From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Reeling In a Boy’s Dream

In 1962, my husband and his family were living in a cramped apartment in Miami Beach. My husband’s family had arrived from Cuba only a year before, and like most Cubans who left the country during this time, they were struggling to make a new life for themselves.

My husband was ten years old, and his brother was eleven. Every week, when my mother-in-law would go to the grocery store, they would wait for her in the fishing and tackle shop next door. The boys would walk around the store admiring the fishing supplies, and eventually would end up in front of the fishing poles. There was nothing they wanted more than to own their own fishing pole and reel.

My mother-in-law would find her sons in the same place every week, staring at the fishing poles, and it broke her heart. She knew how much the boys missed living in Cuba. They had grown up spending weekends and summers on their grandfather’s ranch, where they enjoyed horseback riding, hunting and fishing.

My father-in-law had two jobs, but every chance he got, he took his sons fishing. The pier was only six blocks away from their small apartment, and on weekends it was filled with fishermen. You could tell who the Miami residents were and who the Cuban refugees were by looking at their fishing gear. The Cubans fished with a spool of fishing wire, a hook and a small weight tied to the end of the line.

For the Cubans, fishing was fun. It was also one of the few activities they could share with their children for free. And if they were lucky, it could also provide dinner for their families.

My father-in-law also used fishing as an opportunity to practice his English. While they fished, he would talk to the people he met on the fishing pier. Many of them were retired Jewish businessmen who had moved to Miami Beach.

One Sunday morning, they walked the six blocks to the pier, and after finding an empty spot to fish, they swung the string over their heads and threw the lines out as far as they could. They fished most of the morning, but except for a few bites, no one caught anything. Then my brother-in-law felt a tug on the line.

He began to reel the wire in, and as he did he could feel the fish at the other end trying to pull free. It was enormous. Slowly, he continued to reel him in. By this time, people on the pier had put down their fishing gear and stood around my brother-in-law, waiting to get a glimpse of the monster fish he had at the end of the line.

Just when he thought he couldn’t hang on any longer, out of the water popped a fishing pole and reel covered with seaweed and mud. Everyone groaned in disappointment except my husband and his brother, who couldn’t believe their eyes.

The fishing pole looked like it had been in the water for months. The reel was rusted and in bad shape, but that night on top of the dining-room table, my father-in-law took it apart, and began to clean and grease every single inch.

The next weekend when the brothers went fishing, they walked to the pier carrying a fishing pole. It wasn’t like the ones they had seen at the store, but for two young Cuban refugees it was just as good.

Finding and fixing that fishing pole gave the boys hope that their new lives would get better, and it provided a very important lesson for my husband: Life gives us what we need, even though blessings don’t always come in the shiniest packages.

María Luisa Salcines

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