Have you ever met someone who made a huge impact on your life? Not one you noticed at the time, but memories that would haunt your thoughts in the years, even decades, to come?
I still remember it like it was just yesterday, even through the fog of thirty-odd years of trying to kill off as many brain cells as possible. It was a warm spring day just like any other, a fair haired skinny little eight year old impatiently prodding his mother,
"Come on Mom, are you ready to take me yet?"
This was a ritual to which she had grown quite accustomed over the past couple summers. You see, I was not just anykid. I had discovered the thrill of fishing, and I was, in my mind, a master of the art!
The worn Zebco 202’s and the prized 33 I had gotten for my birthday were already loaded in Moms car along with my box, stringer, and bucket of worms (nightcrawlers to us) that I had managed to grab last evening.
It was the same story every morning since summer break had started. Mom would drop me off at a small local lake, wish me luck, and come to pick me up at dusk. I still to this day do not remember why I did not have any friends. Maybe it was the fact that I was always sick with asthma, or that I just stayed to myself. It did not matter much at the time. It was all I needed, me, against the unknown monsters that lurked in the depths of that little lake.
Back to the story at hand, Mom had dropped me off and I was doing my daily routine of scouting the shoreline for the best possible spot, when I heard a car coming down the lane that led to my lake. It was an old green clunker.that pulled up that June morning.
I saw an older woman, kind of frumpy, get out and go to the trunk. She began unloading an assortment of gear, There was nothing fancy as I recall. Then out came a strange looking contraption with wheels. What is that thing? I wondered to myself as she set it on the rock lane. To my amazement, with the dexterity that could only come from years of practice, she deftly unfolded the contraption into a chair with wheels!
I was in awe as she pushed it over to the passenger side of the car. She opened the door and lifted a man, an ancient old fellow, not much bigger than me, out of the car in into the amazing chair. I watched in wonder as she handed his rods to him on one side and his old metal tackle box on the other. The woman then rolled him down to the waters edge as she probably had a thousand times before.
That is how I came to meet Henry - the old man who had forgotten more about fishing than I could possibly ever learn. We became great friends, Henry and I, and every day I would wait in anticipation ofhis arrival.
I became his personal aide and he became my mentor. Henry was filled with a love and knowledge of catfishing that can only be described as pure genius. I wish I could remember every tidbit of information that flowed from that great mind. It was not that he spoke much, just enough to leave me yearning for more.
"See them little bluegill boy?" "Catch us a few," he would say. Then he would show, no that is wrong, teach me how to slice their sides, so they would bleed, and squash them a little with my sneaker. As the days passed Henry taught me many things - how to set my drag, tie a good knot, and all the other important little things.
Yes we caught fish, almost every day, some big, some small, but it did not matter. We shared the love of catfishing in all its glory! Some days we would sit through rain, sometimes it was 105 in the shade, but it just didn’t matter. It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone else ever being at our lake, just me, Henry, and the fish.
Then one day it happened. All the rods were out, some with foul smelling cheesebait, some with gills, and maybe even one with a fat nightcrawler, when WHAM! One of Henry’s rods rushed towards the waters edge! I immediately pounced on it (amazing how fast an eight year old can move) and handed it to Henry.
"It’s a good one boy!" he exclaimed. "C’mere boy and bring him in," as he handed the rod back to me and my shaking hands.
"Hold the rod up boy, watch your drag."
The words echo in my mind over 30 years later. I didn’t get the fish, we never even saw him. He was just too much for an eight year old and 10# test line. But, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t then either. We knew he was out there, that monster lurking in the depths. So the days and the weeks passed, Henry and I with heavier line and a renewed fire in our eyes. Every day we just knew we would get him!
It never happened. One day Henry didn’t show up, nor the next. (I heard he was sick) After a week or so it was back to school for me, with a part of me missing. You know I don’t think I ever saw Henry again, but to this day he haunts my thoughts. A legend, if only in my mind, maybe he was nothing more than an ordinary old man. But to me Henry was a great guru who helped instill knowledge, pride, ethics, and sportsmanship in a young mind. Something that can never be taken away, just passed from generation to generation.
As for the monster lurking in the lake, I will get him some day, me or one of my children. If not, oh well, it doesn’t matter, we will have fun trying and Henry will be right there by our side.
Written by Chuck Butkauskas