Well, after the episode with Aunt Judy and Uncle Preston (We Call It Fishing), my brothers and I are hooked. Fishing is our life. We desperately need to take the next step, fishing gear of our own. There’s a small Fish and Tackle store a few blocks away that’s owned by Mr. Lewis, a kindly old black man who obviously has saved every hook, sinker, lure, gadget and rod that he has ever had. He and his wife live in the house attached to and behind the store and barely eke out a living from the tiny business.
It’s Mr. Lewis who teaches us our first lesson: you do not fish with a fishing pole. That’s for telephone lines to hang from. It’s called a fishing rod and, if you really want to catch fish with it, it deserves respect.
Every day after school we visit Mr. Lewis to discuss fishing, longingly handle every piece of paraphernalia in the store; hope that some fisherman will come in to tell stories of the day’s catch or, better yet, actually bring in the fruit of his fishing trip to be commented on by our dear Mr Lewis, the neighborhood’s expert on all things piscatorial.
One day, Mr. Lewis asks us if we actually go fishing. No, we don’t, we tell him. We have no gear and no way to go to the fishing grounds. He suggests that if we’re not too fussy, he’ll scrounge up three old rods and reels and some basic gear. We can ride our bikes to the local park where there are some ponds with fish in them. We can bring back whatever we catch for him to comment upon.
After a few trips, we get pretty good at catching some small perch, catfish and whatever else will bite on our doughball baits made from pasta dough stolen from Grandma Andreotti (affectionately known as Nonna. I’ve written about her here and here.).
Of course we can never tell Nonna we’re going fishing. We’re not allowed that far from home alone and close to water where we would surely drown! And we certainly can’t let my sister Lia know. She’ll threaten to tell mama, unashamedly blackmailing us into doing her household chores.
One day my brother Robert catches a giant carp that barely fits into the newspaper delivery bag on our handlebars that we use to transport our fishing gear. We can’t wait to show it to Mr. Lewis, who raves about our giant fish. “See?” he says. “That’s not just fishing – that’s catching!” and he keeps that giant carp hanging on the scale at the store for three days to show all his customers.
It’s a long time before we realize that the fish is really worthless, either as catch or trophy, but Mr. Lewis never lets on and from that day on, he calls us “the Great White African Hunters“ (remember, well grew up in Eritrea. We really were white Africans).
Our friendship with dear Mr. Lewis lasts several years and it’s a great loss to us when Mr. Lewis and his wife pass away within a week of each other and the store is no more. But ever since those days I prefer to call ‘fishing’ ‘catching.’
If, that is, I actually catch anything…