Several weeks later, my wife went to the stylist, had her cut off all her hair, and went Demi Moore in "Ghost" short. I literally fell on the floor when I saw her. She looked incredible! I loved it. But I also love her with her long Jaclyn Smith wavy hair, too. She is just one of these women who is blessed to be beautiful with either long or short hair. But that wasn't her only drastic surprise that week. I guess she hadn't been feeling well, or something, because the next day, she showed me a pregnancy test strip -- it was positive. We were going to have a baby! About 2 years earlier than what we had planned, but obviously God's time schedule was a little different than what we had had in mind.
Over the course of the next several months, we did all the things that a young couple does to prepare for our new arrival. The one thing we didn't want to do, however, was find out the sex of the baby growing inside her beautiful belly. We wanted that to be a surprise. Summertime arrived, and the beach ball that was now my wife's tummy was finally ready to pop! On the first day of July, very early in the morning, it was time.... I took her to the hospital, and at 6 p.m., we welcomed into our lives little Parke William. We had a boy! We had a son!
We were very excited, because while Parke was not the first grandchild born on either my wife's or my side of the family, he was the first boy. His grandparents finally had a grandson. And I knew I would have a fishing buddy one day!
Sure enough, later that summer, Parke went to the beach with us, and went fishing with me for the first time. He slept most of the time, and I had to help him cast, but his white little "fishing hat" was adorable. So was he.
By the time Parke was two and a half, he definitely liked fishing with Daddy. We had moved to Suffolk by then, and I would take him down to the lake in our neighborhood, and we'd go fishing for bluegills. He took right to casting, and was a natural fisherman. The look in his eye, the excited squeals he let out, made even the smallest fish we caught feel like a trophy! Then he'd want to hold them, let them go, and watch them kick their tails and splash and swim away... amazed at the whole wonder of fish....
|Susan holding Parke after he caught his first bluegill. You would have thought it was a citation bass, he was sooo proud of that fish!|
|Parke, in his same "fishing shirt", holding his first good-sized bass. He had Daddy help him support the rod and reel him in, because he didn't have the technique or proper equipment to bring him in alone, yet....|
And the smile was proof in itself! He held it for the now obligatory photo, and released it with a kiss....
|A cool day still meant hot fishing for the little angling protege.... Here he is with his first bass caught solo. And aren't those overalls under his little windbreaker just "precious"... A "Thank you" kiss sent the fish back on his way.|
Towards the end of a day, Parke's baby brother Clayton, was more interested in eating sand and watching the waves, but Parke would hold that fishing rod long after I had given up on the day, sure that a fish would come along any moment to eat his offering. Parke has always had an undying spirit for what he wants or believes in. And he believed he was going to catch a fish -- always.
|Late summer, late afternoon by the Bonner Bridge, and Bunkie Doodle keeps on fishing... knowing that something is going to take his bait. Even on days when there was nothing going on, he was determined to keep trying.|
The fish actually didn't die within the first week. And when they lived, and continued to live (doggone it), Parke said he wanted an aquarium to put them in. The glass fishbowl we had wasn't big enough for them. So a Christmas present from Santa was a 10 gallon aquarium with a starter kit -- everything the novice needed to have a successful fish aquarium. A couple more bug-eyed goldfish were also in order, one of them black (which we cleverly named "Blackie". Real original, huh.)
Actually, I have to admit, I had less of a hard time agreeing to a fish tank, than I had to the hamsters we already had. Hamsters smell. Hamsters are nocturnal, and make a lot of noise at night. Hamsters can get out of their cages, and then you have to try and track them down, wherever they may be before they poop everywhere, or chew and damage something. Fortunately our dog, a chocolate lab, named Maddie, had a nose for finding the hamsters. We would say, "Maddie, Where's the hamster?", and her ears would perk up and she would start wagging her tail. Say it again, and she was off, nose to the boys' bedroom floor (if she could find the floor under all the books, toys and clothes), and start tracking. She found the hamsters in their closet; she found the hamsters in their dresser drawers (don't ask how they got there, I have no idea); she found the hamsters in the hall closet; she found the hamsters in our closet!
