And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sheldon Joy, my Fishergirl....

She's beautiful, prissy enough to like pedicures, yet has just enough "tomboy" that she can fish with the best of the boys.  She's my daughter, Sheldon Joy.  And when the Lord blessed me with her almost 15 years ago, I knew she was going to be something special.  After all, you don't survive being the baby bird in a nest full of brothers if you don't fight for your fair share.  And let me tell you, she does.

Sheldon may be my youngest, but in many ways her mother and I say she is the most mature one in the family.  Maybe it's because she has a naturally nurturing personality.  She has been always been a helper around the house, and having a special needs brother has given her a compassion that I don't see in many adults, let alone other children.  But she also has a strong passion for her hobbies.  She loves to cook -- especially desserts.  And like many girls, if you take her out shopping, she will shop until you drop, the check bounces, and the credit card is rejected.  She'll still be going strong at the end of the day, and happily carry numerous shopping bags from the mall.  Just ask her mother.  Yet get her outside, take her fishing, and even if the fish aren't biting, she will be patient and quiet and continue to fish long after any other child would have given up and moved on to something else.  Because she knows it can always happen on the next cast....

Her interests are varied, too.  At age three, when other toddlers would watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, Sheldon preferred watching TLC or Discovery -- especially when the shows were about surgery.  Brain surgery was her favorite.  She would lie curled up on a chair, rapt by the drama of the operation, engrossed and intrigued by the video of scalpel or saw cutting through flesh or bone.  And even though the camera never blinked at showing some of the "gore" of surgery, Sheldon was just more enamored by it.  To this day, she wants to be either a neurosurgeon -- or a fashion designer.  'Cause you have to look good, too. 

Because she loved watching surgery, whenever I cleaned a fish, I knew she always wanted to see me do it.  As I gutted the fish, I would point out the various organs inside the abdomen.  When I cut open the stomach to see whatever my catch had already eaten, her eyes widened, intrigued with the partially digested remains of whatever fish, crab or shrimp that had been as unfortunate as the fish itself, ultimately was.

Some of Sheldon's first fishing experiences were up on the Finger Lakes of New York when she was very young.  For a period of several years, our family went up to Cayuga Lake, outside Ithaca, and stayed at my Uncle's cottage for a week in July or August.  We had one rule.  No TV or electronics of any kind.  It was a week where we had to read, play board games, or (God forbid!) talk to each other....  The kids all loved it!  (Of course this was before they all had cell phones and Ipods, just video games and Gameboys -- and they were only allowed for the drive.)

My uncle's cottage was small and not winterized; and upstate New York summer nights get cool, so we always looked forward to wearing sweatshirts by an open campfire, making S'mores and just having a week of isolation as a family -- with no humidity or mosquitos at all!  You have to have lived around Southeast Virginia to appreciate those last two things. 

Because of the rustic nature of the cottage, I had to convince my wife Susan that the proverbial "escaped axe-murdering psychopath" was not going to break in at night, since the locks were made more to keep raccoons out, not people -- or bears.  (Don't worry, we never saw any bears, either, though the odds were greater to see one of them.)  I must say, she wasn't as crazy about the cottage as the rest of us, because she never slept well there with all the noises of the night coming through the screen windows.  But she was always a trooper about it, because she saw how much the family enjoyed it. 

The kids and I, however, had no problems with the solitude of being on the lake in a generations-old wooden cottage.  Who cared that the water from the faucet was lake water you couldn't drink.  We would wake up early, go down to the lake, and fish.  In fact, Cayuga Lake was the only place I have ever been able to get my kids up early, where they have wanted to get up early. 

