LIKE DIAMONDS ON BLACK VELVET
...Memories of Daddy...
A little girl will go to just about any length to please her daddy. At least I did. As far back as I can remember my father loved to fish. I can’t say I ever inherited his penchant for casting out a line in the wee hours of the morning and staring at still, glistening waters for hours on end, sitting on a narrow boat seat, listening to the groans of bullfrogs, while waiting for the tiniest tug at the end of a pole. But I tagged along anyway for the sake of Daddy’s company. And his company was priceless. The memory of it stands out even now like diamonds on black velvet, clear, shimmery, untainted.
“You wanna go fishing in the mornin’?” Dad would ask just before bedtime.
With only a second’s hesitation, I would answer, “Sure!” The truth was I wasn’t thrilled about waking up before dawn, but if it meant spending precious time with the man I most admired, then my answer never required much forethought.
The soft rap on the door came at precisely five o’clock. “Wake up, sleepy head. Fish are jumpin’.”
Quickly wiping sleep from my eyes, I’d roll out from under thick covers and peek past the sheer curtain to find a full moon, its reflection dancing across still waters, a thin layer of fog hovering over the glassy surface. At the water’s edge, our little wooden rowboat lay in wait—a somewhat unreliable old vessel dubbed Maybe Baby by my brother some years before. Maybe it would stay afloat, maybe not. It had been known to spring the occasional leak.
I’d struggle into the same pair of pants I’d shed the night before, throw on a wrinkled sweatshirt, and step into my dirty sneakers. Then stifling a yawn because I didn’t want my grogginess to show, I’d march into the kitchen with purpose. Daddy rewarded me with one of those crooked grins he was famous for and pointed to the door. “Ready?” he’d ask in a whisper so as not to wake the rest of the household. I’d nod.
And off we’d go.
Ah, those crisp summer mornings when the dewy grass tickled my bare ankles as we trudged silently down the hill, the stillness of early morning interrupted only by the sporadic whimper of slowly waking jays and robins. Oh, the uncomplicated perfection.
With a pail, my father would empty out an inch or two of water from the bottom of Maybe Baby. Rainwater? Or that pesky leak? No matter, nothing would keep us from rowing out to the middle of the lake where the biggest catches swirled about, hungry and restless. Some mornings we would share the middle seat, each taking an oar, rowing in perfect rhythm. Other mornings I’d sit in the front, eyes cast downward, mesmerized by the tiny wake created by the boat’s steady course and the tireless squeak of one rusty oar socket.
“How’s this?” he would ask, dropping anchor a couple hundred yards from shore.
“Do you think the fish will bite?” I’d ask, my voice sounding somehow foreign as it echoed over waters smooth as glass.
A knowing grin creased his face. “It’s a good place to start.” I knew that meant we would move on in another 20 minutes if necessary. Fish congregate in tepid pools, he’d taught me. It’s a matter of finding those beds of warmth.
I learned a lot from my dad on those early morning outings, things that had nothing to do with fishing, but everything to do with life and love and laughter. For one thing, he showed me that patience is an art form; it doesn’t happen overnight; it takes practice and persistence and something called long-suffering. “If you want to catch the big one,” he’d murmur softly, “you have to wait it out, hang in there.” I suspect now he wasn’t only referring to a 10-pound bass. Much of life calls for resilience and flat out determination, which doesn’t come easily—unless you’ve worked at it.
I learned that a fine sense of humor is like hot honey on a biscuit; it melts a body clear to the bone. Oh, how our laughter pierced the silence of dawn, rousing numbers of birds and other wildlife, not to mention those poor lake residents longing for one more hour of sleep. As much as my father wanted to catch the big one, and knew the importance of quiet persistence, he never passed up the opportunity to inspire a giggle. I was his number one fan, and he took great pride in maintaining that first place spot.
I learned that perseverance pays. Sitting for long hours in a rickety boat doesn’t reap many benefits until you feel that first little tug. There’s nothing quite like it, even for a novice such as myself. You’re shifting on the boat seat, heavy-eyed and fidgety, staring in the distance at a motionless bobber, when suddenly you feel it, that gentle pull on the end of your line. At first, you wonder if you imagined it until your pole starts to dip and bend and you feel your line go taut. “I got one!” you shout, the adrenaline bursting at the seams. “It’s a big one!” Yes, perseverance pays big dividends.
My daddy trained me that it is the simple things in life that satisfy us, that true wealth is not so much about possessions as it is about position -- your position with God, family, friends, and neighbors. Maybe Baby was no yacht, but I would give anything to sit on her wobbly seat once more, run my hand across her rough-hewn texture, and watch the tiny ripples she created as she glided across moon-kissed waters.
Daddy taught me many things, but one thing stands out above the rest – love flows from silence as well as laughter. We could sit for long moments without murmuring a sound. And from that silence surged a comforting knowledge; love is not always about doing or even saying, but being. There is a certainty every child hungers after and that is simply to know he or she is loved without condition.
My father’s generation promoted a staunchness that went beyond sentiment; thus, he wasn’t overly generous with his hugs and kisses, but, oh, how he loved me unreservedly. He would have laid his life down for me. I know it. I’ll always know it. The memory is crystal clear.
Like diamonds on black velvet.