SIDEBAR ALERT: Even though we haven't had hamsters in almost 10 years, if you still say to old Maddie, "Where's the hamster?" she'll perk up and start wagging her tail. But the scent trail is long dead. She will go outside and dig up the mole tracks in my yard, however, when I say it to her now....
Anyway, fish don't escape their aquariums the way hamsters do, and if they do, they're easy to find. Parke once caught a tiny bass and a tiny bluegill, and put them both in the aquarium (long after Blackie and his cohorts did finally pass away and get flushed to the "great aquarium in the sky" -- I guess it's actually that "great aquarium in the city's septic system"). He found worms and crickets, and fed them for a few days, but they were restless. He came home from school one day, only to see that the blue gill had somehow jumped clear out of the tank during the course of the day, only to land on his floor, free again at last.... and ... now, dead as a doornail. He took the bass down to the lake that afternoon, to release it before it suffered the same fate.
Another time, I accidentally brought home a leftover live eel from Boys' Weekend in one of my coolers. (We use them as live bait for catching stripers around Oregon Inlet.) Not sure what to do with it (it's absolutely amazing to me how long an eel can live out of water... literally days!), I contemplated just throwing it away; but Parke wanted to put it in his aquarium. By this time, he now had two 10-gallon aquariums (the obsession was growing).
He put whatever fish were in one, to share a tank with the other, and put the eel in its own tank. Even though it was a fresh water aquarium, that eel lived through the winter and into the early spring, before Parke finally released it in the waters near our house. It never did die. It did slime up his tank pretty well, though, which was one of the reasons he finally released it.
As Parke approached middle school, and their dreaded "science projects", he struggled with what his project should be. Eventually he decided to find out how crayfish react to light. One Saturday morning, we went to the local fishery that supplies pond owners with bass, bluegills, and other game fish, and walked inside. You would have thought Parke was in heaven, his eyes widened so much! Not since our trip to SeaWorld, had he seen so many aquariums, so large, and so full of fish! What a cool place to work, he said. We got a bunch of crayfish, learned how to care for them, and went home. He set up his aquarium with one side lit up, separated from a dark side with a divider, and began his observations over the course of the next couple weeks. He not only got an "A" for his project, but he won the class Science Fair that year. It just goes to show, that when you're doing something you love, you don't mind the work involved....
About the time of the eel in the tank, is when Parke started asking me when he could go on Boys' Weekend. Seeing that it meant something to him, we began our own little tradition of going down to Nags Head, just the two of us, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We would fish that afternoon and evening. Fish the next morning, and be home by Thanksgiving dinner. He was very excited the first year we did it. And so was I. We had caught a few stripers that BW the week before, and I was hopeful that Parke's first experience would be successful. Hopefully the fish were still around and biting.
We got down to the OBX, I got my heavers and equipment together, we bought some bait, and hit Oregon Inlet. The moment we drove onto the beach, however, I could tell it was going to be a little different than the previous weekend. It was crowded! And you couldn't drive around the corner to the south to get to the inlet, itself. The tide was so high, we just pulled straight ahead, and found a gap between some other trucks and set up shop. I set up my sandspikes, got the rods out, cut some bait, and heaved the lines out into the crowded surf with everyone else.
I was not hopeful, to say the least. With so many people fishing such a tight space, the odds of us catching a striper were minimal, at best. But still, you cast... and you wait... and you hope. Surprisingly, it did not take long before my rod bent sharply down. I picked it up, tightened the line, and... "Fish ON!" Parke was excited watching me fight a nice rockfish to the shore. When I finally brought it in, and up the beach, everyone around looked at us with disgust. We had been the last ones to arrive, and we were the only ones to catch a fish. We couldn't have been any more proud! It made us forget about how cold it was, and Parke was feeling bigger and taller by the minute!
