The little boy eyed all of the colorful items in the old fisherman’s tackle box. He wanted to touch, but he didn’t dare.
“You like to fish?” the fisherman asked.
“Don’t know. Never have,” said the boy, whose eyes never moved from the contents of the box. “You use all that stuff, Mr. Russell?”
“At one time or another. How come you never been fishing?”
“No one ever took me,” the boy answered.
The fisherman studied the little boy he had known for only a few weeks. Richard was a foster child living temporarily in my home. Soon the boy would be moving again to a permanent placement.
“Never been fishing,” the fisherman later repeated to me. “No one ever took him.” That just didn’t seem right to him. A boy ought to have the chance to go fishing. That was an important part of growing up. What kind of man would this boy grow up to be if he never went fishing, if he never patiently waited for the tug on a line?
The fisherman decided that Richard would go fishing before he moved. But going fishing wasn’t enough. The boy had to catch a fish. How could he be sure that the boy would experience the joy of hooking a fish and landing it? He decided to enlist the aid of another fisherman—his older brother Ernest.
The two men discussed the problem and decided on the solution. They would take young Richard to a fishing hole on their nephew’s place. The pond was overstocked with finger-size fish. Richard would get his chance to catch a fish. It might not be bragging size, but it would be a catch that Richard could delight in.
When the day arrived, the two men and the boy climbed into the pickup truck for the ride to the fishing hole. The boy watched as the men took turns getting out to open gates as they crossed one field after another. At last they stopped near a barbed-wire fence. On the other side was the fishing hole. They walked along the fence until they found the spot where the ground dipped a little. The men showed the boy how to get down and slide under the fence.
At first the boy was reluctant to move too far from the fence because of the nearby meandering cows, but the men assured him that he would be okay. They would protect him.
The men showed the boy how to bait his hook with the worms he had found earlier that day. Shortly after putting his hook into the water, the boy saw his float wiggle and then begin to bob up and down. One of the men told him to give his line a quick yank and pull it out of the water. Sure enough, dangling from the end of his line was a fish—small, very small, but a fish.
“Look, Mr. Russell! Look, Mr. Ernest! I got one!” the boy shouted.
“That is sure some fish!” one of the men responded.
“We got to get a picture of this,” said the other, pulling out the camera.
The old fisherman saw the boy catch his first fish that afternoon and helped create a memory that the child could take with him wherever he went. Three days later the boy was gone.
There were other young boys and girls who came, stayed awhile, and then left the temporary foster home. There were also some local kids who needed an unofficial “grandfather.” The man took the time to teach each one something. Becky learned to build a birdhouse. Jason learned to build a campfire on the first try with just one match. Beth learned to use a screwdriver and complete a project. Lisa learned to swim in a country pond, and Colby learned that someone cared enough about him to just sit and listen as he grieved over the loss of his father.
The man, who once thought it was time to retire and do his own thing, discovered there were kids who needed just what he could give them—his time.