C. Scott Ananian
October 9, 1996
There was a little boy who lived by the sea. He moved there when he was very little, just after his father left on his long business trip. As the boy grew up, he dreamed of being a captain on the boats that sailed across the ocean. He dreamed of scuba-diving and fishing for shark. He dreamed of growing up to be a gruff old lighthouse man, salt-stained by the waves -- but only if he couldn't be what he really wanted: an airplane designer. His daddy told him a fancy name for it before he left on his trip: an aer-o-naut-i-cal engineer. That's what his daddy was: an engineer.
When he was nine, his friends used to go fishing from the dock with their fathers. They'd ask the little boy to come with them, and he always replied, ``I will, when my Dad gets home.'' But his Dad had been gone a very, very long time -- as long as he could remember, really; though sometimes there were phone calls and once a year a visit.
And so one day he found his mother washing dishes in the kitchen. He pulled on her apron and asked, in a tiny whistling little-boy voice, ``Mom, can we go fishing?'' And his mother looked worried for a little while, but finally said, ``Sure, son. We'll go fishing.''
They got in the car and drove to a big store where the friendly man in the sporting goods section helped them find a fishing pole just right for the little boy. His mother didn't know how all the gears and cranks and little wire hoops were supposed to work, so the friendly man helped them fit the reel, and thread the line. And then the fishing pole was put carefully in the car, so as not to disturb the rigging, and the little boy asked, ``Are we going to the ocean now, Mommy? Are we?''
And his mother thought a second, and the worried look came on her face again before she said, ``I think we need to get bait first.'' And they found a battered public phone outside the big store, and called nice Mr. Sommerstein from church, and asked him where to buy bait.
At the bait store, the man behind the counter smelled like fish, and showed them all sorts of little things to use as bait. There were shiny metal things and feathery things -- but they were only for the big fish, he said. He showed the boy a clear plastic tub filled with little black fish, and explained how you used the little fish to catch the big fish. ``Are we going to the ocean now, Mommy?''
This time the answer was yes, and the two got into the car and drove to the beach, to a place where they remembered sometimes seeing fishermen. But there was no one around, today.
The salt breeze blew and the waves splashed the two as they walked out the jetty into the sea. The lid of the plastic tub came off and the boy's mother screwed up her face as she grabbed a little black wiggly thing (they had to be live for the fish to bite, the man had said) and put it on the hook. And then the boy took the fishing pole and tried his best to cast the hook, like he had seen the other boys do.
But the line got tangled and the hook got caught in the rocks, and they spent the next ten minutes getting everything straightened out again.
On the second attempt the hook went in the water, but the bait fell off, and on the third attempt the fishing line snapped. The boy's mother tried, but couldn't manage to get it threaded right, the way the man had showed them. The little boy began to cry.
``Don't cry, son; we'll get it figured out.'' And indeed it seemed at one point that things had been fixed, and yet another black wriggly thing went on the hook -- but the line still wouldn't move right when the boy tried to cast.
And now the boy's mother began to cry as well, which surprised her little son. She pulled the little boy close and whispered, ``Pray, son. I bought you a fishing pole and drove you to the ocean because your daddy's not around to do those things anymore. But I can't fish and that bait just won't stay on the hook and I don't know what else to do. I'm a mommy, not a daddy, and I just can't teach you to fish. Son, don't cry. Jesus is your daddy, 'cause you don't have another, and somehow fishing's his job now. Pray, son. Jesus hears you.''
And the little boy prayed with his nine-year-old faith. He closed his eyes, leaned against his mother, and prayed. And somehow, a smiling old man, salt-stained, with grandchildren of his own, was walking the beach, and stopped to help the little boy and his mother that day. And the little boy felt Jesus' hands help him thread the bait onto the hook, and felt Jesus' arms around him as he learned to cast and fish. And the boy's mother remembered the pictures of Jesus she had seen, surrounded with children, and moist-eyed she smiled.