“Bangs Lake,” my older brother replied in an email response to my recent query. “Dad used to take us fishing to Bangs Lake.”
“Bangs Lake, of course!” I mused. It was one of a hundred small lakes only an hour or so north of the Chicago suburb we then called home. To the nine- or ten-year-old that I was at the time, Bangs Lake was my Alaska: remote wilderness.
And it was where my father would take me and my older brother fishing during the summer months.
Our expedition started the night before, as we dug up a few squirming night crawlers. Then it was up and on the road before sunrise.
After picking up a bucket of minnows and listening to the exchange between my father and the bait shop proprietor – “Where they bitin’?” my suddenly country-raised father would ask – we were off motoring to the middle of the lake.
Lake fishing, or “fishin’” to stay with the mood, is not like the macho casting of weighted lures I used to do in Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park during my summers away from teaching.
Nor is it remotely like the ballet I try to engage in as a fly fisherman.
Lake fishin’ as we practiced it amounted to inserting a hook through an unlucky worm or minnow, setting the plastic bobber – the float indicator – about 10 feet or so above the hook, flicking everything into the water, and then letting whatever current there was take the line away from the boat.
And then I watched the bobber and waited.
Lake fishin’ was the anticipation of catching a fish punctuated by periods of extreme boredom punctuated by the rare occasion of the bobber vibrating and then suddenly disappearing below the surface.
A sign of life below!
I’m not exactly sure why my father took us fishing.
- Maybe it was because that’s what fathers are supposed to do with their young sons and daughters.
- Or maybe it was some primordial ritual: “Man catch fish! Bring to cave!”
- Or maybe it was because my father had never experienced those moments as a kid living on the poor, rough-and-tumble west side of Chicago where every member of the family – however young – worked and brought whatever they earned back to my grandmother.
Maybe it was for all three reasons.
I don’t remember much about my father at those moments when he tried to nurture the father-and-son bond. There are hazy memories of his discomfort and impatience with us when we did silly young-boy things like teasing each other in the back seat of the car on the way back from the lake.
Me: “Dad, he touched me!”
My brother: “Nuh-uh! You touched me!”
My dad, with a wet cigar clenched between his teeth: “Hey! I’m going to pull over if the two of you…”
But I know he was a good man in his heart and a good provider for the family. Raised poor and conditioned by the Great Depression, working was really all he knew. I think it’s where he felt most comfortable.
Relaxation and children were largely uncharted waters.
I think a lot about him and other moments from the past these days because, in our forced seclusion, relationships are now more important than ever.
Today, I sit in the lifeboat of my design, surrounded by beautiful multi-colored bobbers – my wife, siblings, friends, and colleagues.
And the bobbers are all vibrating – signs of life!
I need to reel them in.
(collage courtesy of Shelley Brown)