Our selection this issue comes from Sid Elliott, local TU member and writer. Special thanks to Sid for sharing this personal story with us.
THE OLD MAN
This year's family vacation in July was special. It was our first trip to the Yellowstone area. We had a great time and will always treasure the memories. For me, one of the most lasting impressions is from the plane ride home as we left Bozeman, Montana heading to Salt Lake City on the way back to Atlanta.
Adam, my 13 year old son, was in the window seat and I sat in the middle seat. Like most people, I don't like middle seats, but I was willing to make the sacrifice for my son to have the window. After all, I fly quite a bit and he doesn't; it only seemed fair. My wife and daughter were in the row in front of us. I didn't particularly notice the man sitting in the aisle seat next to me at first. Then he spoke and commented about the fly rods I had placed in the overhead bin.
As I responded, I noticed he wore hearing aids, had a gray mustache and looked a little frail, sort of like you would expect a grandfather to look. When I told him we had been out on vacation and did some fishing in the area, I didn't expect him to have a lot to say. Even though this was my first trip to the area, I was feeling a little smug. After all, I had caught a brown trout over 20 inches from the famous Madison River. But I sensed something a little different and decided not to say too much.
He began to talk and explained that he also was returning from a fishing trip to the area. This was his eighth trip to Yellowstone. He went on to say he lived in Florida, but was originally from Wisconsin. As we talked, he mentioned he had enjoyed visiting a friend and fishing the Snake River near Jackson Hole. The friend's son is a guide and had taken them on a float trip for cutthroats. The fishing was not as good this year. He talked about how fishing from a drift boat is not as enjoyable as wading and that you really should use the boat more for transportation than fishing.
The more he talked, the more intrigued I became. When he mentioned he was 87 years old, I was astonished as he appeared a good 20 years younger. We continued to talk and he told me about fishing in the 1940s in Wisconsin. It was a real pleasure to just sit and listen. He didn't boast or attempt to impress you; he just enjoyed fishing and life. I thought surely he had several old bamboo rods from the 1940s and I wondered how he felt about all the changes that have occurred in fly fishing equipment and techniques. But somehow asking him about that would have seemed crass and inappropriate. This was not a man to talk with about equipment or technique; this was a man to listen to about how fishing had enriched his life.
This was a lucky man and I felt lucky just having a brief conversation with him. When the plane landed we shook hands firmly and he placed his left hand over my right giving me an even warmer feeling. Then we departed. I didn't even ask his name. It somehow seemed better not labeling him with a name, but rather remembering how much he has and still enjoys fishing and life.
As I have reflected back on this experience, I find it all a little ironic. This week is the 12th anniversary of my father's death. In just a few weeks he would have been 86 himself and had the same type hearing aids and mustache. How nice it would have been if he had been the old man in the seat next to me and my son. In some small way, maybe he was.