|Bunkie Doodle grew significantly, with the confidence of seeing me catch a nice striper. Suddenly, he could fit in my waders. Now he just needed to catch a fish. Meanwhile, I'm thinking "BASKETBALL SCHOLARSHIP!"|
The next morning, we were up before the crack of dawn, and hit Oregon Inlet again. Parke hadn't seen the sunrise over the ocean before -- shoot, I'm not even sure he had ever seen any sunrise before (he is NOT a morning person like me), and it was neat to be able to share the beauty of that with him.
|Sunrise Thanksgiving morning started cold and early. It's a shame sunrise has to come too early for most people to enjoy. But by later in the day, it would be bright, clear - and a little warmer.|
|Parke holding a shark on Thanksgiving afternoon, right before we had to head back home.... The trip was a success for both of us. And a nice memory we would always share.|
"Looks like your boy caught a fish in the area that doesn't have any fish....", he said smiling at me. I laughed. Parke was walking back with a nice little puppy drum he had caught in the surf. He proved me wrong, again.
|Parke, doing his best Clayton "Forrest Gump" imitation with his eyes closed, holding the nice pup he just caught on the beach, where I had doubted he'd catch anything. Shows what I really know.|
Fortunately for me, I wasn't about to be outfished by my son again. My rod wiggled, and I picked it up. I reeled it in, and brought in a nice 29 inch rockfish. It surprised even me, but I'll take it. Especially when Parke had already caught a fish. And once again, nobody else did. Parke and I had outfished the others on the beach again. But I wasn't about to worry about getting cocky or overconfident. That wouldn't always happen....
|I think I was as surprised by this 29" rockfish, as I was by the fact that Parke had caught the puppy drum he did. Oh well, it was another good day for him and me, after all. Not so much for anyone else on the beach fishing....|
Goldfish and guppies had given way to a variety of beautiful and unusually shaped fish that I couldn't even begin to name. I must confess there were times when all of us would just go into his room and watch the fish swimming around peacefully. I can see why doctors' offices have fish tanks... it is very soothing to watch. The "white noise" of the filter, the water, and the simple beauty of it all definitely reduces stress levels, and can even lull you to sleep. It is very calming.
As Parke went through those early to mid-teen years, the tension level between him and me increased. The "never say die", strong-willed "young bull" was growing horns, and wanted to test them out on the "old bull" of the house, me. I can't say our behavior towards each other was always pretty, or the way I would have liked, but as a father you love, and you do your best, and you hope and pray for the best. And as a son, you want to assert your growing independence -- sometimes far sooner than you are really ready to. And you don't like it when you are told to do otherwise.
Somehow we made it through those years without killing each other, and one of the things that always continued to tie us together, was our mutual love for fishing. Our trip to Alaska, too rough and un-luxurious for any woman, was just the right thing for us. A shower in the beginning of the week, and a hot sauna and shower at the end of the week was all we needed. Otherwise, it was all fishing, camping, and bonding.... I told Parke this was going to be a new experience for both of us; and in that sense we were both equals up there. I was still -- and always would be -- his father; but for this trip we were just two fishing buddies sharing a wonderful experience.
Halibut Fishing out of Seward. A float plane ride across Cook Inlet to a john boat ride to fish for sockeye. Camping out in a tent. "Combat fishing" on the shores of the Russian River for more sockeye. More camping outside Homer. And more halibut and cod fishing in Tutka Bay south of Homer. These were some of the highlights of a trip with too many highlights to mention.
|Shoulder to shouder, we quickly learned what it takes to fight the fish, the current, and all the other people around, when "combat fishing" on the Russian River. And the sockeye there were bigger than the ones we caught elsewhere, the day before.|
And we still enjoyed fishing together. Whether it was kayak fishing for striper or puppy drum. Fishing in Nags Head for speckled trout, flounder, and puppy drum. Or just fly fishing at the point of the lake for bluegill and bass again.... It continued to be one of our bonds we shared together.
