THE GIFT OF MEMORY

My grandma Doris passed away in ’93. I was 19 and stationed in Erlangen Germany, but happened to be on a month-long mission in the UK closing a major ammunition storage facility when I got the Red Cross call.

The mortality of family isn’t something on the minds of most 19 year-olds, especially one that’s single and in Europe with a steady paycheck, three-squares and permission to drink. Our own mortality is a slightly different story though. I spent a lot of time running from myself and my small-town youth during my years in the service. Armed with a brand-new I don’t give a shit because I could die tomorrow and I’m bullet-proof anyhow military mentality, I chose instead to run headlong toward the glorious temptations of underaged freedom. The reality is that if I did die around that time, it would have more likely been from stupidity, than the result of anything war-related. I came close on more than one occasion, believe me.

I didn’t make it back in time for my grandma’s funeral. By the time I had caught a Space-A flight back to Germany, then another one back to the States, I had missed everything by a full day. I don’t have any recollection of the time I spent during that short visit home. Like most other memories from my break-neck young-adult life, they have been squirreled-away in some dusty corner of my mind, where they wait patiently for a sound, smell or other inadvertent prompt to call them forward. What has remained with me is the hollow and angry feeling I had from losing my grandma, and not being able to be there for my dad. He had lost his dad to Cancer when he was 19, and now his mom. It was my responsibility as his son to be there, to stand with him as people expressed their condolences, to have him put his arm around my shoulders and be strong and find a joke the way he and I do in order to laugh through tough times. Even now, typing this, I feel it still.

Shortly after this past Christmas, my dad had stopped by one morning to visit with the kids and catch up for a little while. As we walked out onto the porch when he was leaving, he turned and pulled some paper out of his pocket.

So, for a few years before your grandma died, she had bought you and your sister savings bonds…for birthdays and Christmas and such. I figured that it was a good time to give them to you – they’ve probably matured by now. I also figured I’d give them just to you, because these were from your grandma to you. Of course, she wanted you to use them to become a doctor…

We both smiled at that one.

I decided to have a custom, glass fly rod built. I approached Jordan Ross of JP Ross Rods, and over the course of the next few months we landed on a blank, wraps and host of other beautiful components that would eventually compose a one-of-a-kind 6’11’ small stream rod.

My grandma understood the importance and value of the outdoors to my dad, and by extension, me. My dad was a hell-raiser growing up, but he also grew up hunting, fishing, laying traps, and generally spending as much time out in nature as possible. As a kid, I loved the time he and I spent in the woods and on the water. There was nothing more precious and I learned a lot more about character and what it takes to be successful in life while in tree stands and standing on the shore of Canandaigua Lake than I could’ve possibly appreciated at that age. And now, with kids of my own whose souls are immersed in the outdoors, I’m witnessing first-hand the legacy of those lessons.

Part of the whole running from myself thing in the service was a total departure from my love for the outdoors. Germany, England, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia – not once did I pick up a fishing rod, bow or shotgun. Which makes my decision to have this rod built as a gift from my grandma seem even more fitting. Back in ’93 I was as far from my passions as I could get. But I’d like to think that she knew I’d find my way back — maybe even adding a little divine nudge here and there — and that I would appreciate a glass inheritance that I will share with my young’uns, like my dad did with me.

I took the rod out this past Tuesday for the first time. Effortless comes to mind when describing how it cast, but the word does not truly do it justice. It felt as though I looked at where I wanted to cast and the rod simply exhaled and placed my fly where it needed to be. I landed two browns that morning.

Thanks, gram…


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10 Comments

  • Erin Block says:

    I’ve come to believe that those grandmotherly nudges are what get us through life. Or in this case, the next pool.
    Great piece, Matt. And beautiful rod.

  • AZWanderings says:

    One of my favorite pieces that you’ve written. I did a bit of running myself, but eventually found my way back into the woods too. Thanks for sharing Matt.

    Ben

    • fishingpoet says:

      Funny thing, running. The more you do it, the worse shape you tend to be in when you finally stop. Thanks for the shout, Ben. Always good to hear from you.

  • Pete says:

    Moving. Heartfelt. Yet not at all sappy. What a great post.
    I never met my grandpa, my Dad’s Dad. I’m told I walk through a pheasant field like he did. And that I have a drive for fishing that only grandpa could understand. When I’m in the woods and on the water I know he’s there. It’s the only reason I can come up with for knocking down doubles or netting that fish when she surely should have come unbuttoned at the boat.

    His name was Pete. And he’ll always be there guiding me just like your grandma will be there to guide your casts. It’s good to see appreciation for having such a wonderful influence in your life.

    • fishingpoet says:

      “I’m told I walk through a pheasant field like he did. And that I have a drive for fishing that only grandpa could understand.”

      That’s fantastic.
      Glad it struck a chord, bro. I appreciate the comment.

  • bob nisson says:

    trout like old people. nice story mr. matt.

  • WindKnot says:

    Matt,

    Very nice. Poetic. Resonates with me for all kinds of reasons.

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