by Tree Hugger
This is a story of family traditions and how they are passed on to new generations.
The rough planks of the dock and the chill of the morning dew made her curl her toes in a futile attempt to preserve their warmth. She had been in such a hurry to get outside that even a few moments spent looking for shoes were too many to spare. It was still summer, at least that’s what the calendar said. She could already feel the cool mornings of the approaching fall trying to steal in.
Her cotton sweater and cropped pants would be more than adequate covering later in the day, once the sun had climbed high into the late summer sky. Right now though, Grace gratefully cradled the mug of coffee that warmed her hands. Tendrils of fragrant steam rose from the vessel to caress her face and tickle her nose.
At this time of year, she hoarded these final days of summer like a miser hoarded coins. She tried to savor every possible minute. If she could imprint the memories on her brain, she could pull them out like old photographs when the snow flew and summer faded to a barely remembered dream.
Her family had been spending their summers here for four generations. Now, of course, her lake summers were confined to weekends and a few vacation days, but in her youth, all of the extended family’s children lived on the lake from the day school let out for the summer until Labor Day.
She felt rather than heard him come up behind her. His arms reached around her and she leaned back into his warm chest. He rested his chin atop her head.
“Katie’s up. She’s so excited that it’s all Carol can do to keep her from floating the Snoopy bobber in her cereal bowl.”
“It’s a big day for her. In this family, turning three is a rite of passage. You’re officially old enough to fish. Our baby isn’t such a baby any more.”
She could hear the smile in his voice when he asked, “Does that mean we won’t be hearing that stage whisper from the side of the bed at the crack of dawn asking: ‘Grandma, Grandpa are you awake?’”
“I hope not,” she answered with a laugh, “what could be finer than waking up to that shining face?”
“Waking up to that shining face about two hours later?” he queried.
They turned and strolled the length of the dock in the direction of the cabin, his arm draped comfortingly across her shoulders; her’s looped around his waist.
“It’s going to be a very busy day,” she said “I think I’ll need more coffee.”
* * *
The day had warmed and promised to be a jewel in the crown of summer. Just a breath of a breeze stirred Katie’s auburn curls, making them dance. In the water, tiny minnows darted around the dock pilings, like small children playing tag on a playground.
The child’s eyes sparkled brightly. Her little body all but vibrated with suppressed excitement. She kept her face a solemn mask as she listened to instructions from her grandmother. Fishing was serious business in this family and she felt proud that it was finally her turn.
“You know that jumping on the dock or being too loud will scare the fish, don’t you?” Grace asked as she double checked the buckles of Katie's life jacket. Truth be told, the child would barely even have a chance to get wet if she fell from the dock with her parents and grandparents keeping watch over her. But, the number one family rule said that if you were under eight and on the dock, you wore a life jacket – no exceptions. Oh, and three was the magic number. Nobody under three could walk onto the dock.
“Grandpa will help you bait your hook and remember….”
“It’s sharp!” she piped.
“Yes, it’s sharp, so watch those little fingers.”
“What do you do when Snoopy goes under water?” her grandfather quizzed.
“Reel it in! I’m gonna catch one, Grandpa! My hook is gonna catch the biggest fish in the lake,” the pre-schooler quipped.
Grace sat back on her heels as she watched the tiny girl drop her line into the lake for the very first time. It seemed like just yesterday that her son Kurt walked onto the dock for the first time. How could 50 years have passed since she first fished in the spot where her grandchild now stood? The mists of time and distance seemed to part and she could see the scenes, so similar to today, when she and later her own child were introduced to the family tradition.
Squeals of excitement and shouts of encouragement interrupted her musing. A few small splashes later, the tiniest sunfish God ever made curled and twisted at the end of Katie’s line.
“Hold him up, Kate,” Kurt called as he focused his camera to capture the moment. “He’s surely not the biggest fish in the lake, but he’s your first and that makes him extra special.”
“Okay, Katie,” Grace said. “Hold him very gently while Grandpa takes him off the hook.”
“Will it hurt?” The little girl’s brow wrinkled in concern.
“Well, maybe, but that’s where the magic comes in.”
“Magic?” Katie quizzed.
“You’ve got to give him a kiss to take away his hurt and fear, just like your mommy does when you get a bump. If you do that, he’ll be brave and let you catch him again some other day,” Grace confided sagely.
The small child stood still for a few seconds, as if she needed to give the task some thought. Then she nodded sharply, gently kissed the tiny fish on the head, and dropped him into the lake with a plop.
Grace gathered Katie into her arms, hugging her tightly. She savored the magic of that first kiss, the late summer sun and the promise of many summers yet to come.
* * *
Word count: 989