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CASTING ON A SEA OF MEMORIES
Thomas McGuane
September 27, 1971
Because this was a visit and a return, I might have had the nerve, right at the beginning, to call it Sakonnet Point Revisited and take my lumps on the Victorianism and sentimentality counts, though half a page of murder and sex at the end would bail that out. But one always knew from Lit I on that if you are to cultivate a universal irony, as Edmund Wilson told Scott Fitzgerald to do, you must never visit anything in your works, much less revisit—ever.
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September 27, 1971

Casting On A Sea Of Memories

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I began to cast, dropping the big surface plug, an Atom Popper, into the white water around boulders and into the tumbling backwash of waves. I watched the boats heading home and wondered if Gretel had managed a comeback. During the day I had learned that an old friend of the family was in Fall River recovering from a heart attack and that his lobster pots still lay inside the course of the cup race. I wondered about that and cast until I began to have those first insidious notions that I had miscalculated the situation.

But suddenly, right in front of me, bait was in the air and the striped green-and-black backs of bass coursed through it. It is hard to convey this surprise: bait breaking like a small rainstorm and, bolting through the frantic minnows, perhaps a dozen striped bass. They went down at the moment I made my cast and reappeared 30 feet away. I picked up and cast again, and the same thing happened. Then the fish vanished.

I had blown the chance by not calculating an interception. I stood on my rock and rather forlornly hoped it would happen again. To my immediate right baitfish were splashing out of the water, throwing themselves up against the side of a sea-washed boulder. It occurred to me, slowly, that they were not doing this out of their own personal sense of sport. So I lobbed my plug over, made one turn on the handle, hooked a striper and was tight to the fish in a magical burst of spray. The bass raced around among the rocks and seaweed, made one dogged run toward open water, then came my way. When he was 20 feet from me, I let him hang in the trough until another wave formed. I glided the fish in on it and beached him.

The ocean swells and flattens, stripes itself abstractly with foam and changes color under the clouds. Sometimes a dense flock of gulls hangs overhead and their snowy shadows sink into the green translucent sea.

Standing on a boulder amid breaking surf that is forming offshore, accelerating and rolling toward you is, after a while, like looking into a fire. It is mesmeric.

All the while I was here I thought of my Uncle Bill, who had died the previous year and in whose Sakonnet house I was staying, as I had in the past. He was a man of some considerable local fame as a gentleman and a wit. And he had a confidence and a sense of moral precision that amounted for some people to a mild form of tyranny. But for me, his probity was based almost more on his comic sense than his morality—though the latter was considerable.

He was a judge in Massachusetts. I have heard that in his court one day two college students were convicted of having performed a panty raid on a girls' dormitory. My uncle sentenced them to take his charge card to Filene's department store in Boston and there "to exhaust their interest in ladies' underwear."

He exacted terrific cautions of my cousin Fred, my brother John and me and would never, when I fished here as a boy, have allowed me to get out on the exposed rocks I fished from now. His son Fred and I were not allowed to swim unguarded, carry pocketknives or go to any potentially dangerous promontory to fish, which restriction eliminated all the good places.

And he had small blindnesses that may have been infuriating to his family, for all I know. To me, they simply made him more singular. By today's or even the standards of that day, he was rather unreconstructed, but this makes of him an infinitely more palpable individual in my memory than the adaptable nullities who have replaced men like him.

His discomfiture will be perceived in the following: he invited Fred and me to his court in Fall River. To his horrified surprise, the first case before him was that of a 300-pound lady, the star of an all-night episode of le sexe multiple, and included a parade of abashed sailors who passed before Fred's and my astounded eyes at the behest of the prosecution. Unreconstructed in her own way, the lady greeted the sailors with a heartiness they could not return.

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