Funny Story: The Fish That Got Away!
Those of you who know me a little bit by now can attest to the fact that I grew up in a bit of a strange environment. That is not to say that I am complaining about it, you understand. Just stating the facts, folks. I have to say that as a prelude to my funny story about fishing - the fish that got away. And Holle - they didn't die of natural causes!
I grew up in beautiful San Diego and was raised by my grandmother most of the time while my mother was out working. My grandmother had a bit of a hard time raising me and dealing with my personality, which was always one of spontaneity and inquisitiveness - usually my downfall! She was also schizophrenic or something close to that as she saw imaginary people and talked to them. She also had many violent outbursts because of it, and of course, my precociousness did not lend itself well to this situation. I spent a lot of my childhood out of doors.
Photo Credit: Flickr SD Dirk
Most often though, if she decided to take a nap of an afternoon, I
would have some wonderfully brilliant idea pop into my head - usually to
try to do something that I was forbidden to do - most everything! On
this particular day, while she napped, I went to investigate the ringer washing machine which of course I was not allowed to touch for fear of death.
In my defense, I had everything well in hand and was putting a sheet through the wringer of the washing machine only to watch in horror as it became no longer a sheet but turned to the size of a man's handkerchief! Thankfully, I did not stick my stupid arm or hand in to try and catch it!
About this time, a shadow crossed the garage where I was trapped - in the corner with the blasted, traitorous washing machine! Why couldn't anything ever just work out for me? I saw my doom approaching in the hands of a very large Danish woman armed with a very big broom - one of her favorite things to hit me with. I have to interject here - yeah - I guess I deserved it!
Just before the broom struck, however, I heard a booming voice - 'What in the GD-hell are you doing, Chief? Get the HELL away from her and leave her be, you stupid old woman!'
Then in an equally gruff manner, he addresses me - 'And what in the GD-hell have you done today, Audrey?'
Ah - the jig was up - but thankfully I was saved from the broom. This kind of thing happened a lot - or at least often enough that I was convinced later on in life that I must have had a guardian angel that tapped my Uncle Hank and my Aunt Geri on the shoulder and said 'It's time - go rescue her - I'm sure she's done SOMETHING today!'
Okay - so what the heck does this have to do with fishing? I'm getting there! That was the prelude!
So my Uncle Hank, long cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth, skinny as the proverbial rail, shoves his mother out of the way and proceeds to tackle the washing machine, all the while swearing and muttering as I danced back and forth in place hoping to heaven that I was not going to get the broom after all!
In minutes, his clever little self had the washing machine set to rights and he confidently turned to my grandmother and said 'See - nothing to it - now put the GD broom down and go back to what you were doing - talking to yourself or some other GD thing'!
To me - 'Audrey - get your GD crap together; pack a bag and you're coming home with us for a few days. Do somebody good to get the GD-hell out of this GD place! Yeah - you heard me Chief - tell Doris I took her GD daughter to get her out of your GD hair and I'll be in touch when she can pick her up.' (Yes - that was his favorite string of words!)
So off I went! It always surprised me that my aunt and uncle would drive in from the beach area of San Diego to pick me up because we lived in-land - but I was always just so grateful to see them. They had 2 grown kids, and then 2 kids about my age and my sister's. We basically grew up together and had our share of adventures and misadventures - mostly on my part and my cousin Leroy's as my sister and Lillian were too docile. They never did anything bad! Or at least not something to where they ever got caught!
I loved hanging out at my aunt and uncle's though because they might be gruff and they might have some high expectations, but it was safe. There was no fighting, no thrashings and no fear. My Uncle Hank was also pretty much the only father figure I ever had in my life. He may have been gruff and tough but he was a kind man and the hardest working person I've ever known in my lifetime.
All this said, this particular trip to their house, I set about doing what I usually did - cooking, cleaning, ironing, going grocery shopping with my Aunt Geri - I was in HEAVEN! I know - I am seriously screwed up...but I loved these things. I couldn't get ENOUGH of this stuff. I longed to go to their house just so I could do these things - I was Martha Stewart before Martha was Martha Stewart! I loved that I could just do things and not get into trouble doing them. They actually wanted me to do them - what a treat!
