My folks had three teenage daughters when they discovered they were expecting a baby. Pretty sure my dad, Benton, at age 47 just knew his son was finally on the way. One last chance to carry on the family name. Oh the gloom that must have been thick in that hospital nursery the first time he glanced down and thought “No son. Not now. Not ever.” In fact many many years later I came across the bundle of greeting cards that my parents received after I was born. Some of them had all the happy exuberance of sympathy cards. Apparently the whole world, or at least all of Ottawa County Kansas, was sad for them. “Well, you must be disappointed you didn’t get your boy.” Stuff like that. Just dripping with happiness and encouragement.
Fortunately neither my mom nor my dad ever let me know any of that. If Daddy was disappointed in my gender, I certainly never knew it. For all I knew my dad thought I hung the moon. We were pretty thick friends, and I became his trusty sidekick and loyal companion. As a county employee who drove those big old yellow Caterpillar road maintainers, he’d often take me on the job. I felt pretty dog-gone important as we drove through the countryside doing what I considered to be the MOST PRESTIGIOUS JOB EVER. And after work, most evenings you’d find me out in the workshop helping him with his carpentry projects. But by far, hands down, the best times we had involved fishing.
We’d fish farm ponds between Niles and Vine Creek pretty often, but my favorite memories involve river fishing. The Solomon River west of Minneapolis. After suppertime in the summer we’d head to the river in his old 1948 Chevrolet pickup to set our lines. Our aluminum fishing boat with Evinrude motor was stored on the Miller farm and we’d venture (slide sometimes) down the muddy river bank and climb in the boat. I loved the trips down the river, stopping here and there to hang baited lines on tree limbs. One of us would bait and hang the lines and the other would steer the boat with the arm that extended from the motor. I preferred driving the boat, of course. What girl wouldn’t? But if I bumped into a log or something it was back to baiting lines for me. We’d travel to a point near the dam then turn around and head back to the Miller farm to climb back up the muddy bank and head home. The next morning before the sun came up he’d holler at me that it was time to get up and run our fishing lines. And, wonder of wonders, I’d get out of bed. And go with him willingly, sometimes half asleep. Watching the sun light up the sky as we traveled along, I’d listen to my dad hum tunes with accompaniment provided by the Chevy engine. Happy noises to my ears. We almost always returned home with a big stringer of fish.
My dad almost never, well let’s just be honest, he NEVER said the words “I love you” to me. Probably just the way a lot of dads were in that day, I don’t know. But I can tell you from the bottom of my heart there is no doubt that he loved me. Actions? Words? Which speaks louder? Yep, I was his Bunny girl. (his words) For 17 years until he lost his life to leukemia, I was his Bunny.
During those 17 years I was just flat out positive that I loved fishing. So a few years later when I married my husband, and acquired a father-in-law who loved to fish, it only seemed natural that we’d all go fishing. I’d like to be able to report that I still loved fishing, but I did not. No I did not. Not one little bit. I did not love fishing. I loved my dad.
A few years ago I was driving to Auburn Kansas to spend the day in the company of my delightful, adorable, and perfect grandchildren while their folks were at work. It’s a pretty drive through the Flint Hills and I dialed in a Country music station when I took the Admire exit to take the two lane road through Burlingame on into Auburn. Country music isn’t the music genre I usually opt to listen to, but it kind of helped to pass the time as I drove along. Until one song came on the radio that grabbed at my heart like a vice grip. Trace Adkins’ “Just Fishin”. I can still tell you my exact location when I heard it, and I can report that driving visibility became very poor because of the tears flooding down my cheeks.
Thanks, Daddy, for taking me “just fishing”. I love you. We’ll fish together again one day. I promise.
For your listening pleasure: