I was confused one evening during my freshman year of high school as my mom spoke on the phone for a bit, cryptically couching language so as to disguise the topic and her feelings towards it. That wasn't entirely unusual, as during the days of the family land-line telephone, private conversations required a code language, of sorts. What did surprise me was that after a few minutes of her exchange, she hollered at me and said that the call was for me.
Skeptically, I greeted whoever was on the line, and heard Grandpa's friendly voice on the other end. "You want to go fishing tomorrow?" he asked, mischievously.
"Tomorrow is Wednesday, Grandpa, I have school."
"Well no shit, Sherlock, but the salmon are in, and thick. Teeny said they were knocking them dead yesterday," he implored. "Teeny" was a longtime friend of Grandpa's who still fishes prodigiously today, and catches more than anybody.
"Mom will never let me skip school to fish, you know that."
"Already taken care of, Sonny Boy. Your mom is my daughter, after all. You just need to be at my house by 6:30 in the morning."
Still confused, but liking where circumstances were heading, I told him I'd be there bright and early. I hung up the phone and glanced, carefully, at my conservative mother.
"That's really okay with you?" I asked, knowing that in addition to being the woman who disciplined our most significant childhood mishaps with a Ping-Pong paddle, she also happened to be the attendance clerk at the middle school, and was well-versed in the district's truancy policies.
"You are old enough to make your own decisions now," she said. "Plus, two unexcused absences must occur before the student is required to miss a sporting event, so you should be okay for Cross Country."
My mind raced as it occurred to me that not only was my mother enabling this excursion, but she was citing the loophole through which I would avoid all formal consequences.
As children, we are often taught in school or otherwise to view the world through the lens of ethical legalism. It's a convenient shortcut to lay out a code of arbitrary rules and convince the world that it is somehow inherently moral to follow them, as opposed to having to take the time to describe the validity of each. But in this case, rules were being broken, and for something as fun and trivial as salmon fishing.
Were I not in adolescence, and thus gifted with the ability to sleep deeply for prolonged periods, I probably wouldn't have gotten a wink that night. But I slept hard and morning came quickly, landing me at Grandpa's house right on time. He was in the midst of filling his coffee thermos when I arrived, and he packed a bag of smoked fish to snack on, along with lunch and a couple Halloween-sized candy bars, rarely eaten but always handy in case his pancreas had a flash of functionality, rendering his insulin shot too powerful and plummeting his blood sugar.
We loaded up the boat and headed to the dock, which was busy despite being a weekday, and the early hour. Grandpa cursed at the sight of Teeny's rig, already parked with an empty boat trailer, indicating he was in the water and fishing before we arrived, a circumstance that makes one feel simultaneously lazy and amateurish, no matter how early it is.
Clouds of blue smoke filled the air as Grandpa fired up his 75-horsepower Johnson motor and prepared to jet up to the Power Line Hole, where people were reporting great success. The flavor of anticipation welled up on the back of my tongue, as Chinook boiled on top of the water across from the dock. They were in, no doubt, and we'd be tangling with them soon.
Not even an hour later we were trolling spinners under the Power Lines when my rod shook quickly and erratically, the unmistakable sign of a good Chinook hook-up. "Fish on!" I announced, glancing away from the action quickly enough to see Grandpa's age-carved perma-frown lift from longitude to latitude.
Back in those days nearly everybody on the river knew each other, so etiquette hovered around its all-time high. As the troll of nearby boats would approach a boat with a fish on, all of the fishermen in the approaching vessel would reel up and pass the action slowly, so as to avoid being an unnecessary hazard for the lucky fisherman.
As I fought the fish, my eye caught the unmistakable outline of one particular approaching boat. Grandpa must have seen it at the same time, because he juiced the trolling motor ever so slightly, turning the boat so as to expose the broadside of the action to the forthcoming vessel. He was experiencing the joy of watching his grandson fight a fish right in front of Teeny. ...