Mosquitoes as big as buzzards and the humidity in the ’90s made the walk down that old sand path to the pond something you’d never forget. Sand spurs, crickets, cicada, and dragonflies buzzing, clicking, and singing all the way down to an opening surrounded by cattails and tall sweetgrass where a small weathered pine dock stretched into the rust-colored waters about twenty feet. Turtles slid off old cypress stumps as I approached, and a big fat bullfrog leaped with a splash then disappeared beneath the moss-covered water next to the bank.
This was the honey hole where my father used to bring me as a child, a place where I can remember catching strings of bluegill the size of his big calloused hands and where memories were born.
The waters now high upon the bank because of a wet summer, the cypress tall and weeping had caused it to appear dark red and just beyond the dock you could see a sand shole in the shallows, and bass nests bright yellow where they had spread the sands before laying their eggs, then guarded them keeping predators away.
Today I hadn’t come to fish, didn’t have my old cane pole that daddy had cut for me so many years ago, this was much more personal. I walked out to the end of the dock and sat, nails had punched up from where they’d been hammered and were rusted so I was careful not to drag my leg across one and tear a hole in my slacks. Then before sitting I placed the small brown paper bag I’d been carrying, down on one of the benches, took my socks and shoes off, rolled up my pants legs, and sat on the floor hanging my feet just above the water.
Time hadn’t changed it much I thought as I stared out over the pond towards the old grist mill that sat directly on the other side. It’s rafters now rotted and collapsing appeared as a skeleton, the sun shining through its ancient roof and cypress walls casting a long shadow upon the water that stretched midway over the pond. Shorebird swept long and low over the water fishing for minnows and an osprey nested in one of the great oaks that lined its bank.
“Now don’t get your line tangled in those reeds” I could hear his voice say, “did you get that worm on tight”, yes sir I would answer, “you know those fish will just suck them off if they’re not on tight”, yes sir I’d say!
This was the place my father had always talked about, a place where his daddy used to bring him to fish when he was young, where he told me he would come to just sit and think at night when a full moon cast its light upon the water and like a mirror, the whole pond would glow.
A place where he used to swim with his friends before the war when life, though tough because of the depression was good and safe, a time when families were close, and they supported one another when needed. This was his honey hole, his safe place when he needed to get away from the world and think his childhood Shangri-La.
Now it was my turn, my time to bring it full circle and I wasn’t going to let it pass. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to bring all of our worlds together and honor my father for the great man he was. Caring considerate, tough when he needed to be and a bit angry at the world. But that was another time and he’d mellowed in his old age, he’d seen enough for ten men having fought in WWII and Korea, something he’d never talk about. And then when my young wife had gotten sick and died on her 24th birthday from cancer it crushed him, completely crushed him. I think he loved her as much as I had but unlike me who struggled to deal with and get over her death he just closed up, just seemed to wither.
Anyway, I was here, and I needed to move on, get back in the real world as they say, and move ahead with my life. I raised myself from the dock, rolled my pants legs down, and put my socks and shoes back on. The sun was beginning to set, and a thunder cloud had gathered in the west, it was time to go. Time to leave this place where three generations had experienced a connection with nature, a place where time had allowed us a moment of freedom away from the world, a place where memories would always be and a place that was sacred, to me at least.
I leaned over towards the bench and grabbed the small paper bag I had brought with me, walked to the end of the dock, and stood looking out over the now still water. Then after a short prayer and as I was scattering the light gray ashes out into the winds a voice behind me broke the silence. Turning I saw a small towheaded boy of about ten holding a bucket and a cane pole. Mr. he said, could I fish on your dock? A lump gathered in my throat as I looked down at him and said sure, just make certain you’ve got that worm hooked on tight!