The Fishing License That Got Away

IF you wait long enough, you'll find things even out. Consider that on the 14th day of April in the year 1925, I presented myself before the Hon. Robert E. Randall, clerk of the town of Freeport, Maine, and laid a 25-cent piece on his desk.

Mr. Randall was a substantial stalwart in our small community and had achieved in several directions. First of all, he was our town lawyer and by upright conduct had won an appointment as trial justice. So he was our judge, as Maine affairs ran, and presided in dignity if a constable (we had two) chanced to apprehend a miscreant. The judge was also manager of our local bank with authority to say yea and nay as borrowers approached.

He was also one of the four children born in far places to Cap'n and Mrs. Randall of the John A. Briggs. Launched in 1878, the Briggs was Freeport's biggest vessel, and the most elegant of the "downeasters" that came along after the short-lived clippers. Cap'n Randall installed his bride in the rosewood, mahogany, and bird's-eye cabin of the Briggs and sailed "out East." Judge Randall was a native Freeporter born somewhere in the China trade. He was our town clerk for years.

But fame sometimes derives oddly, and to us boys in town the judge was a hero because he had caught Jack Coombs on our high school baseball team. In 1925, the exploits of Jack Coombs with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics were still fresh in Freeport minds, and it wasn't everybody who could stand up and catch John Wesley Coombs. His fast ball just toyed with World's Series opponents.

My 25-cent piece was to pay for my first fishing license. It may be that I should have had one earlier, but I was then a youngster and our State of Maine hadn't become mean enough to enforce any foolish troutin' rules. Wading a brook had not yet been construed as a major crime. Fact was, Judge Randall opinionated about that as he filled out my form. "Soaking a poor kid a quarter to snag a brookie! What's things coming to! My word!" But the law was the law, and I complied. Minus my quarter, I was now lega l.

I still have that first license.

At the bottom, the license says, "This certificate expires when the licensee ceases to become a bona fide resident of Maine." That is, with Judge Randall as my witness, the State of Maine and I entered a pact making me a proper Isaac Walton so long as I live in Maine, which I do.

Shortly, however, the State of Maine got money-hungry, and welched, or reneged, on this agreement. My permanent license became null and void, and I had to go each year and buy a new one. Also, the price kept going up as the brooks and trout became less available. I kept my annual angling license in the top tray of my tackle box, but down under my leader material and my fly dope, at the bottom, my original defunct lifetime 25-center, encased in protective plastic, lay waiting for my day of retribution.

That day came in 1967, when a young and officiously dedicated warden interrupted me on the Scott Brook Deadwater, reaching from his canoe to grab my gunnel and assert the supremacy of the state that defaulted. He asked to see my license. "Certainly," I said, and I opened my box.

I passed him my 25-center (although I did have a proper one) and sat back innocently to see what happened. He had never seen one. He didn't know one ever existed. He squinted at it, and turned it over. It's blank on the reverse. Then, completely unsure of himself, he passed it back and said absently, "I don't believe that thing's any good." He let go my of gunnel and he paddled away, probably to consult his warden supervisor for further instruction.

I'll give the thing to a museum. I don't need it now, because the state has just sent me an "over-seventy complimentary license," which does not expire and brings me back as I was that day before good Judge Randall, who wrote that my hair was brown. Each year, my annual renewal license repeated the judge's description, and as the years have sped, my hair, on the licenses, has remained youthful brown.

A bureaucratic dalliance that has now been corrected. This new, lifetime license has changed me to white. You just need to wait long enough.

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