I TOOK HIM TO THE FIN FIXER
Joe is a fisherman. I knew that when I reeled him in, so I can't claim ignorance of his passion. It didn't bother my children Janice and Tom too much either. In fact, they thought that going out in a boat with Joe, hauling fishing poles, tackle boxes and a smorgasbord of bait was great fun.
I even vaguely recall Joe saying something about Musky fishing up North and how proud he is of his trophy fish that costs him nearly one hundred bucks at the fish-fixers. At the time, I let all of this pass over my head without registering it too deeply in my mind, because I was at the stage of love where anything that Joe did or had was all right with me. It wasn't until we had tied the monofilament that it really hit me. Joe is a FISHERMAN!
When we got married, Joe decided to move in with me and the kids since my house was bigger than his apartment and now we needed the room. We endured the trauma of settling most of his furniture in the house. I was dusting off my hands and heaving a sigh of satisfaction when Joe dropped the sinker smack in my lap.
"Uh, hon, there's one thing I forgot."
"Oh Joe, I hope it isn't bigger than a bread box!"
"Well, er, taken as a whole it is, but broken into component parts, it's not so bad."
"How do you break it into component parts?"
"Fin by fin. Scale by scale," he told me.
"Joe, you don't mean you have a fish you've stashed somewhere!"
"Well, honey, it's out in the car. Do you remember that very fragile bundle that I wrapped in blankets and put on the back seat?"
I thought I remembered. "You mean the one you carried out in your arms and wouldn't let the kids breathe on for fear they'd break it?"
He frowned. "That's the one, but you're exaggerating aren't you?"
I learned over for a closer look.
"Watch out, honey. Don't breathe too hard. You might break it," he told me.
I backed away,holding my breath as tightly as I could. He eased the blanket-wrapped bundle out of the car, handling it like a hand grenade. There, he had it out of the car!
"It's okay to breathe now," he said.
"Joe, what are you planning to do with that fish? We don't have a fur-lined room where you can hang it safely. And it won't fit in your drawer under your socks," I teased him.
"I was going to hang it on the wall over the fireplace."
I stared at him. "Over the fireplace! But Joe, my sampler that I needle pointed is hanging there. What will I do with that?"
He frowned again. "Couldn't you hang it somewhere else?"
"Where would I hang it, Joe?"
"How about in the kitchen? Or in Janice's room? She would enjoy looking at it."
"Oh, Joe, a fish over the fireplace??"
"Couldn't we at least try it, honey? It means a lot to me."
When Joe puts things in that light, it's hard for me to refuse him. I nodded and took down the sampler. "Here, put up the fish."
"Thanks, honey." He aimed a kiss in my direction, but I could tell he really meant the fish, not me.
"I didn't bring any of those special screws that you're supposed to use, but for now these nails ought to hold her all right."
Joe pounded them in like he was using a sledge hammer to break concrete. I could see the plaster chipping and the walls cracking right down the middle.
"Joe, don't you think you've pounded them enough?"
Joe stepped back and looked at the nails, now forever a part of the wall. "Yeah, that ought to hold. Now for the most beautiful fish in the world..."
I walked over and pulled the blanket off the fish. Joe snatched it from my hand.
"Be careful, honey. You have to be gentle with her. Just look at those sleek lines and the coloration of the fins. Did you notice he size, the beautiful size of her?"
"Anyone who can get sentimental over a fish is fishy," I muttered as Joe ran his fingers over the back of the fish tenderly and lifted it into its place on the wall. He paced back a few steps and admired it. "Yup, it's hanging just right. Now when the guys come over, I won't have to say a word. All I have to do is bring them in here, stand under the fish and clear my throat!"
Joe fished all night in his sleep,too, and the next morning at breakfast I felt like I should be fixing pan-fried trout instead of eggs and bacon. The kids came running into the kitchen when Joe and I were still sitting at the breakfast table.
"Daddy, the fish is gone!" Tom shouted.
Janice stood right behind her brother. "Daddy, it just disappeared. What are we going to do?"
Joe jumped up so quickly that I got the platter of toast in my lap. "What do you mean the fish is gone? It can't be!"
