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Fishing with my father

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Those fishing excursions, spent in a rustic cabin with no telephone and no electricity and located near the borders of New Hampshire to the west and the Canadian province of Quebec to the north, were the only times that my father and mother spent apart from each other; and that was only because my mother had the good sense not to go.

Dick
Flavin

The free-agent market in baseball is a little late in developing this year. It's nothing to be concerned about; it varies from year to year. As soon as someone breaks the ice and signs a contract, it establishes what the market price will be and others will quickly follow suit.
It reminds me of the days long ago when my father would get his annual phone call from the proprietor of a fishing camp in Maine telling him that the ice was out on Lake Mooselookmeguntic. It meant that the fish would be rising to the top from the lake's depths in search of food. In other words, the fishing season was on. Some years, that call would come in early May, and in others, it would be closer to Memorial Day, but it was sure to come. When it did, within the next few days, Jim Flavin and a few like-minded friends would pile into a car and head for western Maine and a week of fishing.

Those fishing excursions, spent in a rustic cabin with no telephone and no electricity and located near the borders of New Hampshire to the west and the Canadian province of Quebec to the north, were the only times that my father and mother spent apart from each other; and that was only because my mother had the good sense not to go. If Jim, my father, ever had to travel for any reason, he always took Helen, my mother, with him. As the oldest male child among eight siblings, he had quit school in the seventh grade to help his family make ends meet. He was always uneasy about his lack of a formal education. This was despite the fact that he had established his own real estate and insurance agency and built it into a very successful and highly-respected business. My mother was more outgoing than he was, made friends easily, and, without ever saying it aloud, he leaned on her to take the lead in social situations. His companions on his fishing trips were long-time business associates from Quincy, Massachusetts, with whom he was very comfortable.
When I was of college age, I was deemed old enough to be included in the annual fishing expeditions. They were, in a word, awful. It took hours to get there, and you can guess who the designated chauffeur was. A kid in his late teens is not a natural fit with four sixty-something guys who would spend all their time talking about the tax rate in the City of Quincy or who might be running for the city council from Ward Six. There was no radio, so I couldn't even turn on a Red Sox game. The lack of adequate lamps made reading out of the question, so by 9:00 p.m. we were tucked into our lumpy beds, resting up for our first day of fishing, starting bright and early the next morning. Well, early but not yet bright. It was barely dawn when the alarm went off. We all stumbled down to our waiting boat at the water's edge. I don't know if anyone has ever told you, but western Maine is brutally cold at dawn that time of year before the sun is high enough in the sky to burn off the frost. Before long, we'd be on our way, our fishing lines trailing behind as we trolled for land-locked salmon with which the lake had been stocked back in the 19th century. Then, just as I was trying in vain to think of something -- anything -- to get my mind off of how cold I was -- BAM! Someone would get a strike on his line. High excitement filled the air as fisherman and fish battled it out until the fish was landed or -- just as likely -- managed to somehow wriggle free of the hook. Then it would be back to trolling and shivering until the next strike came, which might be in a few minutes, or it might be several hours. I confess that I had yet to learn the basic element that all fishermen must possess. Patience. My father, on the other hand, seemed more than happy to just drag his line behind the boat, giving it an occasional jig or two. He welcomed the change of pace from the constant pressure of running his own business and overseeing the properties in which he'd invested over the years. He would always keep an eye on the sky above us. He knew that summer squalls developed in a hurry in that country and that they could be brief but violent. A large lake was no place to be in a small boat when they hit. If the sky turned dark he'd direct that the boat we were in head back to the dock forthwith. He was right more often than wrong.
At the end of the day, someone in the party would filet a couple of the salmon we had caught, put them in a skillet, and cook them over the wood-burning stove that heated our cabin. Everyone raved about how delicious the fresh-caught fish was as they wolfed it down. Everyone except me; I didn't like the taste of salmon then and I don't like it now. (I do admit to acquiring a taste for smoked salmon over the years.) My thoughts at the end of that first day of fishing were always the same: "One day down, six more to go."
If my father had been hoping that our shared jaunts to Mooselookmeguntic (said to be a tribal Indian word for "moose feeding place") would be a bonding experience for father and son, we never did become pals, either then or later. We never spent time reminiscing about "the one that got away" or the laughs we shared. In fact, I don't remember us talking much at all about our shared fishing experiences. Yet I somehow came away from those trips (I took several with him) with a better understanding of the kind of man he was. I had a deeper respect for him and for what he had accomplished in his life. I had always felt that he loved me, my brother, and my sisters, though he was never able to say the words, but now I was sure of it. I knew that no matter what happened he would always have my back. I developed an unspoken but deep affection for him.
He died almost half a century ago, and I often find myself wishing we could do just one more fishing trip together -- only, this time, I would choose a warmer climate and stay in a place that had room service.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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