A Fishing Story

Theresa Helms

Life is a lot like casting a line into the water

On my wall hangs a series of pictures. They vary in many ways – time, season and size – but the subject of each one is the same: my son proudly showing off the day’s prize catch with the river stretching out behind him.

The oldest photo, quite possibly my favorite, features a small bream dangling from the fishing line of a 4-year-old who is grinning like he just won the Bassmaster Classic. It was early March and still a little cool out on the water. In an effort to prepare him for the arrival of a baby sister, we had spent the previous months telling him he was such a big boy and could do so many new things. So the first semi-warm day that came along after she did, we hit the water. I didn’t realize it on that day, but a love affair had just begun.

The baby-toothed smile in the photos is soon replaced with ones of a snaggle-toothed boy with windblown hair. Echoes of conversations, each one beginning with a reminder to wear a life jacket and be careful on the boat, flood my mind. Only a mother would understand the relief that washed over me each time he returned home, safe and sound, with nothing more than a sunburned nose and the latest catch.

The photos contain many types of fish, varying in size, but as I look at them I realize the fish aren’t the only things changing in each one.

The snaggle-toothed grin is soon replaced with a silver one when his teeth were lined with braces, until they, too, are gone and a straight smile takes its place.

The most recent photo, although it’s similar to the others – the waters of Neely Henry Lake winding behind him, a large fish in his hands, the same crooked grin – was surprisingly different.

That’s when it hit me. The boy in the pictures somehow wasn’t really a boy anymore. His baby cheeks had seemingly melted from his face and been replaced by the chiseled features of a young man. Although I know this process has been taking place for years, seeing the picture somehow made it official.

He no longer needs my help baiting the hook, or fastening a life jacket. He doesn’t even need me to drive the boat. The boy we took fishing just to show him how grown up he was – went and did just that – he grew up.

Just like the summer days that fade into fall, the days of his youth are quickly slipping away. I realize we are both entering uncharted waters. Neither of us completely sure how to navigate this next phase of life, the push and pull, the newfound independence and slowly letting go, we are both learning it’s a bittersweet process. He’s eager to set sail and see what life holds in store, and I’m still holding him at the pier reminding him to wear a life jacket and not drive the boat too fast.

I want to tell him that life is a lot like casting a line into the water – you anticipate big things, but there are no guarantees, and you never know what’s going to happen. And, as much as I want him to stay with me where I can watch him and keep him safe, in my heart I know that’s not the way it’s meant to be.

It’s the smile of the boy in the pictures that reminds me every once in a while we all cast a line, and with a little luck, some hard work and blind faith, we reel in something great. I sure did.

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