typical Chicago working class, where the local tavern was as much a group therapy session the patrons could afford. The place was an oasis for the physically and mentally weary, and where the back bar wall lacked an official sheepskin of academic accomplishment. The tavern keeper was known for his ability to listen to his customer's woes and tales of years gone by.

The old man would stop in every day after hours of laboring in the factory. He would nurse the shots and beers like newfound treasure, and once in a while he would address the bartender by simply nodding his head for another round.

The weeklong routine was broken up by the weekend respite. It was on those two days that the old man would drag his tired body out of bed, make a huge pot of coffee and wait for his grandson to arrive.

It was a special moment when he heard the knock on the front door. There stood his 13-year-old fishing partner, eager to share the front seat of the jalopy for what seemed like an arduous trip to Pistakee Lake.

The rowboat was waiting, as were the fish. The old man reached in to his coat pocket and removed a sparkling casting reel that looked like it came from a jewel case in a store.

The old man affixed the reel to his favorite rod and then rigged the grandson's outfit as well. The minnow bucket and cooler were loaded, and they were off, with the old man rowing his way to one of his "better producing spots."

Pistakee Lake in those days was noted for its fat crappie and white bass. An occasional pike would appear now and then, as did channel catfish and stunted bluegills.

The anchor was dropped over the side and the fishing began in earnest, along with catch-up, conversation time.

The kid caught the first three fish even before the old man was able to light his pipe.

"Make sure you have plenty of cold water in the bucket for them fish," the old man instructed. He then sat back and watched his grandson move his line around in an erratic motion. The rod jerked downward again and up came another crappie.

"That's some trick you have there boy," the old man exclaimed.

The kid didn't say a word, but smiled nevertheless.

Between the two of them, the 5-gallon bucket was filled to the brim with crappies and catfish. Another banner day for this duo.

On the way home the young man's head was bobbing up and down as he dozed in the front seat. It was only when the old man pulled into the Sinclair gas station that the kid awoke. The old man was paying the attendant and then got back in to the car.

He turned to the lad and looked at him with tears in his eyes.

"You've been a great fishing partner ever since that first day with me on the lake," the old man said. "And I know you've been eyeballing my reel for the last couple weeks. So, I figured it's time for you to have it and enjoy it because you're one heck of a fisherman."

He reached in to his jacket and presented the boy with his prized reel.

Of course the kid didn't know the old man's medical report was all bad news. And if luck could hold, the old man could hang on during the entire fishing season. But it didn't work out that way.

Back at that neighborhood watering hole the regulars lifted their glasses, and with bloodshot eyes they toasted their absent comrade with extreme gusto.

Years later the kid became a father himself and took his son fishing to the old man's hot spots. And one day when his son reached 13, he gave him the old man's reel and told him about his great grandfather and how his love of fishing brought the two of them close together.

The son looked up and then hugged his father and said, simply, "Thanks."