*Told in his voice.
It’s hell getting old.
My sons will tell you I’ve said it since they were kids, but this is different.
We left the gravel parking lot and started down the path along the river and I watched my oldest son’s son jump from rock, to log, and through the tall, dry grasses, bouncing between walking and running up ahead to my sons, who walked together, and back beside me. It made me smile to remember that child. In me, and in them.
Yessir, I had been slowing down for years. Getting tired easy and short of breath. Part of life I guess. Getting old. And, that’s okay. I’ve lived quite a life.
Besides, I may just cheat scratch a few more years and surprise some folks. Might even surprise my own self. But that’s all past caring now I’m thinking. Just being on the river with my grandson and my boys is enough these days.
It truly was a fine day to be on the river too. The woods were gray, and the leaves were all gone from the trees. I never would have thought November would be warm enough, but my son was right. The sun made it nice.
Walking single file beside the river was easy, like walking along a road, and the river wasn’t much bigger than a road itself. Sometimes I could see it through the branches and yellow grasses and sometimes the blue stream flowed right beside us. Above it all were the mountains and always the sound of water rolling over stones. It truly shined.
I knew he didn’t fish here much from the looks of the trail. It was pretty well used, and we’d driven past good water to get there. Not like Jason to come here first, but I knew why. It was a level, easy walk. Each step I took brought a bit more confidence, but I’m always waiting for the shortness of breath to come.
No matter. I could sit on a log and rest and be fine. I just hated to slow the boys down. Especially Tommy. But then, there’s no slowing that kid down anyway.
Tommy is a real piss cutter. Different from his father in that way. More like my youngest when he was little. Carefree and easy in his skin. Everything gets a smile. Everyone gets a hello. His father was always more serious. Always thinking. Sometimes I think he still thinks too much, but that’s just his way I suppose. He’s never been patient.
The boys stopped by a good stretch of water. They were just far enough ahead that the river covered their voices. I knew they were talking about me.
My grandson lifted his stick beside me.
“Can I catch a fish with this Grandpa?”
“I suppose so son. Let me see that”
I turned the wood in my hands. He watched me examine it and I knew he believed my consideration. We discussed the stick while we waited to see if we’d fish there.
“You okay Pop?”
My son asked, but he knew the answer.
“I kinda want to go far enough that we won’t see folks. It’s not too much further.”
I felt good, but I’m never too far off from getting tired these days. It’s a kind of tired that comes on like a ghost. Needing rest when I’d never before. I’m not good at rest. I had swung the hammer on the railroad, and worked in the vats at the pole yard. I had climbed into the Rocky Mountains and shown my sons what’s out there if you work hard. I’ve got no practice at rest.
The boys always say they don’t mind, but I do. Resting hurts a man whose done those things and lived that way. I hate to slow them down.
“That’s okay. I’m fine.” I was fine. It’s the wondering that hurts. We kept walking. When we’d gone a good ways past the last fisherman, we stopped again.
“This is a good spot. I’ve caught fish here before.”
It was a good spot.
The boys fished together a bit and then split up. My younger son went downstream. Jason stayed and worked the section along the river where I sat and Tommy played. Eventually, he crossed and fished it from the other side.
My grandson was crawling out on a deadfall over the river. I could imagine him falling in, but his father was close by. I wouldn’t be the one to spoil his fun. Besides, it wasn’t deep and he’d be okay. We weren’t too far from the truck anyway.
“Don’t go too far out son.” There. Now my son had said it.
He crawled back and started dipping his stick in the river from the bank.
“Will you tie this fly on my stick for me Grandpa?”
He had an elk hair caddis and some tippet. No telling where he’d found them, but I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise with a seven year old boy whose father is what he is.
He sat and watched me while I tied. I hadn’t brought my good glasses, so I knew it would take longer before I even started squinting. It was pleasing to sit and know he was watching me, and I almost didn’t mind that it was my eyes that drug it out.
It’s hell to get old.
“There ya go Tom. Go catch a fish.”
He was back on the deadfall dangling it on the water right off.
My younger son caught a fish downstream. I watched him fight it and land it and waved when he lifted it from the river. Too far to see the smile I love so much, but no matter. I closed my eyes for a second and the sun seemed to warm it more and I could see the joy on his face that came with a nice fish in his hand. I opened my eyes and watched him put it back.
My oldest hadn’t caught anything. Still casting to holes and seams that hadn’t turned up fish. I know he likes to move when he fishes, but I understood. I took a deep breath.
Both my sons are great fishermen.
“Can we go fish with Uncle Drew Grandpa?”
I wanted to.
“Can we go exploring?”
God I wanted to. I wanted to take him up into the mountains and show him. Bugle in elk and track muleys and wade wide, long rivers and show him to read the river the way I’d shown my sons. I wanted to tell him about old Ray, and the days before it all, when Montana was new and I was part of it. I wanted to tell him to listen to your father and to always live life like I told him. To the Bone.
All just memories now. Crystal clear images, like warm rooms I could visit in a heartbeat, with a smile and a shot of whiskey. It’s alright. Those were for my sons to show their sons now. Besides, I get short of breath easy these days.
It’s hell to get old.
“Let’s sit and watch your father a bit son. He’s a good fisherman.”
We found out four months later Pop’s heart was bad. A leaky valve was letting fluid back into his lungs and causing the shortness of breath. The doc said he’d put a bet in Vegas it had been going bad for ten years. It happened fast after that. We got the call and my brother and I were out the next day to be with mom. He was in surgery within a week, and home three days later with a new valve and a fresh start. We all knew he’d be okay. But I guess you never really know. I’m glad we all went fishing that day.