By JJ Waters
On a recent business trip I lay awake for hours in the tiny hotel room as my mind spun wildly with too many thoughts about work, family, money, you name it. The next morning at breakfast, my business associate tried to make some small talk.
“So how’d you sleep?” he asked. “Um, not great.” I said. “I couldn’t stop my mind from spinning.” “Bummer,” he said. “So, what do you do when you have trouble falling asleep?” he asked. Without hesitation I said, “Oh, that’s easy. I go to my happy place…I go fishing with my grandfather.”
It’s true, when I can’t sleep, I just imagine that I’m out on the lake with Granddad. It’s just the two of us and he’s rowing the little jon boat. Neither one of us speaks because we don’t have to. Before I know it, I’m in dreamland.
From the time before I can remember, I spent every summer at my Great Grandfather’s lake house in Seville, FL. It was really less of a house and more like a fort that my great grandfather built himself. He painted it bright yellow and trimmed it in green. It was precariously perched on some cinder blocks and Lord knows what was under it. How it didn’t topple over, I’ll never know. Inside there was the smallest gas stove and a bathroom the size of a linen closet with a claw foot tub. There were two old feather beds with iron frames. It had the most wonderful screened in porch that overlooked the lake and on it were several old cane back rocking chairs. It was magical to me then, maybe even more now. Surrounding this tiny structure were fern groves and elephant ears that overshadowed the house and beyond that, orange groves, and the lake.
Every morning my grandfather and I would head out before dawn to go fishing. We’d head down the narrow path from the little house to the lake, through the fern and overgrown vegetation and oak trees smothered with Spanish moss. I felt like an explorer in the Amazon. My grandfather would slide the little jon boat onto the lake, and quietly, without a word, we’d jump in. There was rarely another living soul to be seen, save the critters that were there; in fact, I don’t remember anyone else ever being on the lake in those early hours. Just us.
There was no motor, just a couple of oars. My grandfather would row us to the other side of the lake and we’d cast along the shore for bass until the sun would slowly rise and it was time to head back. We hardly spoke except when I would ask a silly question or he’d give me some advice. “Granddad, how come we don’t catch alligators when we’re fishing?” He’d laugh and say, “’Cause you’re using the wrong bait.” That would get me to thinking. Sometimes I’d complain if I wasn’t catching anything, and he’d say, “Remember, it’s not always the fish we’re after.”
It took me half a lifetime to discover what he meant by that. He, of course, is long gone to heaven and I imagine that when the time comes for me, I’ll go to my happy place and he’ll be right there. Rowing that boat, fishing on that lake.