From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Going Fishing with Grandpa

“And who is this a picture of?” asked the teacher, Miss James, as she studied the first-grade student’s response to her question: “Who is the most important person in the world?”

“My grandpa,” the six-year-old boy replied matter-of-factly, as though it were so obvious no answer should have been required.

“Your grandpa?” said Miss James in wonderment. “All of your classmates drew portraits of the president of the United States. Your grandpa must be very special.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty neat.”

To be honest, the thought of drawing a portrait of the president of the United States had never crossed the small boy’s mind. In fact, he wondered why his friends had not drawn pictures of their grandpas. Didn’t they know that recess, fishing, and grandpas were three of the greatest inventions of all time? After all, where was the president of the United States when the small boy hooked his first bluegill? His first largemouth bass? It wasn’t the president who had patiently shown the boy how to bait a fishhook and tie a leader. Or how to gently release a fish back into the water. Certainly the president had never stopped what he was doing to calmly help the boy untangle a web of line in a backlash spinning reel. It wasn’t the president who had taught the boy other important things he needs to know—important things like how to skip flat stones across the water, how to whistle, how to play Crazy Eights and checkers, and how to hammer nails without bending them. The president never gave the boy a hand-crafted wooden toolbox for his fifth birthday or made him a “ginchy” fiberglass fly rod of his very own or even taught him funny old-fashioned words like “ginchy,” which means “cool.” To be sure, the president definitely wasn’t ginchy like the small boy’s grandpa. The president also didn’t tell stories about what the small boy’s dad was like when he was a boy. Stories that always made the grandson laugh—imagine his dad once being “a little squirt,” too! No, the small boy could not fancy spending an entire summer afternoon under “the great, big hydrogen bomb in the sky”—that’s what his grandpa called the sun—standing side by side with the president of the United States, patiently waiting for a fish to make a red-and-white bobber dance wildly. Nor could he imagine watching the president tie delicate fishing flies for hours on end in a basement fantasyland of tools and thingamabobs and endless jars filled with fishhooks, feathers and fur, and other various fly-tying doodads.

“Hey, Grandpa, how come you don’t just use worms like I do?” the boy once asked while “helping” his grandpa tie a fly.

“Oh, it takes a mighty skillful fisherman like yourself to catch a fish with a worm,” came the answer. “That’s why you always catch all those big fish while I catch the little ones. I’d better stick to using flies if I want to have a chance to keep up with you.”

“Okay, Grandpa. But if you change your mind, I’ll share my worms with you.”

The president probably didn’t even know how to tie a nymph fly or skewer a worm onto a hook so it wouldn’t fall off as soon as it hit the water. Maybe the president didn’t even like to fish—now there was a thought!

But the little boy did and so did his grandpa. They also liked to watch Westerns and Marx Brothers movies and baseball games. Yes, they were a perfect pair, these two.

“Which way is the wind blowing?” the little boy would impatiently ask about every two minutes during the perfect pair’s hike to a farmer’s pond or a lily pad–surfaced lake. Before answering, the grandpa would stop and moisten his finger in his mouth, then extend the wet index high in the air, all the while the grandson mimicking him. Upon seeing which side of his finger-turned-weather-vane dried first, the grandpa would smile and respond, “I do believe it’s blowing from the west.”

Always, the wind blew from the west. Always, this excited the fisherboy who would then recite by heart a poem his grandpa had taught him:

        When the wind is from the north,

        The wise fisherman does not go forth.

        When the wind is from the south,

        It blows the hook into the fish’s mouth.

        When the wind is from the east,

        ’Tis not fit for man nor beast.

        But when the wind is from the west,

        The fishing is the very best.

The fisherboy is now a fisherman who misses “the most important person in the world,” who passed away many years ago. In his honor he likes to grab his grandpa’s old favorite red felt ginchy fishing hat to keep the great, big hydrogen bomb in the sky from burning his scalp and goes fishing. Usually he takes along his own fisherboy-son, and sometimes his fisherman-father. Oh, yes. The fisherboy-turned-man always takes along his grandpa’s old creel, too—in case the wind is blowing from the west.

Woody Woodburn

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