responsibility

Fool Me Twice – Fishing Trip

Fool Me Twice - Fishing Trip Texas

The next Saturday, I finally got around to doing what I’d promised my father I’d do for the last seven months. I picked Spanky up on the way to my father’s, then the three of us all went

fishing together. We got up early, packed the truck with several coolers filled with beer, sodas, and munchies, and made it to Galveston by mid-morning.

It was—believe it or not—Spanky’s first trip ever to the beach. I couldn’t believe it—fifteen years old, and he’d never seen the coast.

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. The sun was shining, and the air was filled with the sounds of boats and seagulls and crashing waves and kids frolicking up and down the beach. And just like I had when I’d taken the boy to the zoo, I was seeing it all anew through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time.

We found the longest pier on the island, a quarter-mile-long monster my dad had taken me to when I was still a kid myself. It was so big it had a bait-shop/convenience store built into it that was halfway between the shore and the end of the pier.

We staked out our own little corner, way out to the furthermost point, marking our territory with towels, fishing-poles, and folding lawn-chairs. Dad guarded our territory while Spanky and I made several trips getting all our supplies unloaded.

There was enough cloud-cover to keep the extreme heat mostly at bay, with the southerly breeze doing the rest.

Spanky got a huge kick out of feeding the sea gulls by hand, donating nearly our entire box of Ritz crackers to the hungry birds.

Throughout the day, the kid kept his own personal flock hovering over or near us at all times.

Spanky had, without a doubt, the time of his life, catching all manner of ocean-going critters, including a baby hammer-head, various types of crabs, two redfish, and an amberjack. It had been slow going at the beginning, though.

After getting his bait stolen a few times, Spanky turned to my father. “What am I doing wrong, Mr Evers?”

Hitching up his suspenders, my dad replied, “Well, let’s see what you’ve got here.”

And for the next half-hour, my father skillfully and joyfully imparted several generations worth of Evers family wisdom pertaining to the art of pier fishing—how to securely tie the tackle, where to place the bobber, and, most important, how to bait the hook—be it shrimp or worm.

It was the first time in a very long while that anyone had gone to my father for advice of any kind. He was delighted at the prospect of once again being useful, of actually being needed again.

As the boy listened reverently, my father took to the task as if the future welfare of the entire world depended on Spanky’s success as a fisherman.

It was plain to see the two genuinely liked each other. It was almost as though they’d been friends forever. But then, my father had always made friends easily. When I dropped my father off that evening, Spanky shared his thoughts.

“Your father’s great. I really like him.”

I smiled. “Me too, buddy. Me too. Back when I was growing up, all my friends in the neighborhood used to always say they wished their fathers were like mine. Matter of fact, he used to bring me and my friends to that same pier to fish. At night, you can catch all kinds of stuff. He’d sleep in the car while me and my friends fished through the night. I mean, how many fathers would do that?”

When I saw Spanky’s expression fall, I realized too late what I’d done.

With a despairing look on his face, he said, “I just wish…” His words trailed off as he stared into the distance.

I put my hand on his shoulder. “I do too, kid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… you know.”

I wasn’t intentionally trying to compare fathers with the boy. I just got carried away.

“But, look here, kid. If you want, we can come back and do this again. And next time? I’ll tell you what. Next time, we’ll charter a boat, and go waaay out where the water’s deep and blue, and the redfish are as big as a whale! How does that sound?”

He smiled at the prospect. “Really?”

“Absolutely!”

“I’d like that. I really would.”

As I was dropping him off at his grandmother’s house, I stopped him before he could get out of the truck. “Hey kid?”

He turned around, one foot still in the truck. “Yeah?”

I stared through the windshield at the dark night beyond, trying to find the right words for what I was trying to say. “Say, I’ve been meaning to tell you something, but just haven’t gotten around to it.” I paused to take a breath, then went on. “Anyway, a long time ago, probably around the same time you were born, I had a chance to be a father myself.”

I turned away from Spanky’s inquisitive stare.

“And?” he said.

“Well… let’s just say, I sorta blew it. Actually, I blew it big-time. It was all about me, what I wanted. Screw everyone else. I let Lisa down. The saddest thing is, my parents almost expected grandkids. My dad really wanted me to have a grandson. That’s all he talked about, his grandson. Anyway, he would’ve been about your age now… if I hadn’t…”

Now it was Spanky’s turn to look away. “I think I understand.”

“But, what I wanted to say is… I just hope he would’ve been like you, kid.”

Spanky smiled. “Thanks, Paddy. That means a lot. And thanks for today. I had a great time. I never thought fishing could be so cool.”

I don’t know how to explain it, but at the end of the day, it was like two loose ends of my life had somehow been brought together- one from the past, and one from the future. Although Spanky wasn’t of my blood, still something real, something good, was passed down that day—from father to son, and hopefully, beyond. It was, for me anyway, the best fishing trip ever.

Fool Me Twice – Responsibility

Once the boy was out of hearing range, the woman’s whole demeanor changed. As she sat back down at the table, she abruptly went from cheerful to solemn as she revealed to us why she’d sent the boy outside.

“I just wanted to thank you gentlemen for taking an interest in my boy. I mean, my grandson. To me he’s just like my boy. I love him like my own son.”

As she spoke, she twisted her apron around, obviously distressed at something. I suddenly felt guilty for the real reason I’d taken an interest in her grandson.

