Roy Boone was sort of in withdrawal. Every year when squirrel season ended, he felt lost. When he walked onto the front porch on this Saturday morning, his little feist, Rock, peered up expectantly, fully expecting the two of them to start off for the woods in search of bushytails. But the wise little dog quickly realized Roy had left his .22 Marlin inside, and the little feist plopped down forlornly, knowing there was no hunt in store for this Saturday.
It had been a good season and Roy had a good supply of cash from selling his squirrel tails to the Mepps fishing lure company. The money was burning a hole in his pocket, and he had seen a catfishing rod & reel he longed for at the bait & tackle shop.
However winter had failed to release its icy grip on the landscape. The catfish still mostly had lockjaw.
As always Grandpa was already sitting out on the front porch watching the sun rise when Roy walked out. The old man watched as his grandson stared at the sun and stretched, then reached in his pocket fingering the wad of cash.
Turning to Grandpa, Roy said, “I sure wish the catfish were fired up. I’m about to go crazy for something to do.”
“Well boy,” mused Grandpa. “It never hurts to try. Even if you don’t catch many, this is a fine time to try for one of them monster cats like Sally Ann caught with you last year.”
“I know. I just have a hard time sittin’ there fer hours without gettin’ a bite,” replied Roy as he plopped down on the steps.
“Well, since squirrel season ended you’ve spent a lot of hours just settin’ here with me,” said Grandpa. “You could just as well be settin’ on the riverbank.”
Roy knew that made good sense. That’s the only kind of sense Grandpa ever made. But he still couldn’t get inspired.
The previous Saturday he and his girlfriend, Sally Ann Barrett, had been killing the afternoon prowling various stores downtown. He had watched as Sally Ann stopped once at a jewelry store counter, staring longingly at a particular ring. The same day they had wandered into the bait shop and Sally Ann watched as Roy picked up the catfish rod he longed for.
As you would guess, the ring – which didn’t have real diamonds – and the new catfishing rig were almost the exact same price – and about the same amount Roy had saved. And Sally Ann’s birthday was Sunday.
“I think me and Sally Ann are going to the movies this afternoon,” Roy said to Grandpa. “She really loves movies. She wants to go see that new “Beauty and the Beast” movie. But I’d rather see that one about King Kong.”
“Tough choice,” said Grandpa with a smile. Then they both just sat in silence until Roy’s Mom called them in for breakfast.
Later Roy rode his bicycle downtown well before he was supposed to meet Sally Ann. First he stopped by the bait & tackle shop. He picked up the catfishing combo rod & reel yet again. It was perfectly balanced. It had lots of backbone in the base to muscle a big fish, but it had a medium action tip that would provide plenty of flex, allowing a big cat to pick up a bait without feeling too much pressure. The spinning reel was big and would spool up with 30 lb. test easily. It had a smooth drag and a low, 5:1 gear ratio that would allow plenty of power for fighting trophy cats.
About 30 minutes before he was supposed to meet Sally Ann at the movie theater, he put the rod back in the rack and headed for the store where she had seen the ring she liked so much. His heart sank when it wasn’t in the display case.
When he asked the clerk about it, she said, “I’m very sorry but a gentleman came in and bought that ring yesterday.”
He looked at several others but he knew Sally Ann had her heart set on the one that was gone.
He had a very hard time paying attention at the movie, especially since it was “Beauty and the Beast.” Late in the movie, as his mind wandered, he had a thought, remembering something Sally Ann had told him when they first met and she came down to the riverbank to fish with him.
“Do you have a fishing rod,” he had asked her.
“No, I don’t have one of my own,” Sally Ann replied. “My daddy lets me use his when we go. But he’s never bought me one of my own. He’s bought some for my little brothers,” she said with a frown. “But not for me.”
Roy was glad when the movie ended and told Sally Ann he had to head home right away because his Mom wanted him home for dinner.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, hopping on his bicycle. Sunday evening there was a birthday party planned at Sally Ann’s house.
Roy got to the party a little early. He was glad when Sally Ann’s Mom answered the door and said she was still upstairs getting ready. That meant it was easy to sneak her present inside.
It was the usual party for teenagers who thought they were adults. Moms and Dads stayed mostly out of the way. And Roy, who really didn’t function very well in social settings, hung around his buddies who liked to hunt & fish … except when the dancing started and he turned into a wallflower.
Finally after a couple of hours Sally Ann’s Mom showed up in the basement, interrupting the dancing – and a couple of make out sessions – with the birthday cake and gifts.
There were all the standard “Oohs” and “Aahs” as Sally Ann unwrapped a new dress, make-up and new shoes from her Mom. Then her Dad shyly handed over a small box. When Sally Ann opened it and saw the tiny, velvety flip-top jewelry box, she glanced up at her father in surprise. When she flipped it open and spied the ring she longed for, she leapt from her seat, crashing into her father, giving him a huge bear hug.
Roy was jealous… so jealous he almost wanted to rush from the house in dismay. He had hoped that would be the way Sally Ann might act when she saw his gift. He had wanted the gift to be the ring but he had been too slow on the draw. He was kicking himself now because he knew there was no topping the hug, and even a few tears of joy, Sally Ann’s father got.
Roy was even more nervous now. He knew her girlfriends would think his gift – the only one that remained unrevealed – was weird and he feared he might get the same reaction from Sally Ann. But after her joy over the new ring subsided slightly, she looked over at him expectantly.
“My present is over on the wall,” said Roy pointing. “I didn’t wrap it because even if I had, it’s sort of obvious what it is.”
Sally Ann gave him a quizzical look and looked over at the wall where he pointed. All she saw was the rack filled with rods and reels that belonged to her Dad and her brothers. She didn’t really understand until she looked closer and saw one rod & reel that was much shinier than all the rest. She walked over and lifted the rod out of the rack and immediately recognized it as the very fishing combo she had watched Roy lust after in the bait shop.
Her eyes widened and gleamed. She looked at him with a strange mixture of happiness and sadness.
“This is for me,” she asked. “But this is the rod & reel you wanted.”
“Yea, I know,” Roy answered with a smile. “But I kind of figured that usually, we might be fishing together so MAYBE you’d let me share it sometimes. But you need a rod & reel of your own, just in case I’m not around when you want to go fishing,” he added with a wink.
It wasn’t with quite the ferocity as the one her Dad got, but Roy got his hug… and even a peck on the cheek that lingered long enough to make Roy turn beet red in front of his friends.
Mom and Dad withdrew and the party resumed. Roy and Sally Ann sat on the couch together. He held her hand, admiring the new ring.
“You know, I went to the store yesterday to buy that ring,” he confessed. “I was really pissed when I found out some man had beat me to it. I’m just really glad to find out it was your Dad.”
Sally Ann glanced down at the ring.
“I don’t know how he knew about it. My Mom knew so I’m betting she told him to go buy it,” she said.
She snuggled closer to Roy and laid her head on his shoulder. He held her a little tighter and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
He could see she was staring at her Dad’s rack of fishing rods on the basement wall, the one that now held HER new fishing rod alongside the others.
“I think maybe this might be one of my best birthdays ever,” she sighed, turning her head up and giving Roy the kind of kiss reserved for special occasions.
Roy decided it might be one of his best ever birthdays as well… even if it wasn’t his.
Previous installments of ‘He Called the Woods Home’: