As I proudly watched and took those very important pictures, they sat there catching one saltwater catfish after another, each fish bringing more fanfare than the previous one.
I didn't think much about that particular trip at the time. My Dad was on his annual two week pilgrimage to Cabin G at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. It was two weeks of daily leisure fishing for him, and my family was there for the middle weekend, something we also did every year.
Had I realized at that moment, that a lifetime impression was being made right before my very eyes, I think - no, I know - I would have paid a lot more attention. As it was, it was hot, I was sweating profusely (as were Tom and my Dad), and there was not a stick of breeze blowing on this July afternoon.
We were anchored on the flat just off the shoreline in front of the cabin. If memory serves me right, my Mother and wife were watching from the air conditioned cabin as we sweltered in the heat.
Fish after fish came in, each with a little help from Granddaddy, and each with a great deal of fanfare. Catfish! Of all the fish to catch, it would be the one for which we had the most disdain, ordinary bait stealers that can ruin your day with just a prick from one of their spines. Pop often cursed them under his breath, thinking we could not hear him. Yet, here he was, catching one after another in the most uncomfortable of conditions.
I learned something that day, and I think only as I grow older do I realize just what I learned . You see, Tom is grown now and has a family of his own. His first son, and my grandson, James, is eleven now. I bought him a little plastic fishing rod and reel when he was two years old. I though it would be a nice toy.
His Dad and Mom took him for a boat ride with that little rod and reel, and then came by the house. The look on James' face as he tried to tell me about the "big boat go fast", told me everything. I had not seen that look or those expressions in over thirty years. I think it was at that very moment that I realized what my Dad was doing as he suffered through that very hot afternoon with my son, Tom. He was setting a pattern for years to come, a pattern that to this day becomes almost an obsession for Tom.
I saw that look of delight as James told everyone he could about the big boat going fast. I watched his father's face while James went on, and I realized that a ritual was being repeated. Tom was like I was on that hot day at Flamingo. He knew it was fun for his son, but he has no idea how significant an impression he just made.
Pop told me many times, as my kids grew older, to take them fishing where they can catch some fish - any fish. I heard him, and I did manage to obey, but I only just now realized the significance.
I suppose I'll be telling Tom to take James fishing where he can catch some fish - any fish. And I suppose Tom will react the same way I did. I hope so! Becasue one day many years from now, Tom will be watching and listening as James deals with a child of his own. My hope is that he will have already realized, as I just did, how important it is to make good impressions on young minds. I hope I'm still around to find out!
It happened to be fishing and a first fish that left an imprint on Tom that day so many years ago. But it was many, many, more imprints that accumulated over those early years to help form a complete person.
Wouldn't it be great if every child had the opportunity to have positive, healthy experiences! Each of you can help! Maybe we can all start by placing an imprint on a child in our lives. As for me, I'm taking James fishing this week to a place where we can catch fish - and any old fish will do just fine!