“Another What If “

A short trip and a few more stories later, the boats engines began to slow before the next blast of the ship’s horn rang out. I watched as those around me released their lines with the silver bars and half cut bunker into the murky depths. As they disappeared, the only thing I could wonder was what kind of monster could inhale such large or strange baits? My juvenile curiosity was running wild as I bombarded those around me with a year’s worth of questions. However, this child’s version of “Jeopardy,” was short lived as after being in the water for only a few minutes, my rod bent almost to the point of making a perfect “u” shape. Quickly grabbing the rod, my patriarch’s bicep tensed and his veins seemingly popped out of his forearms. This answered any questions about whether or not a sea monster was indeed lurking in wait for our bait. Then, as he reeled the line in, and as the monoflint strands zig-zagged while coming closer to the surface, the first thing I noticed was the monsters bright yellow eyes. The lemon colored orbs were frightening enough, but the flashes of silver appearing like bolts of lightning beneath the waves nearly terrified me.

As my alleged monster was lifted onto the boat, to my astonishments, instead of a surfacing sea monster, a rather large adult Bluefish stuffed with sand eels was pulled over the side. I knew this as it quickly spit up its stomach contents trying to shake the embedded hook. I believe we landed the boat’s first fish, however, in an almost choreographed dance every rod on the boat began to shake in unison. There were so many Bluefish coming over the rails, we were ankles deep in their slime and blood covered remains in a matter of minutes.

After dispatching the first few fish with a small wooden bat, I meekly asked my grandfather why the following one was so fat? Since he wasn’t an Ethologist, I can only assume his response that, “The fish was pregnant” was a simple answer to end my adolescent questioning. As the loads of fish continued to swing over the railing, I stood silently watching the allegedly pregnant fish desperately struggling for the oxygen it needed to survive. As its gills opened and close, and as its tail began to beat furiously against the floor boards, instead of still being in awe of the sheer size of the fish, I felt sorry for it.

In an act of childhood ignorance, I proceeded to reach down and pick it up. Thankfully I was immediately stopped, as this was no small crab and possessed a row of razor sharp teeth. Seeing my distress, in an act of compassion long before conservation was popular, my grandfather whispered that if I wanted, I could release this one pregnant fish, and possibly catch her next generation of sons another day.
It took only a nod and a smile to seal the fate of that Bluefish. I watched as my grandfather’s knuckled hands firmly grasped the fish by its tail and chin. Then he gently released it. As the fish darted back into the dark abyss, I clearly saw a smile on the old man’s face, which now matched the expression on my own. It was only a minuscule moment in the scope of my existence, but till this day, I can still picture his expression through that mist. For reasons I am not privy to, I unknowingly recorded each detail, not realizing how important moments such as these would later become to me. There was no way I could know many of my precious memories such as these would later become just a blur.

The majority of these moments have evaporated leaving gaps in time, like mud puddles in the middle of a crystal clear lake. However, if I close my eyes tightly enough, I can still picture a Cormorant dive beneath the waves to steal a hooked fish. I can almost feel the cold ocean spray hitting my face, or almost recall that scent of low tide. Looking back with the gift of hindsight, I admit to being fortunate in material things. I was privileged enough to gain access to vessels of all shapes and sizes, yet I believe I am more fortunate now that I have been stripped of everything. After all the material things have vanished, I still possess many fond memories; while many in my position have never been fortunate enough to create any.