Sheldon was an independent little something, right from the youngest age.  She wanted no help with anything, especially once she had been shown how to do something.  Whether it was catching numerous rockbass, bluegills, perch, or other panfish, she was never too prissy to put a worm on her hook, or take the fish she had just caught off the hook to throw it back.  If she got pricked by fin or hook, it only happened once.
Sheldon proudly holding a beautiful little red ear sunfish
 She also holds the record for the largest largemouth bass that any of us ever caught up there.  A nice four pounder she caught on a worm late one afternoon.  At that point, that was the largest fish she had ever fought and caught all by herself.  Her rod was bending so hard, and she was squealing so delightfully that we were absolutely thrilled it didn't get away.  She was very proud of it.  She still is.  (Of course, her big brother Parke had to "encourage" her, and "help her land it" so he could get a little of the credit.  But it really wasn't needed.)  After catching so many small panfish, it was a pleasant surprise to see her bring in such a nice largemouth.  Especially when for all my life of going there and fishing (which goes back to the 1960's when I was younger than her), while I had caught several smallmouth bass, I don't ever recall catching a largemouth bass there at all.
Sheldon (and Parke) holding her beautiful largemouth for the obligatory proud photo before its release.
When we stopped going to the cottage a few years later, that certainly didn't stop Sheldon from fishing.  One August afternoon three years ago, she and I went to Virginia Beach for a little puppy drum fishing for a daddy/daughter date.  I caught one, and put it on my stringer, when I suddenly saw her yank her line.  The rod stayed down, and I thought she was snagged.

"Do you need help?", I asked.
"No Dad, this is a fish!", she declared.  By the way her rod was bent and not moving, I found that hard to believe for a moment.  Then the rod tip started bouncing, as the pup started running and taking drag.  She tipped her rod perfectly, like a pro, allowing the fish to take the line.  Then when it tired, she raised the tip and reeled it in some.  Puppy drum typically "run about three times" I once heard from a wise fellow angler, and I told her that.  When the fish ran again, she again lowered her tip and let it go.  Whether she had heard me or not didn't matter.  She was handling this fish perfectly.  And she did not need to be bothered by her Dad telling her what to do any more than she had needed her brother's help years earlier.  When the pup was finally netted, Sheldon had a new personal best fish.  A beautiful 25 inch, almost six pound pup that was about to be blackened!
Sheldon holding her nice personal best puppy drum.  The hat cannot hide the smile!
While that day was a wonderful day, and a great success, Sheldon does not just fish when Daddy is around.  She has taken to it on her own as well, and has often times called me up while I'm at work and asked if she can get the fishing rods and walk down to the lake down the street with a friend and go fishing.  Who am I to refuse that?  And in fact, just this Spring, she surprised us all, again.

One evening when Sheldon had her best friend, (my "second daughter") over, she came and asked me if she and Carlyne could go down to the lake. 
"Sure," I said.  "Take the little ultralight rod.  Because you should be able to catch a bunch of bluegills right now, since they're all nesting around the shore line.... "  Of course, what do I know....

Twenty minutes later she called me on her cell phone.  "Dad, come quick!"

I was there in less than two minutes.  She had caught a big 24 inch pike on that little ultralight with four pound test line, and a tiny jig.  And yet she acted like it was no big deal!  Of course, when I took her photo of the fish and Carlyne, they both had to "Oooh and aah" at the fish, acting goofy the way teenage girls do.  But she needed no help unhooking or releasing the toothy critter back to the lake to swim away.  She just wanted me there to take her picture.  I was very proud of her.  But I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised anymore.
Sheldon and Carlyne holding the largest, toothiest fish she's caught!  And she still has all her fingers.
All I can say is this:  One day, hopefully not for about 30 more years (I kid), she is going to meet a boy and fall in love.  And when he asks her to marry him, she is going to tell him she has always wanted to get married on the beach.  She has already decided that, we know.  So, while I doubt that her bridal shower is going to consist of a bunch of girls surf fishing, I do know that the young man who is worthy of taking my daughter's hand in marriage better know how to handle a fishing rod, and be able to catch a fish. 

And what a fortunate and blessed young man he will be.  Married to a neurosurgeon with outstanding fashion sense, who can catch her dinner, clean it, and prepare it like the best of them.  But here's the kicker.  Here's my daughter; a Tidewater girl through and through, who has fished since she could walk.  And yet it is only this year that she has finally decided she actually likes to eat any seafood.  Oh well, at least she finally does.  Did I mention she is my favorite daughter in the whole wide world?

Until next time,

Fish On!


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