About the second day I was there, my uncle came in from a hard day at work and putting his thermos and lunchbox on the counter, turned to inform me 'Get your crap together, Audrey - you're in for a treat. I heard you've been working hard and I'm taking you fishing!' WOW! I was overwhelmed! No one had ever taken me fishing before!! As I turned to yell out to Leroy, Uncle Hank says 'Don't bother - he's not going - he has some meeting tonight - Boy Scouts or some GD thing - so it's just you and me'. Again with the WOW!
I was under 10 at the time - I know this because at 10 I had a weekend job and was hardly ever able to go to their house anymore because I was employed! At none other than cleaning a lady's house and doing her yard work! Oh I was in heaven! But I digress....what does an 8 or 9-year-old know about fishing? Not a whole lot but I was willing to learn! Oh I was so proud - my uncle was taking ME fishing! Me, the troublemaker!
Late afternoon, we hit the long pier in San Diego - my uncle's favorite spot. This was a hobby that my Uncle Hank had taken up late in life. He needed some form of relaxation other than working on cars apparently. He'd worked in plants and mills all his life and when not working 10 hour days, he was perpetually fixing the house. If he wasn't doing those things, he was helping my mom with things that needed doing - or fixing HER car - or his daughter's car or her house. I don't think I'd ever heard him 'sigh' over anything in his life - except fishing!
So here we are, the man who was a leaner version of Willem Dafoe, the never-ending cigarette dangling from his mouth, and the scrawny, gangly little girl with the bowl haircut, striding down the pier. He obviously knows all the people in the world because everyone is waving to him as we pass - 'Hey, Hank - how's it going? Where'd you get the pint-size fisherman?'
He'd just wave back, mutter something about trying to teach me a thing or two about fishing and off we went - until he found the 'perfect place'. All the tension seemed to leave him as soon as he set down the fishing gear and proceeded to settle in.
My Uncle Hank was not big on patience - you either got something the first time or all hell broke loose. He was not one for letting someone ease into something either. He gave orders, you listened, and you did! It was just as simple as that. So when he put the fishing rod into my anxious little hands and started spewing all the instructions on how to cast out, I was all ears, buddy! (Not that any of this unfortunately helped me a lick!)
'Okay - you got the bait on the line and the pole is ready to go. Now you just reach back over your head with the pole like so and you give it a good flick and fling - and there it goes - right in the GD water! Got that?? I say - Got that? Of course you got that - you're no idiot! Now go on GD-it, go ahead and try it'.
Well holy crap - or should I say holy carp? I did what he said, I flung the pole back over my shoulder and then forward and was so pleased by the whir I heard as the line zoomed off the pier and into the water! Oh my gosh! I was FISHING!! Unfortunately, as the line was flying out into the water, I heard increased swearing from my uncle and then downright pissed off mode.
'Oh for Christ's sake, god almighty - look what you've done now! Do you see where your line landed? It's over on Pete's line and it's completely tangled him up!' He yells out 'Sorry Pete, got a stupid nitwit over here and can't teach her a GD thing! We'll be right over to untangle the GD thing!'
How embarrassing - I went from being the star pupil to being a nitwit? Geez Louise - tough grading curve on the pier! So I trudge over behind him trying and not succeeding at hiding behind him. When we reach poor Pete, he's pulled in his line and we then set to untangling the mess I've made of it all the while my uncle is smoking away and cursing to beat the band. 'GD idiot - I knew I probably shouldn't have tried to teach this stupid girl to fish. Can't a man have one minute of peace and quiet after a GD long day?'
'Okay, Pete - sorry for the trouble. I'll take her further down and see if she can manage to cast off without tangling you up again. GD it anyway - couldn't she have someone in her life show her how to do something other than me?'
Now I'm convinced I need to buck up - and get it right! I'm so upset that I'm disappointing him that I can't stand it. So I beg and I beg as we are rumbling back to his spot and I tell him I'm sure now that I have the hang of it - no worries!
'I can DO this, Uncle Hank - give me another chance'. Reluctantly, or I should say VERY reluctantly, he gives me the once over and decides for some crazy reason that I'm fishing worthy and hands me back the pole with a new line. The old line that I have hopelessly tangled for him is lying in a very large mound on the pier.
