The old fella emailed me a year or so ago.
I get plenty of emails at the office. Though
I've been writing my local column pretty much
steadily for going on 25 years, at three newspapers
and an audio version at a radio station, it's only
been since about 1998 that anyone took any notice.
I think that's because it was around then that I
grew up finally, and came back in spirit and soul
to these ancestral lands and waters. An epiphany
is good for column fodder, and local readers
Of the emails I receive from folks who have
somehow been touched by what I call my weekly
dribble, a few of those have become friends.
But the email I received from the old fella a
year ago was different.
He is a very private person, as am I, so I respect
his desire to stay in the periphery. I'll call him
"the old fella," because he calls me "young fella"
and I reply in kind.
A retired educator and local businessman, the old
fella's email to me immediately sent up smoke
signals. From a far horizon, I sensed a kindred
spirit. Our correspondences continued and one
morning we met for breakfast before work. A
friendship was forged then that has only
strengthened with time.
The old fella is in his sixties, and suffers from a
touch of emphysema, but is otherwise hardy and
decidedly bright of eye and humor. He's done some
writing of his own, which I was delighted that he
shared with me. As the months passed, the kindred
spirit I had sensed in smoke signals from a far
horizon became more and more evident. We are very
much alike, yet very different.
A fisherman in his own right when his children were
growing up, the old fella loves to talk angling with
me. He loves wooden boats and his particular passions,
amateur radio and model building. Last winter, I asked
him for one very special favor when he felt up to it.
"Go fishing with me this spring," I wrote in an email.
We didn't fish this spring, though we continued to
discuss it. A few weeks ago, we agreed to a boat
ride through the basin. The old fella confided to
me it had been more than a decade since he had been
in the river basin, and he missed it. Early one
Saturday morning we boarded the boat and I brought
him to my world. I showed him ancient villages and
ancestral waters. We visited ancient worship places
and haunted blackwater channels. We idled through
a morning of sharing.
"You've opened Pandora's Box," he warned me after
that, and I vowed I was up to the task. Last Saturday
we agreed to go fishing.
The old fella and I departed early. The recent cool
front which has settled over my area made for perfect
circumstances. We trailered the boat to a nearby
launch into Bayou Teche. A quilt of mist hugged
the surface of the bayou, gossamer and golden
where sunbeams saturated it and the fog held it
close, like an old friend. Though the basin was
hopping with good catches of shellcrackers and
goggle-eye, water levels were low and more than
a week of northeast winds had pushed literally
tons of water hyacinth against the boat landing
near my home. I was reluctant to push the boat
through that mess, since it had just come out of
the shop after blowing a head gasket a week earlier.
Instead, we headed for a small canal near the
Intracoastal Waterway that usually held a few
But upon arrival, we found the canal muddy and
unproductive. I was highly apologetic.
"Catching fish is lagniappe," the old fella said.
"Lagniappe" is an Acadian expression meaning a
bonus to something already pleasing. "Just being
out here is good."
We fished that short canal most of the morning,
trolling down one side and then the other, repeating
the process when we were done. A small black beadhead
nymph on my four-weight resulted in two small bream.
The old fella was fishing bait, and hooked into two
bream and one eight-pound catfish.
Both of us encountered our share of lure-and fly-eating
stumps and trees. While disconnecting one mess from a
low-hanging limb, I noticed there were muscadine vines
covering the nearby trees, dark burgundy berries in
clusters hanging here and there. I picked a few and
the old fella and I shared breakfast. It was my first
time eating muscadines, but for the old fella, the
spray of sweet fruit between his teeth was the magical
conjuring of boyhood memories, a lifetime of recollections.
I could see in his eyes a plethora of joys and sadnesses,
the faces of people I had never met behind his eyes,
waters I had never traversed, fish I had never caught.
Over the months we've known each other, I wondered
from time to time if I saw him as a surrogate father.
I miss my own dad so much since his death in 1999.
There's a lot of Nick Stouff in the old fella. But
after proper consideration, I understood that while
I might at some level be fishing with my dad
vicariously through the old fella, he's not a
surrogate father. He's a friend, dear and
cherished. A kindred spirit in a world sadly
lacking in such treasures.
We stayed until nearly noon then headed in,
trailered the boat and drove back to my place.
The fishing was subpar, at best, but then, the
fish were lagniappe after all. There were
muscadine berries and cool breezes. There were
stories traded between bow and stern of the boat,
laughter lifting from within the banks of that
little canal near the Intracoastal. Recollections
shared and, with mighty blows of a blacksmith's
hammer, a friendship forged more strongly than ever.
It won't be the last fishing trip with the old fella.
Pandora's Box has been opened, but once the fog hanging
low over the bayou cleared, it became clear the box
was a small treasure chest instead. A year ago, when
that first email arrived at my office computer from
the old fella, I never would have guessed we'd be
fishing through an early-morning bank of mist,
popping muscadines into our mouths and trading
stories like precious gems. He thanks me profusely
for sparing the time, making the effort, to take
an old fella fishing. I tell him I can't think of
a better way to spend my time, a more pleasing
output of effort, than this.
People in this world have become estranged. We
chase illusions down concrete spines, searching
for something at that point on the horizon where
the road beneath us narrows to a point, an arrowhead
we'll never reach. People search corporate ladders,
sterile subdivisions and crisp bank statements for
meanings in lives. We are islands to ourselves,
self-imposed isolation born of fear, jealousy
If the old fella and I achieved anything beyond
a few fish, a cool morning boat ride and a handful
of muscadine berries, it was the antithesis to
isolation. A few moments in a small boat, chasing
smoke signals, and finding that there truly is
something on the horizon, something so many pursue
but seldom find. ~ Roger