Today is the day! I smile to myself underneath my Cabbage Patch Kid comforter. It’s a rare treat to have this comforter because I know how much it cost my dad to buy. We don’t have much money and it’s not often I get something new. That’s OK though. Today is THE day!
Everyday this week we’ve been fishing, me and my dad, at the lake. I’ve listened to him from across the expanse of covered water in the crappy house. He’s been telling his fishing buddies we’re going to the coast. I’m so excited when I hear it for the first time. I sit quietly holding my fishing pole, looking down into the murky, smelly water inside the dimly lit shack.
I wonder if my old fishing pole will be able to handle a saltwater fish? What is it that daddy called it? A whitie? No! A whiting! I remember those. Fun to catch. They pull your line and jerk and tug and you feel like your feet are going to come out from under you! At 8 years old though I’m tough. I can do it!
I look over at my dad and he yells across to me, “Any bites?”
“No dad! Be quiet, you’re going to scare them away!,” I hush him in my little voice. Well not so little now. I am 8.
Today is the day! All week I’ve been listening to him and the men talk about what bait to use. Dead shrimp, eel (eeeew…I’ve never seen one of those up close), cut-bait. How sad! You catch a puny little fish and cut it into pieces to use to catch bigger fish.
I creep silently from my covers, shivering in the early morning air. It’s February and it’s cold here in West Texas but it won’t be so bad at the coast. That’s way more South than here and it’s always warmer South. I go to the bathroom and the feel the cool linoleum on my bare feet. My skin is a soft brown color and my hair bleached blond by the sun from the past summers at the coast. Driving the long drive to the coast is a treat and we haven’t been all Winter and I’m itching to go. My feet are prancing in place as I brush my teeth. I hear my dad walk into the kitchen. He won’t be expecting me to be awake all on my own already but then again I hid my excitement really well from him all week. Everytime he looked over at me eavesdropping I looked away pretending to study the wiggly worms in the bucket next to me. He might know though because a couple of times he smiled before going back to the man talk.
“Well are you ready? Where’s your pole!,” my dad booms, scaring me out of my memories of the past week!
“Daaaad! Don’t do that!,” I squeal, pretending to be scared. “I didn’t get a chance to clean it up last night so I woke up early to surprise you!”
“Well get on out and get dressed. We have a long drive ahead of us.”
I bounce back to my room, trying to conceal my excitement, get dressed quickly and run to the living room. Some things are just too hard to hold back when you’re 8. My eyes open in surprise. OK. I’m not that surprised but still today is the day and dad already has the poles lined up, restrung with new line and shiny hooks dangling from the tips. The tackle boxes are set out along with our fish baskets and the old styrofoam cooler that is no doubt packed with sandwiches and sodas. It’s a routine my dad has. I know he sat up late into the night while I slept making sure the reels were greased and the rods in tip top shape for fishing. The Ocean, my dad says, is a mighty warrior princess who will take your rod and snap it right in half if you don’t show her who’s boss! No worries here. I’ve got my game face on.
After we are packed in the truck, cooler between us and we pull out of the driveway, our adventure has started. We are leaving the flatland! Headed for the salty land of Corpus Christi and Padre Island. This time we are going fishing in the surf. Not just on the jetties or the piers, but real live, wading in the waves up to our armpits, surf! Where the jellyfish play and the shark hunt. I’m not afraid of sharks though. Nope. I’ve had one wrapped around my leg once when my dad was fishing and I was playing in the breakers. He had one on the line and it had swam and swam in circles until I was tangled up with it. A black tail. Of course I didn’t know it until me and the shark got closer to shore and then boy did my dad have a fit! I didn’t get bit though. My dad said that even though the mosquitos thought I was sweeter than saccharin, the shark thought I was saltier than Poseidon himself. That had made me laugh. My dad could do that. Take a moment of danger and make you see the funny side.
Well into the trip, after leaving the flat plains of Lubbock and heading into the Hill Country where I tried to stay awake counting deer on the side of the road, I fell asleep with my head on top of the cooler. The hum of the truck, my dad’s Conway Twitty cassette playing quietly and the smell of Old Spice and bait, lulled me into a dream filled slumber. One that I will never forget even when I’m old and gray and my dad is gone. In my sleep I’m a little girl. Holding a fishing pole for the first time. My dad behind me trying to show me how to cast an open face reel without getting the string all jumbled up. He is patient just like he is in real life.
“It’s all in the wrist Misty and you havta’ let your thumb ride along the line, not too hard and not too soft. Control it. Like this.”
He shows me again and again in my dream until I am sure that I am wide awake and casting the line across the cab of the truck.
I am awakened by the slow throttle of the truck downshifting. The first thing I sense is the heaviness of the salt air on my skin. It’s sticky like molasses. I feel as if someone has poured syrup over my skin. I open my mouth to yawn and taste the same saltiness on my tongue. Smelling the sea air I spring awake and sit upright just in time to see the big bridge we are going to cross that leads into Corpus. Today is the day! We are here!
“Look dad! Look at the ships!,” I exclaim as we cross over the huge bridge.