'Now this time, pay attention! Do not throw the line over to the right like you did before. That's how you got it tangled on Pete's GD line! Throw it in the center - how hard is this? I thought you were a tomboy - tomboys can fish for Christ's sake!'
Well, when you put it like that - of course I can do it. So I wind up and give it my very best shot, trying all the while not to shank right! So what do I do - I shank LEFT! Right on top of someone else's line! Oh....My....God....he grabs the cigarette out of his mouth and throws it onto the pier, stamping it out until he's pulverized it. I'm sure he was envisioning doing that to my head about then. He is so mad now he's turning red!
'Of all the GD idiots on this pier, and I have to be saddled with this one! Harry - yeah, Jesus H. Christ - I can see can't I? I know the stupid thing got your GD line tangled up. Yeah, yeah, there's one born every minute - I'll be right over!!'
So off we go to the left side of the people standing fishing beside us while I listen to more swearing about the unfairness of his pristine moment being spoiled by the likes of some stupid girl. I felt bad - I really did - but unfortunately I guess I didn't have the fishing concept quite down yet (do ya think?). He's relit another cigarette and that is dangling from the corner of his mouth - and he's cutting Harry's line off my line so now I have TWO piles of fishing line that are hopelessly tangled.
He takes the fishing line and literally shoves it into my arms and says 'Take this GD fishing line and go SIT on the GD pier. If I look up and you are NOT untangling that GD fishing line, someone's going to be getting it. I'm going to call your GD Aunt Geri and you are going HOME - do you understand me?'
'Yeah - I get it'....sulkily I took my fishing line 'winnings' and went to pout on the pier. Was it my fault that I wasn't good at this? I think 2 tries probably wasn't fair but I certainly didn't want to bring THAT up. His friends were all laughing at him and it obviously was making him really, really mad so I decided to just try and be good and sit there and begin the untangling.
So is that the end of the Story?
Of course not! Do you really think I would sit there and mind my own business? I'm really not cut out for that kind of mindset you know.
My uncle finally got to get around to fishing after I had been unceremoniously dumped into the middle of the pier with my mound of fishing line (that I might add was NOT coming untangled any time soon). I felt a little better knowing he was happier anyhow. I had been sitting there for quite some time working on the line though again, not coming along.
He was exclaiming every now and again about something or other. I happened to notice then that he had a bucket behind him. It was between us as I sat on the pier behind him. What was in the bucket? (Okay - I've already admitted that I don't know anything about fishing - so of course I wondered what the heck was in the bucket!)
I got up quietly so as not to get into any more trouble and looked into the bucket. Oh my gosh - he had caught some fish! There were a bunch of them in there by now - they weren't very big, but they were definitely fish! He must be really good at this! But as I was standing there looking into the bucket with all the fish flopping around I suddenly realized something - they couldn't BREATHE - they were DYING!
What to do, what to do? I knew if I went up and tapped him on the arm or pulled on the tail of his flannel shirt, I was going to get an earful. I figured he was probably still mad at me and I didn't really want to take any chances. But the fish were DYING! I could almost hear them gasping for air as I watched them wriggling in the bucket. I had to do something!
My Uncle Hank was busy chatting it up now and laughing with his friends, smoking away - leaning against the pier with his line in the water. I figured he'd be none the wiser so of course I just picked up the bucket and ran across to the other side of the pier - and freed the fish! I just upended the bucket and threw them right off the pier - then ran back and put the bucket right back where it was before.
Of course, he caught more fish - and I waited until he'd thrown his line out and was waiting for a bite - and I ran across to the other side of the pier and threw them overboard as well - 'Go fishes - live long and prosper - be free!'
I was thinking such lofty thoughts as I raced back to the spot where the bucket was when I saw jeans in front of me - and as I looked up, ah yes - there was the cigarette dangling from his mouth and his face in a scowl.....uh oh.
'Where in the GD hell are my FISH?' he bellowed. Of course being no pantywaist to snappy conversation (I read even as a young child and rabidly), I came up with the brilliant retort 'What fish? I didn't see any fish!'
Oh...My....GOD! He grabs me by the arm and marches me over to the other side of the pier and points downward. 'Don't lie to me, Audrey - I SAW you throw my fish over the side of this GD pier not 5 minutes ago.....did you or did you not throw my GD fish over?'
