A Small Town Upbringing
The water forms an untouchable membrane of stillness; I know that now’s not the time to speak. Penetrating the sound barrier of empty throats and subdued maneuvering would dispute all that the old man across from me instructed. Among the murky and hidden water, the diminishing foliage and undeveloped skies, this is home.
The day started at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, shortly followed by the pitching of bare necessities into the rear of a beat up suburban. We packed for a fishing trip but we headed south, on towards the dense residential areas. I recount the reason I’m here, feet sewn into black high tops, arms encircling my knees, as I try to understand what’s going through the mind of the furrowed brow opposite me. Meandering from his failing black hair to his now white sideburns, permanent forehead horizons met with dense curls of untamed eyebrows, and finally to the oversized bags beneath his strained eyes as if drawing a portrait from one feature to the next. My old man’s oblivious of my curious eyes, focusing on the loop of a wire, the habit of stringing through shiny rings, biting off and securing lines with the help of teeth who have only seen metal wires through that of hooks, never braces or brackets.
Suddenly life appears all around us; we are no longer the only two floating across water lacking direction or current. A quick hand gesture creates a wave of hungry mouths and determined wrestling. The sea erupts. Slapping water. A battle of dominance occurs outside the chipped green vessel. I watch in awe, though this isn’t the first time. His expression doesn’t change, except for the smirk he gives after seeing my smile at the underwater fight club that’s happening around our narrow lifeboat. In that moment, I realize this place has and always will be his home too. Not just because of my attendance, but also the hundreds of catfish feeding off his mere presence.
Every kid knows the hushed tones and slightly argumentative conversation between parents in the dining room that screams something’s up. In my case, the debate was over our soon-to-be home. Plans for it had long been drawn up, but the recent decision of a local doctor to build a Spanish Eclectic villa below the pond’s dam erased every hope. What would soon be an empty carcass of auburn tiles and arched entryways with a white for-sale sign stranded outside was the cause of relocation for my family. An inconsideration for the surrounding environment is the reason our Sunday escapades are road trips towards what could have been, instead of a step out our backyard onto the beige boulders overlooking a glittering sea of blue.
The commotion dies down and I cast my line. Fitted in the best of the bait box, with an angle back and jolt forward, the vibrant decoration of plastic settles towards the bottom as I begin the game of chase and catch. A steady reel of clear cord becomes a tug and settle, immediately following the bite. You let the fish believe it’s winning the war, persuading it towards you while decreasing the slack in the process.
In a community with no other large undeveloped land exists an empty lot consisting of a dented canoe and muddy size 9 and 12 Chuck Taylors lying near the bank. And on Sunday mornings you will find that dented boat filled with patience, life lessons, the occasional “boy talk,” and two people who share a difference of 34 years. They will be occupying a small portion of water, surrounded by houses of people whose net worth more than doubles the average Kansan. You will see an old man with tired shoulders, trying hard to relive childhood days of fishing in a town of nearly 16,000 when life was so very different than how it is now. He will be admiring his work of 18 years, with her matching bony shoulders and he will be hoping in that moment that he did and said all he could before letting her go.
We lean closer towards the surface as I reach out to grab the taut line. Gripping below the gills, away from the whiskers that have stung me all too many times before, I squeeze the tool to secure the metal, twist, push, and pull. This is the part that separates me from most girls my age, the actual grasping of five pounds of naked black and blue skin that blends into the background with the glimpse of a gray underbelly. He won’t admit it to me, but he’s proud. The cat mutely mouths the desperation to breathe. A quick display to the old man, then I shift my weight yet again to lean over, seeing my reflection and that of the wide-eyed creature in my grasp.
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