“Yep. Look at the tug boats getting ready to push them out to Sea past the channel. Just like last time. Always working.,” he says to me.
I can see the skyline and it looks the same as it did several months ago in the rearview mirror as we drove away for the last time in the summer. To me nothing has changed but my dad is pointing out the newly renovated motel that used to look awful and scary to me. I made him promise once we’d never stay there. I remember mentioning something about guns and murderers. He had laughed. He points out the People’s Street T-Head where our favorite charter boat, the “Captain Clark” sits regally. It has just come out of dry dock my dad tells me. Every Winter it goes in for repairs and comes back out for fishing charters in the Spring. Technically it’s not Spring yet so I know we won’t be going out into the bay this trip. We will however buy our bait shrimp from the grungy, smelly, bearded men yelling and tossing rope around the tiny shrimping boats.
We pull into the T-Head and park in front of the “Captain Clark”. The captain is there polishing something on the deck and he waves to my dad and my dad yells hello. Taking my hand to help me navigate through the early tourists that are here to see the Salina statue and pay tribute, I dodge seagull poop and slippery fish guts on the concrete. Fancy dressed ladies and men are walking by us with their cameras around their necks, feeding the seagulls bread.
“You know what happens when you feed the seagulls right above your head don’t you?,” my dad asks smiling down at me.
“You get POOPED on!,” I giggle. He squeezes my hand and smiles again and focuses on our destination. The smelliest man on earth as far as I’m concerned. I’m in awe though. He is skinny but brown like leather. Like the seats of my dads truck. He doesn’t look like he has muscles but he is carrying big heavy coolers of shrimp back and forth between his two boats.
I gaze around happily at my surroundings as my dad steps aboard and leaves me to my thoughts and negotiates our bait. I am so excited to be here again. My home away from home. I think I might want to live here one day when I grow up. How cool would that be to get to go fishing all the time? Anytime you wanted! Very cool! Yes. I will move here with my dad when I grow up because I will still need his help fishing. Besides it’s what we do.
Back in the truck with the dead shrimp between my feet we drive out past Flour Bluff and towards Padre Island. My dad is old so he has a special pass that will get us in for free once we get there. It’s good to have an old dad sometimes. I snicker as I think this.
Once pass the pay gate, with a hefty “Good luck!” from the man in the shack we drive towards the ocean. The windows are rolled down and I stare out at the tan and white sand dunes on either side of us. I can hear the Ocean calling us. Saying my name. I know it’s saying my name and I tell my dad this.
“This is your place. Our place. It’s all ours because nobody will be here this time of year.” And he’s right! We drive off of the asphalt and onto the first bit of sand. It’s packed hard from all the cars that have driven over it. It’s not the prettiest beach. It’s not white and blinding and the water isn’t clear. The foam from the breakers are though and there are lot’s of white caps today. The wind is up and I was wrong. It’s chilly! The seaweed strung across the damp sand tells the story of the tide from the previous twenty-four hours. We will park, my dad says close to the water, but will have to move back as the day wears on because the tide will come back in. Fifteen minutes, which to me is an eternity, and we park in our spot. Today is here! We are here! I bound from the truck, my dad’s voice growing fainter behind me. He is surely telling me to be careful and not go to far because he needs my help. I have to get closer though. The song of the waves breaking against the shore mesmerize me. The foam like snake tongues lapping ever so close to my shoes and forcing me to run squealing back from them.
I stand in awe as I watch my dad and his muscular body pound pvc pipes into the packed sand. We will put our poles in these so we won’t have to hold them the whole time. They have big bells on them to tell us when a fish has them. We can watch the poles bend but my dad has explained to me before that the motion of the waves washing in and out again will make them bend too. So much information my dad is full of. So much knowledge of fishing he has. And he has chosen to teach ME. Little old me, his secrets to catching fish. Maybe today I’ll catch a shark. I smile big.
“Maybe you will…or maybe…a shark will catch YOU!,” my dad booms and laughs. I didn’t know I had said that out loud.
And so our day began. Today was the day. The day. One day in a million that I remember with my dad.
We visited more when I became a teenager, not as much even though we eventually moved only three hours from the coast. By that time though, my interest had faded from fishing to getting tan. From being awed by the majestic murky, salty water, to being annoyed that it made my hair frizzy and my skin feel gross. I still loved the Ocean, my priorities had changed though and there came a time when I didn’t remember those days as much as I did before. Now as I grow older and my dad has passed on and I have taught my own son to fish, the memories often come flooding back at the most inopportune times. It’s like I’m right there again. In my old bathroom, smiling and dancing back and forth. Laying my sleepy head on that wore out styrofoam cooler. Threading a shrimp onto a shiny new hook. Feeling the pole beneath my hands turning every which way with an angry fish on the end of my line. I can almost feel the fierce look on my determined young face as I wrangle the fish and promise my dad, “I have it! I have it!”
Even though the sun has long set on those days spent with my dad in the salty air, in my mind the sun forever shines on the memories he gave me. That my friends is something that can never be taken away.