|Parke's first striper in a kayak was caught the first time he tried. A beautiful fish on a cold autumn day.|
|Waking Parke up before sunrise is almost impossible... unless it is to go fishing. This late Spring morning proved very successful for speckled trout. Other mornings produced nice puppy drum or flounder, too.|
|Parke back down on the point of the lake, where he first learned how to fish. With a fly rod and his young cousin... teaching her how to catch a fish. Her first fish was a bluegill. The cycle continues....|
|While he didn't catch this 60+ pound mahi mahi, he did get to clean it. He got so quick and efficient cleaning fish, he once won a bet by cleaning two mahi mahi in under 20 seconds.|
|This largemouth bass has a few more years to grow until he lives up to his name. Maybe he should go in Parke's aquarium... but the Oscar would probably eat him.|
Thanksgiving afternoon, before dinner -- just like we did years ago -- we went out fishing for stripers. This time, we didn't go all the way down to the OBX. We just went to the Nansemond, and went kayak fishing.
The fishing was slow, but it was a beautiful day to be out on the water. The haunting call of two skeins of tundra swans migrating south echoed above us, reminding me -- as they do every time -- of the ones we saw in Alaska. A large skein of Canada geese flew much lower over us, migrating from the 9th hole of the nearby golf course, to the 12th hole I joked. And we fished.
"Fish on!" Parke said about an hour into our adventure. And much to his chagrin, he brought in a good sized shad, he had foul hooked through the tail. "Oh well," he said, holding it for a photo, "At least it fought well."
|The shad Parke caught was held for a photo, and released. There would be no "shad planking" for this specimen.|
|A beautiful 24 inch rockfish caught on a cool Thanksgiving afternoon, made more enjoyable because I was sharing it with my son, doing what we both love....|
"Well, at least the afternoon wasn't a complete loss, since you caught that fish," Parke said on our way home to shower, dress and get ready for dinner.
A loss? I thought. Even if we had been skunked, it was never a loss to share time with Parke on the water, enjoying the beauty that is a late autumn afternoon. We went and joined the family for a wonderful Thanksgiving feast. We had missed out on the pre-dinner games my brother-in-law had planned for the afternoon. But oh well, I thought. I enjoy his games as much as the next guy; but it was worth it, for the fish and for the time alone with Bunkie.
The next day, Black Friday, I took him to the pet store. His big Tiger Oscar and his Jewel Cichlid were getting too big for his 35-gallon aquarium in his room. He needed a bigger one, he said. A 55-gallon aquarium.
"I'll take you," I said, "but we're not buying anything today."
You can figure out what happened. We got there, and they had a great deal -- only today! -- on a tank, with everything you need. I didn't have room in my car, I told Parke.
"That's okay, I'll come back later tonight in my car and pick it up," he said.
"Okay, but that's your Christmas present. There will be nothing more under the tree from me. Are you okay with that?"
He nodded enthusiastically. He was. There was still a little boy somewhere in that 6'1" frame that was now taller than me.
And now, as I finish writing this post, he's back at college to wrap up his semester, and I'm looking at a fully functioning 55-gallon aquarium in our great room with a happy Tiger Oscar, a Jewel Cichlid, and an Algae Eater... (Yes, the other aquariums are still functioning, too.) And I'm wondering, what's next -- a 125 gallon tank? That will have to be at his house one day. But I wouldn't doubt it will be.
So what will Parke be one day? Will he be like Jacques Cousteau, scuba diving among various marine life, studying them? Will he be a charter boat captain, taking others out to enjoy fishing? Will he be a Navy SEAL, protecting our country? Or will he do something else for a living? I don't know yet, because he doesn't know yet, for sure.
But I do know this: Regardless of how he earns his living one day, his love and respect for marine life -- whether it's through fishing, or just enjoying fish in an aquarium, will always be a part of his life. And through it all, it is neat to see how God has shaped in him this love for His Creation. It makes me have no doubt that long after I am dead and gone, Bunkie Doodle will be showing his family his 1000 gallon aquarium, and teaching his kids, and their kids, how to yell,