Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

August 15th, 2005


By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
Funny how things fall into place. I've been thinking about writing this for a while now, just never could put it to pen. But the other morning, I came to work, opened up my email, and there, right in front of me, was the guide for this story; an email sent to me by Debbie Friedrich, Terry's wife. It was entitled, "Old Age is a Gift." I don't plan on just copying and pasting this as my article, but, if I may, refer to some of the excerpts and how they apply to my life.

I suppose I'm considered old by some, such as my grandkids. Then, on the other hand, young by comparison of others. I'll be fifty-four in September '05. Most of the time I don't feel old, sometimes I feel older than I am. But I would never "go back" to youthfulness if I had to give up the life experiences I have been through. Those experiences are priceless gems of learning; some good, some not so good. There were broken hearts, but later, healed by either time or the compassion of another.

"I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be."

That is the first line of the email I mentioned earlier, and I will highlight each quote as I use them. I don't know who the author is, but by reading through the entire letter, I'm sure it was written by a wise lady.

As I said, I've been thinking about this very line for quite some time. I am truly, for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. I've mellowed. I've calmed down. I tend to speak in a softer and more understanding voice, and hopefully, try to see things in others that others don't see. Of course, human nature is always there to interrupt this Zen I seem to have found in the past year, or so. There seems to always be that little fellow with the pitchfork sitting on my starboard shoulder waiting and encouraging me to "stick" it to someone. And now, it seems, I can ignore the desire to strongly voice my gruff opinion.

"I am often taken aback by that old person who lives in my mirror."

A few months ago, I stood in front of the mirror in the master bath, shaving and brushing my teeth, and as I looked up into the steamed reflection, there stood my dad looking me straight in my eyes. "How did you get in there?" I thought out loud. I was surprised by his answer.

"I've been here all along, waiting for you to grow up. It took you awhile, but I see you've learned a few things that I hoped you would."

I thought back to when Dad was alive, and acknowledged to myself how many times I was wrong, and through blind youthfulness, thought he was the dumbest man on Earth. I acknowledged to the old man that looked back at me how much he had taught me about life in general; common sense, small things that mattered more than any materialistic item or monetary value. It just took me awhile to catch on.

Have I memorialized my dad to be far more than he ever was? Maybe to some, and I'm sure if he were still alive, he would think so, but that's okay by me. He was the only dad I ever had, and I know he loved me, even though he didn't say it much. Those would have been only words, and his actions proved his feelings stronger than just words could have anyway.

I have clamed down. I now notice important things that seemed small, but by far are a larger part of my universe now. The quiet voices of grandkids and the importance of what they are saying. Their words are not to be ignored, and their laughter is contagious. I've learned these things, and these things have made my world better and stronger. I think my dad listened to my quiet voice, and now I hope he can hear my laughter.

"I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, and my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend."

I'm not a wealthy man, not by monetary means, anyway. I'm far richer than that. You all know my wife Linda is my balance, my keel in calm or rough seas. But I don't rely on her for my happiness. As strange as this may seem to many of you, I don't need her in my life; I want her in my life. Big difference. And through a failed marriage, leading me to years of counseling, I finally understood the complexity of codependency. Nothing can make me happy, only I can do that.

My friends are amazing, and I hold them near and dear to me. There are only a few, and they don't judge me, nor do I judge them. Acquaintances? I have many. Friends are golden.

Yes, my hair isn't where it used to be; it left me, and continues to do so. I have a lot more silver in my beard than I did five years ago, and I've earned most of it. But would I have it replaced in exchange for the experiences? No way. I'm comfortable with myself, and I do consider myself a friend of mine. I'm alone at times when I fish, but I'm never lonely. That would be sad for me... to be lonely.

"I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need, but looks so avant garde on my patio. I am entitled to overeat, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging."

I didn't buy a cement gecko, but I did buy a very ugly frog that sits in a flower pot on the deck of the pool. He wears an apron that boldly states, "Old Toad Cooking." He's very tacky, warty skin and his eyes are bugged out and he's extremely fat. My bulldog, Flats, is the only one that seems to care if he's really in the flower pot or not, and gives him a going over every time he joins us out next to the pool.

I was told by everyone in my past what I "needed" to do, well, up to my divorce twelve years ago. And being told what I need to do, unless it's in a positive context, just isn't accepted by me anymore.

I'm not very extravagant. I fish with flyrods I've owned since I began fly-fishing. My reels are the same, and they work just as well as they always have. I cast well with them, and they will still hold and control big fish, when I'm lucky enough to catch one. But that last cookie that no one else seems to want, maybe out of politeness, I'll eat it, and I don't give a dern about the few extra calories.

I have chosen my friends carefully, and I expect if they call me "friend" they have chosen me carefully. Sadly, I have lost several good and dear friends. They were too young to go, before their time, it seems. They had grandkids, and the saddest part? These grandkids will never know that special friend I knew so well. That's the sad part to me.

When April had our first grandson, I nicknamed him Buford. It all started because no one could come up with a name for the little guy, and as much as I like to pick on our two girls, I spouted off with his nickname. It stuck. Now he's eight years old, and Gramps is the only one that's allowed to call him "Buford," and if anyone else does, they are immediately corrected, as he says, "My name's not Buford, it is Ian."

When he was born, I wrote him a letter. A letter of explanation, I suppose. He's never seen it, or knows it exists. I never had kids of my own, but I inherited two daughters when Linda and I were married. Didn't want any kids. So, when Ian was born, no big deal. Well, that is, until Linda handed him to me. A package smaller than most red fish I've caught, but far more powerful. Buford took me to my knees. The letter explains all of this to him, and he will not be able to open it until he's eighteen years old. Hopefully, I'll be around to see him read it.

"I know I am sometimes forgetful. But! There again, some of life is just as well forgotten... and I eventually remember the important things."

I remind myself once in a while, "not to sweat the small stuff." Why worry about the things I have no control of? I read a lot of posts on FAOL which, if I let them, get me all stirred up. Notice, I said, "If I let them." It is me who controls my emotions, no one else. It's easier to not open the door. Please don't take that the wrong way. If it involves me, then I'll certainly throw a dog into the fight. I once told someone, "Never mistake my kindness for a weakness." I meant that; still do. The rest of the ruckus just isn't important enough for me to worry about. If we take life too seriously, it will pass us by.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with fly-fishing? Here is my answer.

I've grown old enough to sit beside a lake or upon a shoreline somewhere and choose not to cast a fly into the waters. I can enjoy just being a part of it. Or, maybe not just a part, but all of it, and not concerned about what others may think.

"I care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong. I like being older. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day."

(and fish if I so choose to do so…or not).

'Til next time. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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