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Burning one's bridges to the past
Charles Willeford
May 07, 1973
He awaited retirement eagerly, a time to fish and feel the sun, but when it came, the old man on the highway span was sadly disillusioned
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May 07, 1973

Burning One's Bridges To The Past

He awaited retirement eagerly, a time to fish and feel the sun, but when it came, the old man on the highway span was sadly disillusioned

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"I'd love to, but a woman can't stand to have a man around all day. I'd like to stay home and watch TV. The house is air conditioned, and"—he fingered the sun cancers—"maybe I could get these things cleared up. But my wife gets jittery when I'm around the house, and runs me out. And after talking about wanting to come to Florida for 30 years I can't tell her that I hate to fish."

"To get it straight: You hate to fish, but you're forced by circumstances to fish every day."

"That's about the size of it. I believe I will take one of those cigarettes if you don't mind."

"Sure."

He was a fine old man with fissured character lines and pale but keen eyes. The white hair that puffed out below his cap was more plentiful than mine. I thought about the check in my billfold. If this tough old man had handled the insurance deal instead of the young guy in Palm Beach, the check would have been halved. At least 67, maybe 68, the fisherman had several more unhappy years ahead on this bridge.

"I guess that you'll be fishing here tomorrow, then?" I said.

"That's right." He returned the cigarettes and lighter. "When 8:30 rolls around, I'll be standing right here with my line out."

"I—I hope you don't catch anything!"

"Thanks," he said gravely. "I appreciate that."

I returned to my car, and driving over the bridge wondered about the other old men who were there. How many fished because they had to and not because they wanted to? It was a cinch that none of them fished out of necessity, out of hunger. How many of these fishermen, like the man I had talked with, hated fishing as much as he did but didn't have the guts to admit it?

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