Spring Rituals: Trout Fever
Certainly there were other traditions and rituals, like Easter when my parents and I would travel to “Amish country,” as my dad would call it, eat a meal, and see some sights after I’d gone through my basket that morning. It was my mother’s favorite holiday since she didn’t have to cook for anyone, but I never cared much for it. It was always cold; I didn’t like the restaurants my parents would choose; and Easter baskets were over-rated – hyped up like Christmas only to disappoint with more milk chocolate than I cared to eat and never enough jelly beans. I did enjoy shopping for a new dress and shoes, though. It felt good to put on something lighter and brighter to welcome the new season.
As I got older, I still got to shop for a new outfit, but I didn’t join my parents on Easter. There were other Spring rituals still in place, like the dreaded “Spring cleaning.” This was a time to tear apart our entire home for a deep clean. It was always something my mother and I did while listening to her old records. Admittedly, cleaning while singing along to The Beach Boys or Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons did make the work more tolerable. My mother might complain a bit about my dad not helping, but the first chance I got, I’d leave her to her records and lemon Pledge and make my escape to our back yard to find my father.
There he’d be, stout and balding, calloused hands tinkering with his boat, sorting through tackle, spooling reels with new line, all to prepare for opening day of trout season in Pennsylvania. It was one of three major holidays for my dad; the other two were the first day of Buck season, and two weeks in October – which two depended on the phases of the moon – when he would go to Montauk for ocean fishing. While I assisted in preparing for all of his holidays, and often accompanied him, the first day of trout season and all that led up to it was somehow enchanted.
There was an air of excitement that overtook my father. Thinking back, he was obsessive about it, but his excitement and enthusiasm infected me, and much to my mother’s chagrin, I’d catch trout fever right along with him. I’d fetch specific rods that we’d need (he had so many!), paint the boat trailer every few years, prepare the camper, and pack items from his meticulous lists. And as soon as I was old enough, I’d make my own lists of what I’d need to bring for a five-day fishing trip. Though my lists changed as I grew (from Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag to a Discman), his never did, and neither did his routine. I thought he’d have trout fever forever, even after I became immune to it.
I stopped going on those fishing trips around age 17. I stopped feeling the excitement of the opening day of trout season, even though my dad still obsessed over those trips into his early 70s. I had been moved out and married when my dad stopped going. I don’t remember how old either of us were, but I remember asking mom why dad wasn’t preparing, and her reply settled in my stomach like a heavy rock at the bottom of a lake, “He’s not going.” Granted, his trips had grown shorter and closer to home over the years, from five days to three, to overnight, but not to go at all? I asked my father why he wasn’t going, and pleaded with him to get his trout stamp, but he refused. He had excuse after excuse, but the truth is, he lost the fever, not just for trout, but for nearly everything. My dad, the great outdoorsman, was done. He settled into a life on the recliner in front of the television. Even offering to go with him, or coaxing him on a day trip had no effect. He died in the autumn several years later at 82, never having fished again.
But every Spring as opening day approaches, I feel a twinge of regret that I didn’t continue to take those trips with him. They may not have extended his life, but they would have given me more time with him, and more memories to keep. This Spring, on April 14, I won’t be trout fishing, but I will take some time, as I have every year since he passed, to look at photos of some of those trips, photos of one or both of us holding our catch. I’ll remember the feel of the cool Spring air on my face and in my hair as we slowly trolled a lake or river hoping for a bite. I’ll remember my dad’s grin and laughter when I’d proudly reel in a catch larger than his. For living in those memories for a while, reuniting with my father in that way has become one of my Spring rituals.
LMH, March 2018