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Photo by Matt Soberg.

Tying Knots

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Sometimes Simple Moments with Your Grandfather are the Times You Will Never Forget.

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***

“I just can’t get it Grampa,” I said leaning my hands slightly to the right to catch the correct angle of the glistening sun.  With my tongue stuck out and clenched in my teeth, I strained with the hook about three inches from my face, awkwardly trying to push the fishing line through the eye hole.  

“Keep trying,” my grandfather said from his lawn chair next to me at the end of the dock.  “Never give up, boy. That’s our motto.”  

I tried and tried.  Grandpa reeled in a bluegill, and then another  . . . and then another.  I wasn’t sure if he was teaching me some lesson in patience, as he often taught lessons, but I couldn’t take it anymore.  

I finally said, “Ahhhhh fooey, Gramps. You’re gonna catch all the fish if I don’t get my line in the water!” I reached my little third-grade hands out to him with an untied J-hook.

“I will give you a quick lesson,” he replied.  “I will tie one for you, but you remember how, and you do the next one yourself.”  

“Alright, Gramps, thanks.”  I wanted to catch a fish so bad.

With his eye glasses perched just right and peering through the bottom bifocal, he bent toward me with the line finger pinched in one hand and the hook in the other. Like he’d done a million times before, he aimed the line toward the eye and through it went.  This time, however, he took his time, calmly explaining each and every step.  

I tried my best to concentrate, but you know the attention span of inattentive youth.  I wanted to touch some scales in the worst way but always tried to learn as much from my grandpa as I could when I had the chance.

“Take the line like this boy . . . twist it here . . . switch hands . . . wrap it around . . . and tie in a knot,” He said, as if it was so obvious.  “This is our secret knot, only tied for those special occasions . . . when we are going for the big fish.”

“You got it, don’t you, boy?” He asked.  

“Oh, yeah, Gramps, no prob’” I replied, knowing I just wanted to get a crawler on the hook as fast as possible.  If I played my cards right and didn’t horse the fish to the dock, I knew I could use this hook all afternoon with no problem.  He had tied this for me before - It worked.

“You gotta use this knot, boy . . . I don’t want to see you tying no granny knots . . . not with me!”

“I know Gramps . . . I know.” I finally cast my line into the water.

“Speaking of Granny,” I replied changing the subject to take off the pressure; “I don’t supposed she’s making pie for us?” With a grumbling tummy, fresh pie sounded so good.

“In due time, boy . . . in due time . . . we have fish to catch first,” He said.

My pie comment triggered something in Grampa’s mind.  “Let me tell you a little story about when I met your grandma,” he went on.  He always liked to wax philosophical with me and tell stories of days gone by.  I tried to multitask, listen and fish, as best I could.

For some reason, he really got into this story, and it went on . . . and on . . . and on.  I think I caught a dozen sunfish, at least, by the time he finished.  The story started with pulling up to her house in the old car – to how he was so debonair that time at the dance – to that special moment of the first kiss -  to being so nervous while meeting her folks – to the meaning of true love – to popping the question – and on . . . and on . . . and on . . .

My youthful mind was overwhelmed, honestly, however one thing he said, I will never forget.  

“It’s just like fishing boy . . . if you put your heart and soul into it . . . ‘tying the knot’ can lead to a lifetime of special adventures.”

I was too young to catch my grandpa’s clever pun that day, but today, I remember it clear as day.  

On the dock and on that day, I learned a great lesson from my grandfather, one of those special lessons that only happen at a certain place, with a certain person and for a certain reason.

***

Just then, my bobber went down, not with a gentle “bob-bob-bob” under the water’s surface like a bluegill does – but a ferocious drop to the bottom of the lake that sniffed of pesky northern pike to me.  

With youthful pizzazz and exuberance, I couldn’t help but set the hook, hard, into the mouth of the feeding fish.  My rod bent in half, it seemed, and one run by the “pike-esque” fish snapped the line in a heartbeat. I never did see what it was, but I think I knew.

“Oh, coconuts,” I said with a sheepish grin and glad I didn’t use any expletives I’d been learning at school.

I slowly reeled in my loose line with no hook on the end.  I thought to myself, “Here we go again with another of Gramps’ lessons.”  With every knot tied, I banked a pearl of wisdom in my brain . . . and didn’t mind one bit.

“Would you mind tying me another knot, Gramps?”  He could see the fishing desire on my face and the need for another adventure.

“No problem, buddy . . . no problem . . . let’s keep fishing.”   

***

Matt Soberg is the editor of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine and a former Otter Tail County attorney. Matt now splits his time missing birds, hooking trees and tying knots between Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

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