Sunday, June 3, 2012

One Old Man

An Old Man on a Party Boat Saves the Day for a Youngster

He stumbled a bit as he walked up the gang plank. His slower gait gave away the age he so proudly tried to conceal. Hands, dark and wrinkled from many years in the sun, reached for the railings as he made his way to the stern of the boat. He was just a quiet little man, a mere shadow of what he probably used to be, and all he wanted was a corner of the boat to call his own.
Most head boats, or party boats as some people call them, work on a first come, first served basis. This one was no different. The early arrivals secure a place at the front of the line and thus are assured of a choice spot on the stern from which to fish. But, on this boat, on this day, everyone waited behind an imaginary line on the dock while this little man boarded with all his fishing gear. Some grumbled; most simply waited impatiently as the Captain helped the old man tie his rods to the railing on the back of the boat.
When the remainder of the forty or so anglers were allowed to board, they scrambled to find a spot as close to the stern as possible. Two of those looking for a spot to fish were boys, one eleven years old, and one nine. The eleven year old was large for his age and passed for fourteen, the minimum age allowed to board without an adult companion. He was able to push his way in and find a spot for himself. The younger one, on the other hand, got squeezed out and wandered the sides of the boat trying to find that special place.
The old man watched with interest as everyone jostled for position. He listened as anglers told one another why their particular spot was better than the rest. As the boat left the dock, he mused at the stories being told by the regulars about "the last trip". And he studied with particular interest the plight of the nine year old. Less than five feet tall and barely able to rest his arms on the rail, the young boy looked helpless and out of place between two boisterous men. He looked to his eleven year old friend with sad eyes that said, "help me!", but it did little to relieve his anxiety. The eleven year old was too busy gloating over the choice stern position he had managed to win.
An hour ride to the fishing grounds put the boat over an artificial reef, and with considerable jockeying, the anchor was finally sent to the bottom. When the word was passed to "drop your lines", the young boy was tentative as he attempted to put his bait down. The older men on either side made no effort to assist, and actually ended up squeezing the boy's already small fishing space into an area that was even smaller.
As he fished from his stern corner, the old man continued to occasionally glance at the youngster. He knew the boy was having a hard time, and the boy knew that the old man was watching, a fact that made the pressure on the boy even worse. Eventually that pressure became unbearable, and the young boy who so desperately wanted to fish sat back on the side bench next to the cabin. Huge tears welled up in the boy's eyes as he tried his best to mask his hurt. He had saved an entire summer's worth of lawn cutting money to take this trip, and now it appeared he would not even be able to fish.

The old man slowly tied his rod to the rail, told the angler next to him that he would be right back, and proceeded to the side of the boat where the young boy now sat sobbing softly. He sat next to the boy and asked what he had caught, to which the boy quietly replied, "nothing".
"Well, come back here with me", the old man said as he put his arm around the boy and headed for his spot the stern.
They never even asked each other's name as they began to fish. The old man quietly baited hooks for the boy, removed his fish, and made sure the man in coveralls next to him did not squeeze the young boy out. He helped the boy fight several large fish, and cheered with him as they brought these monsters in over the rail.
I would tell you that they fished the rest of the day together, but actually, the old man never fished again the entire trip. He spent his time helping that youngster gain self confidence and respect from the men around him. He never complained, never raised his voice - except to praise a particularly nice fish, and never stopped smiling. All the way back to the dock, the two of them re-fought every fish several times over. And when it came time to leave, the old man gave the fish to the young boy to take home, a gesture that would be forever remembered.
Sometimes we never know the results of what we do for other people. Sometimes we see a scene like this played out and wonder what the ultimate outcome would be for the two people involved.
I can't tell you what the outcome of this day was for the old man, other than the obvious satisfaction he had in helping a young boy. But, I can tell you what happened to that young boy. You see, that young boy was me.
I never saw that old man again, and regretfully never even knew his name. That was almost fifty years ago, and I am sure that he has gone to his final reward. I often wonder about just who he was. What special privilege, other than old age, did he possess that garnered him a stern spot on that boat. I used to wonder why he would give up an entire fishing trip just to help a young boy he did not know.
It's only as I have grown older, that I have realized the significance of what that old man did for me that day. At the time, I thought he was just too old to fish. But I know now that he gave up his day for a hurting youngster he didn't even know.
I love fishing; I truly do. But as the years pass, I find myself enjoying the experience of just being there as much as actually catching the fish. Maybe my time is coming to help some young boy or girl find their passion. Maybe I am realizing what that old man was all about. Time will tell, but for now, I'm keeping my eyes open for the opportunity to be a friend to a hurting kid. I owe it to that old man I never knew.

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