Accidents are the norm with me. I get my hand stuck in the doors at the malls. I trip over small pebbles on the sidewalk. I walk into trees. Elevator doors, escalators, low tree branches—all are just accidents with my name on them. And I absolutely fear steps and curbs. You get the idea. I wear trifocals after having had cataract surgery, and I just don’t notice the things that are about to bite me. But sometimes the accidents aren’t completely my fault, although the one today was mostly my fault. The rest of the blame goes to that big bass.
It was a simple thing, really. I tossed a plastic worm through the reeds about ten feet into the water, and at the count of ‘one’ a big bass hit it. The problem was that I was standing on a steep slippery slope and the bass just surprised me enough that I moved my feet the wrong way. Down I went towards, and eventually into, the water. As I fell I grabbed at a tree and left a few square inches of skin behind. Then the bass broke the line and got away. I’ve had worse, and I’m just fine. But given a choice of keeping my skin or the bass, I’ll take the bass. The skin grows back in a couple of weeks.
This reminded me of the number of times I’ve been told that fishing isn’t really a sport. Football, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc., are sports; fishing is just for people without a life. Growing up in Texas, there were those who rode horses and bulls, those who played football, those who played in a band, and those who fished. (I would have included those who drink beer, but that category transcends all other categories.) On the whole, the categories got along with each other, but occasionally there was an individual whose idea of a sport was very narrow.
I had a neighbor with a narrow mind. In fact his forehead was only about three inches wide, and as one followed the length of his long nose downward, one could easily see that his mouth was his biggest feature. He reminded me of a triangle with the point at the top. He believed fishing could not possibly be a sport since one had no possibility of injury. He did, however, believe being in a band was a sport since he personally witnessed the local high school band members whipping the football team in a Saturday afternoon game.
One day I had enough, and I challenged him to a weekend of combat fishing. In exchange I would subject myself to his sport—Saturday afternoon football at the local park. Strangely enough he agreed to this. His only stipulation was that I had to provide my own football team to play against his. Okay, I know about seven or eight guys who would be glad to join me, fishermen every one.
I picked up Willie at about five a.m. the next Saturday morning and drove him to my grandparent’s lake house where we launched one of the boats and motored over to a fishing hole. I knew the fishing here would be good, and I knew Willie would have fun catching a few fish in spite of his idea that fishing was not a sport. What I didn’t tell him about was long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen, bug repellant, lunch, water, a hat, and the fact that I don’t stop fishing until dark.
About two in the afternoon Willie was almost in tears, and I was almost feeling sorry for him, but not quite. I do give him credit for not whining or complaining about his situation; however, I wanted him to understand that fishing is not something to make light of. It is a sport, and it can be a tough sport. As the sun began to settle in the west, I turned the boat back to the landing.
I was actually afraid I might have overdone it a bit when I discovered Willie was too stiff to get out of the boat without help. And any help involved touching his sun-scorched skin. For about half and hour I eased him around until the feeling returned to his legs, and finally he could step over the boat rail and climb up to the dock under his own power. Then he discovered we still had to clean the boat and put it away right after we cleaned the fish and put them away.
On the way home that night I stopped at a local burger joint to get the poor guy something to eat. Very slowly Willie worked his way into the restaurant and into a booth where he sat staring into the distance. When the waitress came by for our order, Willie didn’t even notice her, so I ordered for him. When the food came, he methodically ate the burger and fries, and downed the soda without ever changing his stare into the unknown void. When he finished, I directed him back into the car and took him home.
I didn’t see or hear from Willie for several weeks after that trip, but eventually he recovered, because he came over to remind me about the football game. I invited him in and we had a talk about ‘sport.’ I didn’t convert him into a fisherman, but he was willing to concede the category of fishing did belong with horse and bull riding, football, and band. He told me the only other time he had ever hurt so much was after the football game when the band members outscored the football team by some thirty-five points. Anything that could cause such pain must be a sport.