In the Allen family, I am the fisher woman. Every summer I would head out to the fishing dock with my three kids, four fishing poles, a tackle box, four hand towels, a sharp knife and a box of frozen squid.
It is a true test of your momma skills to put your three kids in a 6×9 space surrounded on three sides by water, arm them with long poles with shiny sharp hooks covered in stinky squid and come away without too many puncture wounds, slimy hair, or soggy bottoms. I taught each of the kids the fine art of putting squid on the sharp hook without poking their fingers. I taught them how to cast the line out into the bay without snagging one of their sibs or letting go of the pole. I taught them how to take their prized catch off the hook and let it go back into the bay before it died and floated endlessly by the dock causing one of the girls to cry until she caught her next victim. I taught them to stay away from the edge. It’s terrifying to watch your six- year-old reel in a fish while her sibs get closer and closer to taking a header off the dock into the bay in an effort to “see” the fishy. True to my southern roots, I taught the kids when the fish weren’t biting to call them to the trough, “here, fishy, fishy, fishy!” Of course fish can’t hear but the kids didn’t know that. It made for endless giggles when the kids engaged in their fish calling contests.
The kids and I have had many adventures on this dock. One day, we were going over why it was “not fair” that all the fish were biting on one kid’s side of the dock and not the other’s and that Matt should stop flicking squid goo on his sisters when we heard a rustling sound behind us. Turning to look, we saw that a raccoon had come up onto the dock with us. I assumed the raccoon was after some of our squid. Then I saw the sun glint off the shiny steak knife I had borrowed from my mother-in-law’s kitchen to cut the squid with. Once the four of us all turned our attention to the little thief he made a bee-line for the mangroves with the knife in tow. “Hey, bring that back” I called out to the little rascal as he scampered into the underbrush. Once he reached what he considered relative safety, he turned and stared straight at me. “You can’t have that. That’s my mother-in-laws. Do you know how much trouble you’ll get me in if you steal her knife? Do you really think she’ll believe me when I tell her a crazy little raccoon ran off into the mangroves with it?” I said this to the creature as if he could understand the English language, all the while making my way off the dock and down into the mangroves intent on regaining custody of my mother-in-law’s knife. Once the little bandit realized I was coming in after him, he put the knife in his mouth and began to run away. Terrified that he would trip and cut his own head off, I instinctively yelled in my most stern momma voice “DO NOT run with that sharp knife in your mouth. Didn’t your momma teach you anything?” It must have been the momma voice that did it. The raccoon immediately stopped running and dropped the knife. He looked back at me, hung his head in shame and walked slowly away in defeat. I retrieved my mother-in-law’s steak knife and returned to fishing with the kids hoping that I hadn’t actually hurt the little raccoon’s feelings by commenting on his upbringing.
Today standing on the same fishing pier years later, Matt and I laughed about keeping an eye out for knife-stealing raccoons. Matt was having a great time showing Kathleen, his girlfriend, how to bait the hook and cast the line. Dave brought Fred, our female goldendoodle, out to the fishing dock. At first I was nervous because Fred was not on her leash and could easily fall off the dock into the bay. For the first few minutes I was wishing they made little doggie water wings. Fred had never been fishing before and I wasn’t entirely sure that a box full of squid sitting on the ground wouldn’t be too much of a temptation for her. This is the same dog that wakes me up every morning with a face full of doggie kisses. The last thing I need is to wake up to a hot blast of squid breath.
Soon, I realized that Fred was having a blast. Every time someone caught a fish, she had to go and watch them reel it in. When we threw a fish back into the water, she would peer over the edge of the dock watching it swim away. She watched the water intently waiting for the next fish to come up. When fishing in Florida, pelicans can become a nuisance. They know that fishermen will sometimes throw them a fish or leave their fish unattended so they can swoop down and pluck up an easy lunch. Fishing with Fred cured this issue for us. Fred feels like it’s her job to keep the birds not only off the dock and surrounding grounds, but also out of the airspace around her territory. Once again, icy fingers of fear crawl down my spine as I envision Fred chasing a bird straight off the edge of the dock and into the bay.
At one point during the afternoon, I realized that I was fishing with Fred just the way I had always fished with the kids. I showed her every fish that I caught and told her what kind it was. I even held the fish out so that Fred could say goodbye to it before I tossed it back into the water. When Matt or Kathleen caught a fish and Fred would go over to watch them reel it in, I would immediately say “Fred, don’t get so close to the edge” or “Fred, watch out for the hooks.” Luckily for me the fish were biting so I didn’t have to get Fred to call “Here, fishy, fishy, fishy” with me.