“Please don’t take this wrong,” she said, “but that boy needs some guidance. In a bad way! All he does these days is swagger around with his headphones blaring that …garbage! That skip-hop, bip-bop, whatever the hell it’s called. All they sing about—if you call that singing—it’s bitches this or hoe’s that. He’s got to have his cap on sideways, his pants half-way down his ass!”

Mac and I exchanged glances, both stifling a laugh.

She went on. “I’m telling you, that boy’s headed for disaster!”

For a minute, I thought she might cry. But she held her composure and leaned forward. “He used to be such a good boy! If you could have only seen him.”

Then, looking down at the floor, she said, “I’ve already lost one son. I just couldn’t bear to lose another one. I don’t know what I would do. I try! I really do! But I don’t know if it’s me, if there’s something I’m doing wrong, I just… maybe he needs a man, a father-figure to show him…” She looked at us, tears pooling at the corners of her eyes.

Mac and I reached out for her hand.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sure none of this is as bad as it seems. That boy’s gonna turn out just fine. Mark my words. I’ve been where he is myself, Agnes. Matter of fact, all boys go through sort of a… phase. But listen, me and Mac are gonna do everything in our power to make sure that boy’s pointed in the right direction. You have our word on it. I promise.”

Finally, she let go of her apron, which was now twisted around her hand. “Remind me again, just in case I need to give the boy a ride over there? Where’s this chess club located?”

“Um…” I looked to Mac for help. He was looking at a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce sitting on the table.

“Ma’am,” he said, “it’s over on Westchester Street.”

She gave him a blank look. “Westchester Street? Where’s that?”

“Don’t you worry,” I said, “we’ve already got his rides taken care of in advance. If he needs you, he’ll let you know.”

She smiled sadly. “Thank you again, so much! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you both. I’m just thankful he’s finally got something constructive to do with his time. I’ve been so worried about those friends of his he’s been keeping. A couple of weeks ago I thought I smelled cigarettes on his clothes.”

Mac casually pushed his pack of Marlboros deeper into his shirt pocket.

“We’ll do everything we can, Agnes.”

Spanky returned with the tomatoes.

“Did you get the best ones?” Agnes asked.

Spanky gave her a dutiful nod. “Of course, I did Grandma.”

While the two of them did the dishes, Mac and I were relegated to the back porch, each with a cup of coffee, to relax and watch the sunset. Before stepping outside, I’d asked Spanky to dig around and see what he could find out concerning the truck.

Ten minutes later, he stepped outside onto the porch.

“What’d ya find out?” I asked.

He handed me a small piece of paper. “This guy named Stuart Heywood bought it. Grandpa used to take the truck there for repairs, but mainly it’s a body shop and refurbishing place. They buy and rebuild old cars and fix em up and resell em at auction. That’s their address and phone number there.”

I looked up at the boy. “See there?”

“What?”

“You really are CIA!”

Spanky blushed. “I am?”

“That’s good work, kid!” Mac said.

“Good work, but bad news,” I said. “What if that guy decides to start working on that truck tomorrow?”

Mac looked at the boy. “What kind of shape was the interior in?”

Spanky frowned. ‘“Bout what you’d expect from a fifty-year-old truck, I suppose. Lots of rips and tears.”

“Just chill out, Paddy. We’ll head over there first thing in the morning,” Mac said.

I agreed.

Then, for some strange reason, I turned to Spanky. “Hey, kid. How bout you and me go to the park on Saturday? I’ll show you how to play chess in case your grandmother asks you about it sometime. We can stop and get a burger on the way—make a picnic out of it.”

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

I wasn’t sure if I felt sorry for the boy or instead just wanted to perform a good deed so I could pat myself on the back. I had my own chance at fatherhood years before. But sadly, I’d blown it. And since I’d long ago forfeited my one and only chance, a part of me inside knew it, and understood—it was too late.

I’d missed out on something vital, something essential in life. But whatever my reasons for helping the kid, the fact is, I ended up helping myself more than I helped him.

Later, as Mac and I were getting in the car, Spanky’s front door flew open, and Agnes came tearing down the sidewalk like the house was on fire.

When I saw what was in her hand, I shot Mac a dirty look. “You big dummy! You forgot the tomatoes!”

With Brandy at her side—tail wagging—Agnes gave me the sack. When she handed me the bag I almost dropped it.

“Good Lord, Agnes! You put bricks in here?”

Her rosy cheeks blushed. “Oh, now, stop it! I just thought you two might like a few cucumbers and squash to go with your tomatoes.”

I gave her a warm handshake. “I’m sure Lisa will love them. Thank you so much, Agnes.”

From the corner of my eye I could see Mac’s lower lip protruding.

“Don’t forget about me!” he whined. “Don’t I get half?”

Winking at Agnes, I said, “We’ll see, Mac. Depends on your behavior.”

When he made a boo-boo face, everyone laughed, including Mac. We said our goodbyes and were off. As we drove away, Spanky and his grandmother stood in the driveway waving until we were out of sight.

I gave a wistful sigh and turned to Mac. “It’s crazy how much that woman reminds me of my own grandmother.”

“Really?” Mac said. “I was just thinking the same thing.” Then he turned and looked me in the eye. “Did you mean what you said back there?”

“About what?”

“About looking after the boy?”

“Absolutely!”

Of course, at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But as time went on, I began to understand that something inside of me changed that day.

I knew I still had a long way to go, but that was the day that marked a turning point in the education of Paddy Evers. After all those years, I was finally going to learn the meaning of the word, responsibility.