The etiquette of these huge pieces of lumber over water is specific: look in all directions before you cast, never cheer before you lay eyes on your reel’s pull, remain silent unless you have something imperative to say, but always congratulate another’s rod that is obviously heavy with victory. At least those were the rules set by my grandfather.
With poles hanging over each side, we can see the foam tops of the waves from behind. Hear the oscillation that never reaches a peak and the waves that chose to break, white spewing over the green water it is chasing.
My small, black rod comes with instructions: “The bottom is your grip. Pull this. Toss that. Reel.” I follow each step, hear a plunk, and see a small flutter in water below. We position ourselves on one of the wooden benches, just large enough for two people to sit together without touching. I sit, anxious for a pull on my line and fighting the possible seasickness this land-bound structure can bring.
My eyes shift, left and right at other’s lines in the water. My grandfather’s eyes only looked out at the water’s horizon. I feel a subtle tug on my line, the rod dipping a bit with the small click of my reel. “It’s just the current,” he grumbles, his eyes never leaving the water ahead of him.
That morning my mother had said abruptly, “You are going fishing with Pop.” It always seemed odd to me that she called him Pop while his own son called him Mr. Bright. This fact left me unsure of what to call him once we were face to face. He looked at me for a moment and then gruffed, “You’ve grown.” I smiled and shook my head in agreement, unsure of what else to do and of last time I had seen him. My mom jabbered on while he and I just stood there. Even though he was taller, he somehow seemed smaller. Next to her slender body, he looked more like Winnie the Pooh than the boogey man.
He shifts his weight on the bench. I notice the orange booey that marked the No Swimming, No Surfing line and counted the guys on boards, ignoring the warnings as they were perched on their boards closer to the pier than the orange warning indicated. From the height of the pier, they were only the size of goldfish in a bowl. One, five, ten in the water and three more hesitating on the water’s edge, boards in hand. I wondered how they avoided getting caught in the lines from the pier.
The pier’s silence was interrupted by high-pitched squeals of a girl standing next to a ball-capped guy pulling so hard on his reel that it was uncomfortably bent in half. My grandfather’s mouth went into a straight line of dissatisfaction. “We caught something! We caught something!” she yelled. I peered over the wide wooden rail and saw a sea turtle, so big I could not have fit my nine-year-old arms all the way around it. Two, small silver fish were attached to something growing on the shell. The turtle’s stubby limbs were struggling to paddle down as the young man continued to pull hard.
My grandfather got up, walking away from me with no obvious purpose. His hands, splotched by years of sun exposure and scars, reached for the line from their pole. The sea turtle hadn’t left the water as my grandpa pulled a well-used knife from his pocket and cut the line without hesitation. “We don’t pull them in,” he muttered, walking away. The guy and girl stood silent, unsure of what had happened. My gaze remained on my grandpa’s hands returning the knife to his pants pocket as he returned to our bench.
We had started out early that day, and I had started to feel a burn across my cheeks by the time he said, “Time now.” I reeled in my line, carefully tucked my hook under one of the line loops of the rod. I hadn’t stop thinking of the tradition and respect for the sea that moved my grandpa to not only touch but cut another man’s line. It felt good; I had not only been allowed but invited into his space. As we walked down the pier, through the pier store, and down the path to return to my parents, I stood up a little straighter and kept up with his pace.