"Daddy! I can't wait to go fishing on my birthday!"
Statements like these from my daughter make me recall conversations that I had with my own father years ago. I wasn't much of a sports fan when I was a kid, but there have been periods of time in my life, including one now, when I enjoyed watching sports on TV. I went through a football period for a few years, and now I'm well into my baseball phase. Each time I'd discuss these sports with my father, a small grin would pop out on his face, and he'd wistfully say, "I don't think you are my son."
Much as my father had zero interest in sports, I have no interest in wrestling my own food from its happy home. I don't care to grow my own bananas, raise and slaughter my own cattle, or harvest chocolate chip cookies from their magical orchards. I recognize that someone is doing this distasteful work and I am happy to throw money at them to keep them doing it. My high school camping buddy once forced me to go fishing, and I was thrilled that day to not catch a single fish. I've never fished since then.
My daughter, however, has been looking forward to fishing since the last time she fished at her grandmother's house last summer. This summer she carefully planned her birthday's activities, which included catching some fish, and then eating those very same fish. Cake and presents were also desired. That part of the birthday I understood.
Anyway, so it came to be that earlier this week I was standing on a small dock here in Vermont, at Hank's mom's house, with my daughter, her grandpa, and a few fishing rods. Grandpa is an accomplished fisherman and had outfitted Daisy with her own rod, hooks, weight gizmos, flux capacitors, deflector arrays, a cotton gin, and a container of fat, helpless, and innocent little worms.
Grandpa affixed a worm to Daisy's hook, gave her some instructions and then set himself up. I stood to the side of this affair, trying my best to be both present and uninvolved. Worms? Live fish? Lake water? Yuck.
Daisy got some nibbles pretty quickly and lost her worm soon after that. "Daddy! I need a new worm on my hook, please!" she asked politely.
I looked over at Grandpa. "Uh, Bill, we need a worm over here," I suggested, hoping that that the ex-Marine would take pity on the computer programmer.
"The container is in the boat, Mike" he replied while managing his own rod and line.
I stepped slowly over to the boat and retrieved the container of worms. I plucked a worm out of the loosely-packed dirt and eyed it warily. He wriggled peacefully in my hand.
I grasped him firmly and he complied passively, trusting me implicitly, and then I impaled him upon the hook.
Worms, as it turns out, are both wriggly and hardy. He wriggled furiously, trying to twist himself off the hook. I responded by grabbing another section of his innocent little segmented body and foisting that upon the hook as well. Neither impaling killed the little dude. He continued his futile escape attempts while I grimaced and shuddered.
I gave the rod back to Daisy and she coolly cast the hook out into the lake. I breathed a sigh of relief. Worm out of sight, out of mind.
About 30 seconds later, Daisy cried, "I got one! I'VE GOT ONE!"
She reeled in her line and sure enough, a small squirming perch was attached to the end of it.I glanced over at Bill and he was at the other end of the dock. So, I grabbed the fish on my hand and examined it. He had swallowed the hook and worm entirely. They were nowhere to be seen.
"Bill!" I whined, "I can't get the hook out. The fish swallowed it!"
"We need that hook. You need to kill the fish now so that he doesn't suffer. Hit him with a rock."
Hit him with a rock? Jesus! Wasn't fish morphine available? I felt like a fish thug.
I brought Perchy over to the shore, gently laid him down on ground, grabbed a big rock and slammed it upon his head. He responded by flipping furiously away. So, I smacked him with the rock a few more times. Brutal.
Traumatized by the killing, I marched the fish over to Bill and suggested that he remove the hook. Thankfully, he complied.
This continued for another hour. I killed several more worms while Daisy caught about four small fish (which I forced Bill to gut and clean). By the time she was done, I had become slightly desensitized to the entire worm-impaling process, (and in fact, Bill, who is a Buddhist in training, proclaimed me blood thirsty)
When Daisy said she was done, I eyed her rod and the remaining worms. This was my chance to catch my first fish. I could still do it before I was 40 years old.
"I'll be up in a few minutes," I announced. "I'd like to catch one."
As it turns out, my relationship to fishing line is exactly like my relationship to saran wrap. They HATE me. I cannot use saran wrap without either cutting myself, wadding up the saran wrap, or literally screaming in frustration. Fishing was the same way. I had discovered that Daisy had made it look easy. Apparently I am to fishing as Charlie Brown is to kite flying. Within 10 minutes I had completely entangled myself in fishing line and broken Daisy's brand new rod. Nice.
We still ate her perch for dinner though. It was small, bony, and hers.
Happy eighth birthday, Daisy. No coal this year.