Two hundred dollars…
That is still a lot of money, but in 1984 it was a lot more, and it was quite an extraordinary gift I received from my father, who was a working class, blue collar, hourly-wage union guy employed at a foam-making factory.
It was Christmastime, and, yes, this is a favorite Christmas story of mine, with fly-fishing as a solid undercurrent — but with family memory guiding the boat.
I had recently moved out West from the only home I had known until then, and had returned to Pennsylvania to visit my dad for Christmas.
I was 23 years old at the time. I took the $200 my dad gave me, drove to a fly shop about an hour away, and bought the rod: a Gary Loomis, graphite, IM6, 9 feet long for a 5-weight line — a creation of such beauty I could not wait to get back West to try it out.
I returned to the house, and proudly displayed it to my dad.
“You give you kids some money, and it burns a hole in your pocket,” was his first response when I told him I spent the entire $200 on a fly rod.
He was dumbfounded, but not disappointed — I think.
I was shocked at his response, but my own inner happiness at his “gift” prevailed.
You see, as time stretched and accumulated, I was able to relive that moment — when my dad was still very healthy and alive — in the present.
His comment came from a man who worked very hard for his money, all his life, and for me to trade that cash in less than two hours for a fly rod, well, it was something beyond his system of belief.
But for me, fishing with that fly rod was like driving down a newly paved road in a fast car on a late summer’s evening.
It was beautiful.
It was truly, a gift.
My dad knew I had a passion for fly-fishing, but really, at that time, it was still a passion unrequited.
I had just begun to pursue fish with a fly, and was doing it with a hand-me-down fiberglass rod a buddy of my dad’s gave him. But it was a rod my dad never used, because he had neither the inclination nor the passion for fly-fishing.
That $200 allowed me to almost become one with an exemplar of functional art.
Again, I was new to the sport, and casting that old hand-me-down fly rod was the only real experience I had.
I have always been so grateful for my dad’s gift.
Through my newspaper career I became an outdoor writer, and actually got paid to write about my fly-fishing adventures and the people I met through that endeavor.
I have been fortunate, so fortunate, because of that gift…
My dad passed a few summers ago, but through the years after he gifted me that $200, I taught him to fly-fish. We enjoyed many fishing trips throughout the West, and I know he was proud of me and my fly-fishing life lived through writing and all the associated characters/friends and stories along the way.
One summer’s evening some 15 years after I bought that first fly rod, and after a beautiful Wyoming day when we fished and began to tell stories and eat and drink on the deck of my home, I looked over at my dad, and I could see he was really happy.
I said to him, with well-earned Irish-American sarcasm, “You know, Dad, that fly-fishing thing never really worked out for me.”
He leaned forward in his chair, rested his forearms on the table, looked me square in the eye, and with that crooked, sideways grin of his, said…
He then took a sip of beer, leaned back in his chair and looked west to the mountains.
I’m wearing that crooked grin as I write this, and there are tears in my eyes.
Here’s to remembering the ones we love and those we miss at this Christmastime.
All the best to you now, and through the coming year.
Maybe I will see you on the water.