"It is, Daddy." Two tears slid down Janice's cheeks. "Do you think someone kidnapped the fish and is holding it for ransom?"
"We can give the kidnappers the money in our piggy banks," Tom offered.
By now, I appreciated the seriousness of the situation. I raced to the living room with the rest of my family close at my heels. I stared at the blank wall. The nail was still there, but the fish was gone.
"I hope it didn't swim too far upstream," I cracked.
Joe's eyes were suspiciously moist so I hurried over and put my arm around him. "We'll find it, Joe."
"Here it is! I found it! I found it!" Tom pointed to the asbestos squares in front of the fireplace. Sure enough, there sat the fish in a crumpled heap. Joe ran over and picked it up so tenderly I expected him to put it over his shoulder and pat it on the back. he smoothed it out as best as he could, then I heard a horrified gasp. "The fins are broken off. Both of them!"
What does a wife do when the fins break off her husband's mounted Musky and his heart breaks right along with them?
She takes the Musky to a fin-fixer and has the fins fixed. What better way to say "I love you?"
by Kathy Warnes
The photo of her nested in the leaves with her arm around her granddaughter and my daughter occupies the place of honor on my living room bookcase. October with its crisp apple air, porcelain skies, and rainbow leaves was her favorite month. October and its promise of a restful and productive winter bring her beside me as I wrestle with storm doors and deck dismantling. October rakes the leaves of my memories of her and piles them high against the sides of the house for winter insulation and examination.
No matter where I rake October leaves, my sorrow for her is as real as raking leaves in her yard once was part of my fall reality. She died in October, but that isn’t the only time I think about her. She sits as firmly in my thoughts as she held her glass every night as she drank, trying to blot out the pain, trying to soothe the raw emotions that burned at her heart and soul like a shot of straight whiskey.
My sorrow for her goes beyond mourning the death of a beloved friend who spent eight decades and a few years living and loving people. She overflowed with love, creativity and compassion toward other people, but she had a difficult time loving herself. She believed in the relaxed approach to life, but she couldn’t relax about herself. She summed up her philosophy of life in a sign that hung on her refrigerator that said: “Looseth not thine cool.”
She didn’t lose her outside cool, but she buried her sorrow at the loss of a husband, friends, a significant other, and other things in her life deep inside. She lost her cool a lot in her innermost being. She caged her anger inside and the alcohol released it to demonize parts of her life.
The tug of war between her outer tranquility and inner chaos and the alcohol between made her later years as unpredictable as the autumn release of the oak leaves from her backyard trees. At times they drifted slowly down throughout the weeks of fall without fuss or fanfare and disappeared politely under the snow. Other years they marched down one after the other and besieged her house and yard all winter long swirling brazenly above the snow.
Her daily life followed that pattern and alcohol laid siege to her soul. She couldn’t find a flag of truce. She did not modify her drinking; instead she continued it at a steady pace throughout the years that followed. She would not stop it, could not stop it even for her family whom she loved beyond anything else in her life. She did not stop her drinking for God’s sake, even though she loved Him beyond anything else in her life.
Her legacy of love, caring, and concern for people, the memory of her joy and creativity and talent is laced with pain, especially for the people who loved her. Her drinking freed the demons that she managed to control when she was sober and often angry, hurting words would hit the people close to her like barbed arrows because she never spoke them when she was sober. This uncharacteristic anger and lashing out at people was painful to watch and more painful to endure.
Time and reflection have taught me that her arrow words were not aimed at the people they hit; instead, they were scattered shots at the unfairness and ambiguity of life and at her own hurt that she unwisely buried instead of expressed. She believed in life and love and hope, not bitterness and disappointment. She was an idealist, which is why life so disappointed her at times. But her soul, underneath the strata of life and alcohol, rested on a bedrock of love and faith in God.
I look at the picture of her on my bookcase, her arms around her granddaughter and my daughter. She is smiling and there is honestly and warmth in her smile. Her expression radiates hope.
She gave me hope and joy when I felt that my life had neither. Somehow beyond the barriers of time and death, I know that she has found joy. I rejoice in her joy when my thoughts turn to her outside of October and inside of October. I rejoice in her joy when in imagination I finish raking the leaves in her yard and she stands in the doorway holding out two cups of hot tea.