My grandfather marched to a different drummer. I found out just how different when he took me fishing for the first time. That was the summer we followed the rise of the hill to his secret fishing hole.
Weaving around a trail visible only to his practiced eyes, Grandpa never stopped talking. He knew every rock and plant on his farm. I struggled to keep up with his long stride and steady stream of words.
"Not much farther," called Grandpa as he pushed aside branches. We wove our way among a brace of tall pines. Their needles were everywhere. It seemed as though we were in a tunnel. A dark tunnel.
Finally, we were through and standing at the edge of a pond as pristine as morning. "How do you like it, Tommy?" Grandpa seemed proud.
Like it? I loved everything about the place. The water, the trees, and most of all the feeling of being let in on something secret. A mystery.
"Can I go swimming in there?"
"Let's not disturb the fish. That is, if you're still interested...." His voice trailed off just enough to increase my enthusiasm.
The water was clean and cold. Ice cold from the dark places below. I splashed some on my face to cool off. Grandpa was already stretched out in the long grass. He seemed half asleep when I joined him.
As we lay there, a caterpillar began to climb my leg, its brown and yellow body twisting in alphabets of "S" and "U." Soon it made its way to my outstretched hand. Grandpa was dozing.
"Could we use this for bait?" Grandpa shook his head. "No. We won't be needing that. I brought the bait. Let him go."
Grandpa produced a paper bag from the pocket of his jacket.
"Bread?" I barked. "That's not bait!"
"Is, too. When you fish with me, you use bread."
I was dismayed. I expected flies, worms. Bread was so ordinary. So useless. "And where's our fishin' poles, Grandpa?" I had visions of whittling something from the branch of a tree.
"We don't need poles."
"But how can we fish without poles?"
Grandpa laughed. Something in my anxiety tickled him. "Just watch. And see."
We moved to the edge of the pond. The water was so clear I could see the stones along the bottom. Slowly, precisely, Grandpa tossed a single breadball into the water. Ripples formed, expanding circles around the center. It looked like a target.
Suddenly, dark shadows jetted toward the bull's-eye from below. In a moment, I glimpsed a pair of button eyes bulging grotesquely just above the surface.
"That's Doc, the old bullhead," Grandpa explained. "He's the fattest fish in the neighborhood. Eats anything...."
The underwater shadows increased. Three, four, five. Another piece of bread hit the water and was gone in a splash.
"That's Lightning, a sucker. Pretty quick, don't you think? I had to agree.
"Can I throw one, Grandpa?"
"Are you sure you want to?" I nodded.
"Throw the first one out toward the middle, as far as you can."
I gave it my best and was rewarded to see a speckled brown fish accelerate from the bottom and sweep away the prize. His whole body rose out of the water and tumbled through the air upside down. Sunlight glistened off his pink underside.
"Ace!" laughed Grandpa. "Named him for those World War I pilots. Sometimes I think that one's half bird."
Before long, there were a dozen other fish poking near the surface. Grandpa had a name for each one. Old friends.
"Don't you ever try to catch one?" I asked.
Now that the bread was gone, Grandpa lay on his back, watching trees sway in the breeze. "What would I want to catch one for? I don't need the food, and I'd rather feed them than kill them. Wouldn't you?"
"Sure I would. But aren't you supposed to use poles and hooks for fishing?"
Grandpa was amused by my lack of imagination. "Who says so? Show me where it says there is one and only one way to do a thing. You know that bears fish with their paws, and birds fish with their beaks. In the Bible, they used nets, not poles. This is the way I happen to fish."
"But why?" I blurted stubbornly.
"Because it suits me. Can't think of a better way. Besides, those fish are my friends. I could no more pull them out than I could push you in." With that, in a moment he was softly asleep.
I looked at the clouds floating overhead, and listened to the music of the trees. Even though I hadn't caught any fish that day, I'd discovered something far more important. My grandfather marched to a different drummer, all right. And from then on I marched right along with him.
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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor