David’s Gone Fishing
Where are you from?
I grew up in a small town in middle America in the mid-20th Century,
a beach head of sorts for Appalachian immigrants, not unlike
my own family, but mostly refugees from the Clay County coal towns
that caved in closing.
When I was eight one of our neighbors, David, returned home
as a quadriplegic. He was older, but barely a teen when he crashed
his Schwinn speeding down Elyria Street’s hill, ironically in front
of the hospital, his next stop.
A few years later I delivered the morning Plain Dealer to guests
of that very same hospital.
David and a friend had been fishing that day, perhaps at some farm
pond on the road to Chatham. Maybe it was the fishing hole
in the branch of Black River that flowed through Richman Farms.
As he descended the bricks of State Route 76 his pole engaged the
spokes of his front wheel and the boy catapulted hard ahead of his
ride onto the pavement above Perkins Jewelry, by the iron bridge.
Remember when you went fishing?
Did you ride your bike? Where did you fish, a lake or pond,
a river or stream. Maybe you cast flies, repeatedly whipping the
surface of a cascading brook for trout. Perhaps you surf-fished for
whiting or Atlantic croaker, or on a Gulf Stream excursion for
David was an only child. His parents married well into their 30s
and were pleased to be blessed with a son. The father owned a
prosperous manufacturing plant common in small towns throughout
the industrial north, a supplier to the auto assembly plants in
Cleveland. They had the means to care for their boy at home, and
as they travelled with him frequently, they installed a pneumatic
lift in their driveway so to slide his gurney into their Oldsmobile
wagon with ease.
The path to the bank of Black River started at the barbed-wire fence
by the gravel township road. We waited until the bull was out of
sight before crossing the pasture, dodging the cow pies wider than a
skillet. Then, crawling under another fence, continuing the path
through a blackberry thicket for a few yards to the sandbar by the
stream. Our forward hike startled the bullfrogs that dived in
sequence into puddles ahead of our steps. We had packed sandwiches,
a bamboo pole, extra line and hooks, a scaling knife and a tobacco
can for bait, having filled it before dawn with nightcrawlers fused
together in a mucousy bond of worm lust.
David’s parents encouraged neighbor kids to visit. He spent his days
in a parlor off the living room, lying on his gurney next to a large
aquarium, tropical fish in bright clear water. Nothing like the
tepid creek he’d fished where thirsty dairy cattle waded.
Often, we’d go visit as they returned from a Sunday drive to see how
he got to descend to the driveway on the lift from the vehicle.
He smiled a lot; he must have liked us.
Bluegills are a species of sunfish common in these waters.
The stream is slow, shaded by willows and sycamore trees, and our
catch of panfish would be on display en route home, tethered to our
handlebars as trophies awaiting the frying oil.
Remember Saturdays in the fall, squirrel season?
A Ford pickup passes with one or many severed tails bannering
from the radio antennas. Or bucks in bondage on the front grills of
Jeeps driving back from deer hunts.
What did David catch that day, hours before permanent paralysis?
Bass was the holy grail, but carp and suckers often took the bait.
Catfish were too bony to keep. We always found turtles, box
turtles to taunt, but we kept a respectful distance from
the snappers. And snakes.
I don’t know if David liked berries. Wild strawberries had ripened
the day he went fishing, smaller than cultivated berries, but
sweeter like no other fruit. We harvested berries all summer,
raspberries, blackberries, elderberries by the drainage canal. Our
bikes balanced pine-peck baskets filled to the top, one on each
handlebar as we hurried home passed by tractor-trailers hauling
down Route 42.
Ricky, leading our convoy in front of me, skidded onto the gravel
shoulder of the highway, smashing his fruit into blood-like
puddles on the side of the road. Once arrived at the house we’d
transfer our catch to pint and quart boxes and sell door-to-door
to neighborhood pie bakers, fifty-cents apiece.
I wonder which ones his mom spoon-fed to David.
During football season we gathered apples from the orchard behind
our house, several heritage varieties all but disappeared now.
There was a cider press in Medina that squeezed the bushels we
picked into glass gallon jugs, charging only by keeping a
percentage of the yield for their use. Just as with our berry sales,
we marketed the fermenting apple juice house-to-house, 75-cents per
jug, keeping some to drink before it turned vinegar.
I can’t recall when David ceased his smile, could no longer see
his bettas and angelfish that glowed in the dark, but it was after I
stopped delivering newspapers to his address. The Beacon Journal cost
seven cents then, with the carrier getting two cents from the price.
I saved enough to buy a fiberglass rod with a cork handle and
lightweight cast aluminum reel that I aimed straight in front of my
handlebars, above the front wheel, when I raced down Elyria Street
with a bass hanging in the wind.