By Sean Dietrich
I’m watching a father and son fish in a state park. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
After a few minutes, the boy’s rod starts to bend.
He screams, “I GOT ONE DAD!” His voice carries on the water all the way to Birmingham.
And I am a nine-year-old again.
In fact, if I were to shut my eyes right now, I would see my father, shirtless, standing on a sandy teshore, smiling. A beer can by his feet.
“Quit messing with your reel so much,” he’d say. “You’ll scare fish away if you don’t relax.”
On one particular day, my father caught three bass and a shellcracker. Mister Unrelaxed had not been so fortunate—I’d caught one Penzoil can and a medium-sized turtle.
But my luck changed. My rod nearly jerked out of my hands. I tugged and cranked.
And it happened. I caught a bass bigger than most residential water heaters. Daddy whooped and hollered.
He let me take a sip of his lukewarm beer. He discussed how to clean a fish.
He handed me a Buck knife to cut off the head. He made me swear to keep both hands on the handle.
The next thing I remember is a puddle of my own blood. I nearly fainted.
Daddy wasted no time. He tossed my flopping fish into the truck bed. He pressed a wadded T-shirt against my cut hand. We sped to the emergency room.
I glanced through the back window and saw my fish flopping in the pickup bed.
“Your mama’s gonna kill me,” said Daddy.
The doctor was an old man. He looked at my hand and said, “What kinda fish you catch, old timer?”
I told him. He smiled, then removed a needle as big as a turkey baster. He jammed it into my palm and said, “I hope it was worth it.”
I screamed. Daddy held me against himself and kissed my hair while the doc stitched me. And for as long my mind stays sharp, I’ll never forget the way Daddy smelled.
It’s funny, the things you remember about dead people.
For instance, I remember the way Daddy ate his eggs. I remember his long-legged walk—like a heron. I remember how he used to sit in a chair after work, crying for no apparent reason.
And the night before he took his own life, I remember a blank look on his face.
“Remember that time we went fishing and you cut your hand?” he said.
Do I ever.
The kid and his father want their photo taken. The man asks if I’ll do the honors.
He hands me his phone. I tell them both to say, “cheese.” They do.
The boy holds his fish as high as he can. His father hugs him and kisses his hair. They make a fine picture together.
I’m not sad about the way my life turned out. God help me, I’m not. I don’t wish for different circumstances. I don’t want anything more than what I have.
But if God were taking requests…
I wouldn’t mind fishing with Daddy again.
Or a kiss on the hair.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.