December 20th, 1999

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories. . .

A Day With Don

By Mark McKenzie

Don was my best friend since elementary school. We grew up in the small town of Enterprise, Oregon. At the time the town population was only a few hundred people, in the entire Enterprise metro-area. We grew up together, went to high school together. I moved to Portland to go to school after graduation, and got my degree in electronics from Portland Community College. Don stayed in Enterprise, and worked on his parent's farm. I met a girl, fell in love, and got married.

My wife and I bought a house in a rural area outside Portland, she became a teacher, I went to work for a TV repair store. All through our childhood Don and I always had one special place we could go to just be kids, to talk, to have fun, and to fish. My parents had a large farm, with a large stand of timber between two fields. There was a clearing in the timber, which held a pond of around half an acre. It wasn't a particularly impressive pond, shallow for the most part, but pretty deep in the center. There was a small creek which fed it, and flowed out of it. The creek was slow and meandered through the cow pastures. There were reeds and lily pads in the shallow end of the pond.

The pond had fish in it. Bluegill, crappie, and smallmouth bass, they grew to respectable size in that little pond. At one end was a pair of fallen trees, which you could stand on and cast into the pond from. The branches from one of the trees always held fish. Don and I would grab our old cane-poles and a can of worms and spend the afternoon chasing the panfish.

When we were teens, we each got spinning rods, and rooster tail spinners and began concentrating on the bass. When we were in high school, we discovered fly fishing, nd went back to the panfish. When I went off to college, Don told me he'd keep people away from the pond, and keep the bass trained for me. I took my fishing rods, and started fishing the mountain streams around Mount Hood. After I started work, and got married, I didn't have much time to fish anymore. Then one day in August of '81, I got a call from Don. At first he was silent. Then, I heard the crack and the tears in his voice. I knew something was very wrong.

He told me, and I about fell on the floor in shock. My face went flush and my wife had to catch me, as I almost fell and hit my head on the table.

Don told me he was dying. The doctor had found cancer in his brain, and as his last wish, he wanted to go fishing just one last time. I immediately packed, and headed back to Enterprise that evening. My wife, Jenny, would follow the next day.

When I pulled into Don's parent's house, his mother came out to greet me, her eyes full of tears. Don was inside lying down. He'd been tired lately. She thanked me for fulfilling Don's last wish.

The next day, Don and I got up early; his mom fixed us a big breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes, hash browns. I couldn't remember when I had eaten that well. We grabbed our fly rods, and headed out the door for the pond. The hike was shorter than I had remembered. When we got to the pond, we put the rods and tackle into a small old aluminum john boat. Don climbed in to the center seat and grabbed the oars. I pushed the boat into the water and jumped in. Don rowed us to the center of the pond, and I handed him his rod. He strung it up, and tied on a small black and yellow popper. I choose a small olive and black leech, and we began casting toward the edge of the lily pads. We spent the morning working the whole shoreline, fishing hard, and having a blast. We caught probably two hundred bluegill and crappie that morning, with probably a dozen bass. By noon, Don was getting tired. I could see it in his casts, they started dropping on the back cast, and piling up in front of him. I suggested we head in and have some lunch. After lunch, Don wasn't feeling well, so he laid down for a nap.

I talked with his parents and brother that afternoon. Jenny and our son showed up later that afternoon. Don slept through dinner. The next morning we woke up to the saddest day of our lives. Don had passed away in his sleep that night. He hadn't left any instructions with his parents on where to be buried, but I knew where he would really want. A few days later, Don was laid to his final resting place near the pond, under a big oak tree.

Each year I go back there and fish with Don. While he may not be physically in the boat, know his spirit is right there next to me, rod in hand, landing bluegill and bass just like always. Maybe sometimes he stands with a cane pole on that old log, dinking with the bluegill and crappie. I'm just glad I got to spend one last day with Don. ~ Mark McKenzie


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