My mother, sister and I have always spent the summer months off the shores of the Assawoman Bay. Her waters flow between Delmarva, Del., and Ocean City, Md. It was here that my maternal grandfather, “Captain Jack,” had become a respectable member of Tuckahoe Acres Campground and the boating community. It was not until recently that I realized the significance of the lessons the captain had subtly been teaching me over the years. One recent event was that, as a kinesiology major, I studied the book “When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore: A Father and a Son, a Team and a Time.” The author, William Gildea, learned life lessons from his father’s love of football, just as I learned life lessons from my grandfather’s love of fishing. The other recent event was a medical emergency that changed the way my grandfather and I spent our time on the water.
Aside from being able to bait a hook, cast a line, drop an anchor, port a ship, and tie a knot, my strong and silent maternal patriarch taught me more about life than I could have ever figured for myself in 21 years. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. I look at my grandfather as my genuine, paternal figure and credit him as such. By modeling his own strength, my grandfather taught me strength. Fishing was therapeutic during those summer months; the ease I felt on the waters persisted through the seasons so long as my grandfather was around. Through fishing, the captain and I formed an infrangible bond. If my life was the sea, he was port, and with every swell and crest, he taught me strength, patience and how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
As soon as we dropped anchor, the captain would recite the nursey rhyme, “Fishy, fishy, in the brook, come and take a bite of my hook,” and, with this, he taught me patience. As a child, it is difficult to understand that fishing is a timely process. Despite my frustration, my grandfather would say, “Now Katie, you can’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water.” Not knowing then how invaluable such an “ism” would be, I would roll my eyes and retreat to the stern. Being much older now, I realize such a phrase is transferable beyond the waters. To draw a parallel, I would not be able to maintain my GPA if my priorities were not aligned, or my time not invested in my studies. I would not be able to maintain my hard-pressed lifestyle if I were unable to manage my time appropriately or protect my mental wellness.
I learned that, on some days, the fish would bite. William Gildea learned that eventually the Colts would win. But on bad days, when the clock ran out and the ocean failed to deliver, the captain and Gildea’s father alike were there to talk on the ride home. One of my favorite parts of the book is Gildea stating plainly, “It was okay. We could talk.” In undesirable circumstances I, like Gildea, could talk to a father figure.
He taught me to adapt to new circumstances. When I was upset, he would rub my shoulder and say, “Now, don’t get excited.” He was port. Whenever he would drive us to Tuckahoe, he would never take the same route twice. He claimed that driving the same route twice is 1) “bad for the brain” and 2) not adaptive to adjusting to unforeseen circumstances should you need to. Along a similar line is another one of his mantras, “Always be aware of your surroundings.” As I move to a new city, new town every three months, it is extremely important to be aware of my surroundings and to be able to adjust accordingly. Should things go awry, or should I find the adjustment difficult, I remember to “never get excited.”
In Gildea’s book, the Colts played a supporting role in his relationship with his father, and fishing has played a supporting role in my relationship with my grandfather. For it is through sport and activity that father and son, grandfather and granddaughter, captain and first mate, are able to bond over the trials and tribulations, the wins and losses, and the swells and crests.
From time to time, we reminisce on old photographs of the captain stationed in Hawaii or of my grandmother just after she graduated from nursing school. Being the strong and silent type, he would never discuss his past, but, by looking at these photographs, I feel like I know everything I could ever need to about him. William Gildea did this too, as he paged through a Colt player’s photo album.
I knew those years would be important; I just did not know or understand why. In the wake of my own agenda, 2017 was the first in 21 years I had been unable to visit my grandparents in Delaware during the summer months. This was also the summer the captain and my little sister were in a medically related car accident. They are OK, but the captain is no longer allowed to operate his boat due to medical conditions.
To give back to him all he has given to me and to further our relationship through fishing, I tested for my Delaware boater’s license. Last month, my grandfather and I once again sailed the waters of the Assawoman Bay, but this time, I was the captain.
Kaitlin Paich is a senior kinesiology major at Penn State Harrisburg.