Father’s Day for many of us whose dads are no longer living is primarily a day of memories.
No cards to send, no phone calls or visits, no celebratory dinners. If we’re fortunate, however, we can still recall a time when he was the most important man in our world.
My father died when I was just a kid, so my thoughts of him all reflect a more or less childish viewpoint. What stands out though is what fun he was to be around.
Dad was one of six children, five of whom were raising their families within a five mile radius of our home. On major holidays like Memorial Day (called Decoration Day in those years), July 4th or Labor Day, we all gathered for picnics in Sioux City’s Stone Park. By this time there were nearly 20 cousins, enough for a good baseball game in one of the small clearings in the woods.
As soon as everyone arrived, the picnic baskets were unloaded onto the wooden tables, and my dad got busy organizing the kids into teams. With such a wide age spread (I was third from the youngest), the teams were a pretty mismatched lot, but no one seemed to care that there were more laughs than two-base hits.
Fishing was my father’s favorite sport, though, and with Minnesota and its thousand lakes just to the north of Iowa, Dad usually took my mother, brother Ted and me for a two-week summer vacation at Green Lake, near Willmar. During the early years I was too young to go out with Dad and Ted who were joined by several other fishing enthusiasts from Sioux City.
My shining moment came when I was about 10 years old and patient enough to sit quietly in the boat. Ole, our Norwegian guide, rowed and Dad, Ted and I trolled using minnows for bait. After about an hour of no action, I got a strong hit on my line which almost pulled me out of the boat. The fish was so powerful I couldn’t rewind the reel, and my Dad laid his rod aside to help me land the critter.
We finally got it up near the boat, close enough to see the struggling fish’s size, when my line snapped a couple of feet from its mouth. Oh no! My catch was gone.
I was close to tears as Dad attempted to console me. Then he picked up his rod which was lying in the bottom of the boat and began to rewind his line. Lo and behold, as he wound up the slack line, we saw my fish caught in a loop of his line, my hook and broken line still caught in his mouth.
Apparently the fish, tired from its struggles, had drifted under the boat and become entangled in a loop of Dad’s slack line. When he reeled in the line, the huge fish came up with it.
My catch turned out to be a 16 ¼ pound pickerel (sometimes mistakenly called northern pike). It took first prize that season for the largest fish caught in a five lake-area contest conducted by the nearby Olde Mill Inn. My prize was a new Pflueger reel, a big deal for a kid in those days. That same summer my brother won third prize (a new nylon line) for the largest bass caught. Since his fishing gear was newer than mine, he kindly gave the prizet to me to replace my old broken line.
For the remaining few years of Dad’s life, even as he fought cancer, he enjoyed teasing me about who actually caught the fish.
“It was my hook in his mouth.” I insisted.
“But my line was what brought him up to the boat,” he argued, barely suppressing a grin.
In truth, he could not have been more pleased about my win. And I could not be more grateful for these precious memories.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there.
Carol Ferguson is a weekend columnist for the Herald-Banner.