This showed up in my comments and I thought it was just too damned good not to share:
If I may take the liberty, the following, though retold in honor of another man who has gone to his reward, is a tribute to all men like Wirecutter’s father and Mr. Franks that have made the investment of themselves in the forming of young boys.
Mr. Franks Last Cast
Mr Franks was old when the mountains hadn’t grown larger than gopher hills. It didn’t matter whether you were looking at him, listening to him or just plain smellin’ him, you could tell he was old. His skin was the appearance of old leather, wrinkled and grainy from spending too many hours in the outdoors with a kind of transparent look to it. When he spoke his voice came out like the sound of old gate hinges rusted fast. And smell, the only thing that smelled older than Mr Franks was, well I don’t know, but us kids used to bet that he hadn’t had a bath in at least 10 years.
At first, I didn’t know Mr. Franks very well. We had recently moved to this little mountain community and with an intuitive understanding I recognized a few things about Mr. Franks right off. One, he was safe. This was important. When you moved around a lot, one of the survival skills you learned as a kid was sizing up people quick. If you didn’t you could make a really bad mistake. It wasn’t talked about a lot, but I recall a couple of kids that got hurt real bad by making that mistake. Other than being safe the other two most important things about Mr. Franks was that he was lonely and that he really knew how to fish.
Mr. Franks, I didn’t learn his first name till later, may not have been any great shakes with his personal hygiene but he really shined in the woods. Old as he was he still got around pretty good and he became my hero the first time we ran into each other up on a creek way back in the mountains of North Eastern Washington. I was standing on one bank with my rod in my hands, my lure was stuck in some brush on the other side and the water looked too deep and fast for me to wade across. You may think this wasn’t much of a problem, just break it off and tie another one on, right.
Well, cash money was hard to come by back then and usually all that I earned went to the family kitty so I treated that lure like it was gold. I had split a bunch of wood for an old woman that lived on the edge of town and with my part of my proceeds I had been allowed to purchased a nickel bag of hard candy and that Daredevil lure. Down at the local mercantile there was a cardboard holder full of them in the glass display case and the owner had hung one from the ceiling by a string. I can still remember being almost mesmerized by the red and white stripes as it twisted back and forth at the end of the string and thinking I had to have one. I don’t think the first piece of hard candy was gone from my mouth before I was standing on the bank of the creek with it tied on. One of the first fish I caught with it was a monster German Brown, all of about twelve inches long.
Anyway there was no way I was going to get another one if I lost this one so breaking it off wasn’t an option. Just about the time I was getting ready to do something foolish Mr. Franks showed up. He took in the situation at a glance and without saying much more than a “howdy bub” set his rod against some brush and waded the creek, untangled my lure and came back to my side. I couldn’t believe what he had done and stammered out a bashful thank you.
He asked me if I had been doing any good and I held up my little rope stringer as I told him I had caught one earlier but there either weren’t any more fish or they had stopped biting. He asked if I minded if he made a cast or two and what was I going to say no. Anyway’s he steps back to his rod and it looks like it’s a mile long. I had never seen a fly rod before and to my untrained eye it was something to behold. Well he pulls some line out, flicks his fly across the creek to just down stream of where I had been trying to get my lure and almost as soon as the fly was on the water picked up a fish. He glanced at my astonished look with a twinkle in his eyes and said “not bitin’ huh?” In short order he caught three fish out of the run. I watched as he bonked each one on the back of the head before he slid it through a little square hole into his creel. This was long before anyone even thought of catch and release. If you caught it, it ended up on the dinner table. When he caught my curious gaze he opened up his creel to show me 9 or 10 trout inside on a bed of damp moss. He straightened up and said he had enough for the day why didn’t he hike back to town with me. Here we had just met and already he was looking out for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.
This was early in the spring and ended up being the first of many an outing we took together. I came to know what water he was going to be fishing and when. If I didn’t leave with him I would fairly often meet up with him out on the banks of one of the local creeks. Whether we went together or met up on the water, after we were together he would always let me fish the stream first and follow behind with his fly. It didn’t seem to matter how bad I messed up the water or whether I caught any fish or not, he could almost always get a fish to hit.
Right in the middle of the dog days of the summer I went for almost a whole week without seeing Mr. Franks out on the water or having him standing at the front door of our house asking if I was going fishing. When I mentioned it to my mom she said she had heard down at the store that Mr. Franks was in the hospital. You would have thought I had wings on my feet the way I tore down to the store. It was there that I learned that Mr. Franks was having heart trouble and nobody knew how things were going to turn out. Almost every day would find me lingering on the steps of the store waiting to catch word of how Mr. Franks was doing. Finally I was told he was back home but he was really weak and having a lot of trouble getting around. It was probably at least a couple more weeks before I could convince my mom to let me go to Mr. Franks place to see him.
I got to the shack Mr. Franks called home and was pounding on the door when I heard his rusty hinge voice saying “who in tarnation, come in before you beat the door off the hinges”. I came to a halting stop in front of the chair where he was sitting with his feet up and a blanket across his legs. He looked kind of like a hollow shell of the Mr. Franks I knew and I got this funny tight feeling in the pit of my stomach that I now know was a mixture of fear for and love of this old man I called a friend. “Howdy bub, been doin’ any fishin’?” he croaked out. Try as I might I couldn’t get anything to come out. Now I don’t know about the world you were raised in, but in my world big boys didn’t cry, so here I was all balled up with fear and concern and tears and Mr. Franks, he says “come over here boy it ain’t the end of the world, we’ll be fishin’ again before you know it.”
Well we did go fishing again, but it wasn’t before I knew it. It was just before the snow flew. Where we were living at the time, some folks said for seasons we had about 10 months of winter and two months late in the fall. Anyway’s one Saturday there is a light knock at the door and when it was opened there stood Mr. Franks. He was holding himself up with a cane in one hand, but he had his fly rod in the other. Seeing me, he asks “Goin’ fishin?” The words sounded like music to my ears. A quick glance at my mom and the look in her eyes told me the answer was yes. I tore off for my rod and little tackle box and we were away but not before my mom thrust my jacket at me and told me not to get too cold.
We didn’t cover much water that day and Mr. Franks didn’t do a lot of fishing. Where ever he did fish he almost always got a fish to come up, but mostly he seemed content to sit on the bank and watch me drown worms or work my Daredevil. Along about the middle of the afternoon he started heading us back towards town. I don’t remember all we talked about that day, but I do remember watching his receding back as I puzzled over his last words to me. “Bub” he says putting his hand on my shoulder, “Take care of yourself and thanks for sharing the summer with me. Remember you never loose what you don’t forget”.
The next week or so was kind of tough because I was still settling into a new school and such and fishing was at the bottom of my list. When I got home one Thursday I could tell from the way everyone was acting that something was up. They tried to be easy with it, but there isn’t really a good way to tell you that someone has passed away. Mr. Franks had died over night. To the best of my knowledge my last fishing trip with him was the last one he took.
Well big boy or not, I cried myself to sleep that night, and the next day they let me stay home from school. But eventually I came to understand what Mr. Franks was trying to tell me and you know what? You can’t loose what you don’t forget.
Thanks, Mr. Franks. Hope the fishing is good where you are.