On Christmas Eve 1949, I received a Daiwo casting rod-and-reel set from my parents, who probably saved nickels and dimes all year to buy the present for me.
I wanted to use my new rod and reel immediately. I whined and begged my dad to take me fishing even though it was wintertime. Dad said it was a foolish request, adding, "however, if you can convince someone to take you, then it's your decision. I am saying that you should wait until it's warmer."
I took that as permission to act. I telephoned my buddy who lived across the street, Jimmy Zackary, who was a year younger than me. We had a relationship like conjoined twins: what one did, the other was bound to follow. I persuaded Jim to cajole his dad into taking us out for a Christmas-time fishing expedition.
Mr. Zackary agreed to take us for a couple hours of fishing on popular Kearsley Lake. He cleared it with my dad, who disclosed his doubts. Mr. Z assured dad it'd be okay. We had to bundle up pretty good since it was December - it's very cold in Michigan during the winter months.
The medium-sized lake had a pontoon bridge connecting the 18th hole with the first hole of an adjoining golf course. We selected two stepout sections where we could set down our gear and fish. There was snow on the barren golf course and no one else was fishing off the 300-foot bridge. We were definitely alone.
Jim and his dad baited their cane-pole hooks with worms and flipped the lines out, strategically positioning their poles using tackle boxes to angle them correctly. We all needed gloves to stay warm, and we stomped our feet periodically.
My set-up was different, since I planned to use a metal red-and-white colored spinner and cast out for the larger fish like pike and bass. My hypothesis was that I needed to fish the deeper waters in order to have a chance at landing anything bigger than the perch and bluegills I was accustomed to catching.
I was ready: the new rod, the new reel, new string and a colored spoon snapped on the leader. My arm was brought back for the cast, a warning given to Jim and Mr. Zackary to duck their heads, and whoosh, my right arm came forward with the force of a fastball pitched to home plate.
The line started to play out at a fast speed, 10 feet... 20 feet... and just as the lure was about to descend into the water, a severe backlash struck the reel.
My right index finger was not on the reel's finger hold. It should have been. The force of the failed cast jerked the entire rod and reel from my hand and the whole system went flying into the lake.
It disappeared from sight instantly. Aghast with shock and fright and adrenaline and without thinking - using only primal thoughts - I grabbed Jim's cane pole and began to troll the water in hopes of snagging my Christmas present.
Mr. Zackary heard the commotion, laid down his pole and carefully moved to my site. Any slip and he'd land in the lake. "What's going on, Bernard?" he asked. He could see that I was severely stressed.
"Oh, my God, Mr. Z, I lost my Christmas present," I panicked. "Dad is going to kill me. Dad didn't want me to go out today and now I went and lost his present. I'm dead," I lamented.
My thoughts were gloomy. All I wanted was to retrieve my Christmas present from the lake. I pleaded to God that if He helps me locate the tackle, I would never miss church services again. I was bargaining with the Big Guy.
Mr. Z grabbed his long cane pole, added a heavy sinker and made several careful casts in the vicinity of my lost Christmas gift. He hoped he could snag a part of the tackle, perhaps his hook would snag some of the line from my reel. He tried the maneuver for 30 minutes without success. Eventually, the rescue operation was determined a failure.
Upon arriving home, Mr. Z calmly spoke with my parents in our living room while I anxiously waited in my bedroom. I heard muffled shouts from dad. I cringed. Had I been in the living room, I probably would have been slapped - hard.
As it was, by the time I gathered sufficient courage to leave the relative safety of my bedroom to face my parents, dad was calmed down and seated in his favorite chair. Mr. Z was seated alongside my mother on the davenport.
"Come here son," mother said. She'd been crying. Mom was a slightly built woman of Polish lineage. Her features were best described as stoic. I went into my mom's arms for a hug. "We know all about what happened," she said. "It was an accident. Don't worry about it. Pray for forgiveness and give your father a hug. He feels more badly about this than you."
I cast a furtive glance toward my father in order to assess his feelings. He was clenching his jaws - a sign of slight anger. But no words came forth. I was spared a verbal tongue lashing at a bare minimum.
Alas, a reprieve. After my dad-hug, I thanked Mr. Z when he got up to leave. Mr. Z became my special adult-hero on that day. And I learned a valuable lesson about why I should have listened to my parents in the first place.
Bernie Sadowski is a Magnolia resident.[[In-content Ad]]