Another writing prompt in Old Friend from Far Away – Give me a memory of your mother, aunt, or grandmother. Begin with “I remember…”
I remember my grandmother opening a Christmas gift from my sister and me. On Christmas morning, we rushed my parents to get ready so we could get to our grandparents house on Wilke Lake as early as possible. It was only a half hour drive away, but each minute of that morning before we got to dive into presents was like a slow torture. My uncle would have driven up from Illinois the night before, and my aunt and her husband would pick up our great-grandmother on their way out. As soon as everyone was there, it was present time!
Grandma’s brown hair was cut short, permed and curly. She’s tall, thin, and wears glasses. She sat quietly smoking a cigarette in her chair while others opened gifts. Then it was her turn. My sister and I were excited to see how she’d react. We’d chosen a poster – maybe not the most practical gift for a grandma – but when we saw it, we just had to get it for her. After unwrapping the tube, she stood up to see what it was. She peeled the plastic off and wrangled the tightly rolled poster open enough to see the image. The grin on her face told us we had a hit! It was Don Johnson – Miami Vice. My grandma had a crush on him. She isn’t your typical grandma.
She taught me how to fish with a long bamboo fishing rod. It had no reel – just a fixed length of fishing line and a red and white bobber and hook at the end of the line. She showed me how to thread a wiggly earthworm onto the hook, and to gently toss the line out into the water, then watch for the bobber to dunk from sight. I stared and stared at the bobber, afraid to take my eyes off it. I was convinced fish were nibbling at my worm every time a slight wave made the bobber dip in the water. After pulling in an empty line over and over, I learned to have patience and wait until it really went under. I caught tiny pan fish – perch, bluegills, sunfish – the small fish that lingered in the water in the shadow of the pier. No one in their right mind would do anything other than toss these tiny creatures back into the water, but Grandma meticulously cleaned and cooked my catch, no matter how many fish it might take to make up a dinner.
She taught me never to panic when I got a fish hook stuck in my hand, and how to pinch a worm between my fingernails and break it in two, so I didn’t put more bait on the hook than I needed. She taught me how to scrape the scales off the fish, onto newspapers laid out on the picnic table, and how to clean the insides out just right so they were ready for frying. As I got older, she taught me how to cast with a rod and reel and how to adjust the height of the bobber and sinkers so my worm would hang lower beneath the water line. She helped me untangle the weeds I inevitably pulled in when I set the bait too low. Fishing wasn’t her only specialty, though. She could do anything and feared nothing.
She caught garter snakes and put them in a big glass jar so I could get a good look at them without running away in fear. I was a magnet for leeches when I swam in the lake. I often came out dripping wet, with the slimy back bloodsuckers stuck to my legs, feet, or toes, but she wasn’t phased by them. She sprinkled salt on the leeches which made them curl up and drop off. If that didn’t work, she torched them with her lighter until they released their hold on my flesh. When they fell, she grabbed them to use as fishing bait. She was locked in battle with a Northern Pike she named Moby Dick. She was convinced that her nemesis jumped out of the water every day, just at the edge of her casting range. He was taunting her, and she would best him one day.
My sister and I stayed at my grandparents house on weekends fairly often. We ran up and down the pier, rode around the lake on a pontoon boat (sometimes I even got to steer the boat!), and when we were big enough, took a rowboat out so we could fish further away. Lunch was a jelly sandwich with some chips and a cream soda – quickly inhaled, so we could get back to the business of running around outside. We caught frogs by the dozens and kept them in a bait box hanging next to the pier until it was so full, Grandma made us release them all so they wouldn’t die. We slept in the living room on the pull-out sofa. The sheets were crisp and clean and we fell asleep while Grandma watched her favorite shows on TV – Hee Haw, Benny Hill, Fantasy Island, MacGyver, and her favorite show of all – Miami Vice.