Then I began to cry - not little weak cries but big gulping sobs - 'But Uncle Hank....they were DYING....' (sob, sob) 'I had to save them....it wasn't right'....(sob, sob)
He's turned red in the face again and he's bellowing at me now - 'You GD moron - what do you think just happened to your precious GD fish? You just killed them yourself! Don't you think they got a slight concussion when you dropped them from this high up off the GD pier? It was like them hitting concrete!'
That did it - I fell into a sobbing heap on the pier - in front of all of his friends who were so amused by this display I have no doubt he heard about it for YEARS. My manly uncle who just wanted to go and have a few quiet hours of fishing to himself!
My uncle was not one for displays of tears. He also was not one who particularly cared if there were tears because that meant he would have to be soft and cuddly - which he most definitely was NOT! So true Uncle Hank style, he reached down, grabbed me by the arm and was quick marching me off the pier in the time it took to snap your fingers.....cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
When we reached the end of the pier, he guided me to the pay phone and plugged in the required cash, and muttered into the phone a few minutes later 'Come and get her - NOW - before I throw HER off the GD pier'.
Hmmpf - well, I assumed that the fishing lesson was over! He left me sitting on the bench after instructing me that if I dared to step one more foot on the pier he was going to make good on his promise to toss me after the 'rescued fishes' and then stomped back to his favorite spot, gathered up the big mound of fishing line and proceeded to come back and dump it in my lap.
'When I get home tonight, young lady, that GD fishing line had better GD well better be straightened out and look like new. Are you hearing me, Audrey?'
I nodded - I couldn't stop thinking about the fish I had killed! Murderer - fish killer!
Ah well, all's well that ends well. My Aunt Geri came to pick me up - never saying one word at my tear streaked face - or anything about the back seat filled up with the fishing line tangle. And for the record, I did have the GD fishing line all untangled by the time he got home later that night and was sitting on the living room floor with it when he walked in.
He never said another word about the fish - he thanked me for the 'entertainment' though a few days later and was happy that I had managed to untangle the line. He never asked me to go fishing again though.
Summing Up My Funny Fishing Story
My Uncle Hank was one of a kind. He was quite the character and I never forgot him. I obviously never forgot fishing either because when the kids were younger, Bob, being the best of dads, decided we would take the kids fishing.
The background here is that our oldest boy has ADHD - fishing was somewhat of a frenetic affair. While Bob was sitting waiting patiently for the fish to bite, Jonathan had cast out and reeled in at LEAST 500 times! I kid you not.
Patrick, our middle boy is extremely low vision to legally blind - so when he cast off, he was always looking to see where his line had gone. I hated to painfully inform him that it was behind him in the tree or the big bush. Bob spent quite a bit of time climbing up and unhooking lines.
Katie wasn't much for fishing but she and I were always there of course just because it was a family thing. I tried desperately to try and learn to fish but Bob asked me to please quit trying.
I don't know what his problem was - so I cast off and the entire pole and reel pitched out into the center of the lake. I needed a tighter grip - it could happen to anyone you know!
Then the next time I cast off, I hit him in the back of the head with the sinker. Who knew he was going to stand so close? It's not like I hooked him in the ear or something!
But then the most embarrassing thing happened....we were fishing at a lake at the campground we were staying in and when I looked down into the water, I thought I saw lobsters! I was so excited and thinking we could catch them and have them for dinner that I bolted for the bait store and ran in breathlessly exclaiming to all in the store 'Did you know there are LOBSTERS out there?' As much as Bob enjoyed everyone laughing at me for days and making fun of his 'fishing impaired wife', he did not think it was a sport that I should continue on with. (We never did catch the crayfish either)
Why is everyone so hard on me? I could have been a great fisher woman if I'd had the proper training! I tell people though that I gave it up voluntarily - and that is mostly true. I do not like watching the fish die to be honest and the fact that I killed my Uncle Hank's fish still haunts me. I think of them having such a bonk on the head when they hit the water, I am shuddering thinking about it!
So you see, Holle -- NO - they did NOT die of natural causes! I killed every one of 'em! Or at the very least, I probably caused some brain damaged fish. So much for Audrey the Fishing Woman.
Photo Credit for Boy Looking in Bucket: Flickr Allspice1