What I Learned From Catching a Fish in 1983


From 1st grade to 4th grade I lived in a farmhouse, and nearly every day after school I hopped out of the bus, ran up the long lane, dashed inside for a quick sandwich, then ran back outside as quickly as I could. I crossed the church parking lot that ran alongside the cemetery, slid down the muddy hill through the trees, walked through the pasture with its massive cows mooing their displeasure at me, and set up shop with my fishing pole and tackle box on the banks of the Pequea Creek.

I sat there and sometimes I took a Sugar Creek Gang book with me and sometimes I just stared at my bobber and waited for it to dance. I sat there in the shadows, and when the Amish school next door let out my best friend Daniel joined me. He always came racing down the same path, tumbling through the undergrowth, breathless, hoping he hadn’t missed anything.

“Fish biting?” he asked, grinning. We waited and we fished and when we got bored we skipped stones or waded into the water. We didn’t have watches or cell phones but in those fall days we could tell by the sun when it was dinner time, and we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the slow-moving water, dragged ourselves up the bank, walked home.

My dad came down with me from time to time, usually after dinner, after work. It was even cooler then, and the fall air smelled of cut hay and sleepy evenings.

On one of those nights my bobber vanished down into the water and my pole bent almost to snapping. I yanked up on the reel and tried to pull that monster in. Eventually I did – it was a massive carp, not much good for eating, but boy that thing was huge. I’d never seen anything like it in that creek before. My dad and I stared at the fish and then we whooped and hollered and danced around.

I guess we had carried our stuff down there in one of those large, white, five-gallon buckets. Well, dad emptied out that bucket, filled it with muddy creek water, and dropped that huge fish into it.

“C’mon,” he said. “We’re showing this one to Grandma.”

So we packed up our stuff and he carried the heavy five-gallon bucket and we walked the quarter of a mile to Grandma’s house, along the road with the narrow shoulder. We got up to her house and showed her the fish. Dad poked it and it writhed around in the bucket like the Loch Ness monster. From there we stopped by the neighbor’s house, because they were outside, too, and we showed them the fish. Finally we walked back by our farmhouse and showed the fish to mom.

Dad was so excited about it, and I was, too. Eventually, when it was almost dark, we walked the long lane and crossed the parking lot and slid down the tree-covered bank, let the fish slip back into the water for some other boy to wrestle with.

* * * * *

I was thinking back on this story tonight and I realized what was special about that whole thing wasn’t the fact that I caught a huge fish. I mean, that was fun, but what made that whole experience different was how excited my dad was for me. He didn’t act upset that I had caught the biggest fish. He didn’t downplay it, tell me he’d seen bigger.

No, he celebrated with me, and then he went to great effort to show off my accomplishment.

And that’s what I was thinking about. I want to do that more. I want to point out my friends’ wonderful achievements and brag on them. I want to celebrate and laugh and dance around when people I know do something special. I want to put my own schedule on hold and carry the weight of their glory.

That’s what I’ve learned from that autumn night, sometime around 1983.

Let’s celebrate with each other more often.

One Reply to “What I Learned From Catching a Fish in 1983”

  1. Well said! It’s funny how we often try to downplay others’ accomplishments, assuming somehow the spotlight will then shine on us. But it doesn’t. The people I admire the most are like your dad–they recognize the good in others and do their best to direct that spotlight to them. And the cool thing is, when others have pointed a spotlight on me, I’m happy to return the favor and direct even more attention to them.

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