Each year, as the
vernal equinox approached, Father's behavior would trend more and more toward
the irrational. I do not refer merely to the fact that he would go to the
office wearing nonmatching socks or striped ties with striped shirts; Father
did this all year round, as he was an extremely poor riser and could not even
distinguish one of his children from another until he had had his two cups of
coffee and then could only distinguish us as to sex, not nomenclature.
malaise began about the middle of March, and it could be predicted with
precision by Mother. She kept her eyes on the frozen pond that lay between our
house and the shopping district, and the day when the first patch of open water
became visible in the pond Mother would summon us children and announce,
"It's here. Conduct yourselves accordingly."
Sure enough. That
night Father would come home with the glazed look in his eyes, a zombie in a
Brooks Brothers suit. "Good evening, Father," I would say politely.
"Fine, thank you," Father would answer. The fishing season was on.
In order to
understand Father's behavior at the beginning of each fishing season one must
understand what he had been doing all winter. He studied the fishing magazines,
he oiled and polished his tackle, he went to outdoor shows. Above all, he kept
hanging around the mailbox waiting for the arrival of the three most important
literary events of each year: the catalogs of L. L. Bean, Vom Hofe and
Abercrombie & Fitch. The L. L. Bean catalog was full of references to Mr.
Bean himself, who had become sort of a demigod to Father. The simple words,
"This new reel was personally tested by Mr. Bean," were enough to cause
Father to send a check special delivery to Freeport, Me. The Vom Hofe and
Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs, on the other hand, served the same purpose
for Father that Vogue might on tenant farms: they showed him how the upper
classes lived and sent him into agonies of coveting $100 reels, fine $500
split-bamboo fly rods and hand-tied dry flies. Wherever Father is now, I know
that at this very moment he is poking through the trays of Parmachene Belles,
Silver Doctors and Gray Ghosts in that great Abercrombie & Fitch branch
store in the sky.
preseasonal activity for Father was the care and feeding of various types of
bait, for the truth was that he only deluded himself into thinking that he was
a fly-fisherman and a plug caster. Mainly (I would say about 99%), he was a
bait fisherman. We kept a worm box in the pantry, alongside the vat full of
pork chunks, pork rinds and pickled frogs, and all winter long Father would
tend his worms like a faithful Basque shepherd. Each morning they got a gentle
sifting of flour and breadcrumbs; they were watered at night, and if electric
blankets had been around in those days Father would have bought one for his
worms. The tragedy of it is that the worms never made it through the winter;
try as he might, Father had a brown thumb with worms.
He also spent
many years perfecting a system for raising minnows for bait, on the theory that
this would give us a permanent supply. The minnows went the way of the worms,
except for one batch that thrived beyond Father's wildest expectations. At the
end of one summer he had taken his net down to Darby Creek to collect a minnow
crop for the annual attempt to raise them indoors. After several hours Father
returned home with bait pail full of lively little fish. These he installed in
the old bathtub in the basement. He hooked up the�-hp compressor, which pumped
air through the water, arranged the incoming and outgoing supply of water so
that it was just right and threw a pinch of raw hamburger into the tank. Wham!
Those minnows grabbed the meat like piranhas, and Father knew he was in
business. All during the winter the little minnows kept growing and growing,
until some of them had reached the five-and six-inch class. It was at that
point that Father noticed the dark green stripe down their sides. "Look at
this, Sonny," he said to me one night, his face tragic. "Do you see
what I see?"
that stripe. Father?" I said.
"Yes, I mean
that stripe. Do you know what that means?"
"It means I
have been raising large-mouth bass," Father said, his voice quaking with
anger and frustration.