A tranquil little lake; a woodsy, brushy shoreline; a sturdy old rowboat; and a languid late summer morning. I stretched my legs, thinking bemusedly that it was reminiscent of a scene straight out of the old “Andy Griffith Show” when Sheriff Taylor would take young Opie out fishing.
My six year-old grandson Reggie, sitting across from me in our boat, had a definite resemblance to Opie, with his bright eyes, inquisitive spirit, and a cowlick on his head.
Me? I couldn’t play the guitar or sing like Andy, but I wasn’t a bad hand at fishing, and I did live in a small town with the flavor of TV’s “Mayberry.” Actually catching a fish or two wasn’t as important to me as being outdoors in God’s great and grand creation or as much fun as spending time with my “little shadow.”
“Poppy,” Reggie broke into my reverie, “would you tell me a fishing story? Please?”
Reggie loved stories and was always asking for different ones to suit whatever situation we were in. My brow wrinkled in concentration before I answered chuckling, “Okay, son, I’ve got a tale for you, but it’s not a regular fishing story. It’s an upside down one, where the fish catches the man instead of the man catching the fish!”
Reggie’s expressive eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Encouraged by his interest, I began my account in the time-honored way…
“Once upon a time, there was this man named Jonah. God gave him a message to deliver, but Jonah didn’t want to do it, so he tried to run away—just like you did that time your mama said you couldn’t go swimming with Kenny, because you hadn’t cleaned your room like she told you to.”
Reggie nodded seriously, remembering that he’d only made it to the neighbor’s three houses down before his mama found him and dragged him home.
“Well, Jonah hopped on a boat--much bigger than this one--and sailed away to a far country. Now, you and I know you can’t hide from God even if you dive to the ocean’s bottom, so God saw Jonah on that ship, and sent a big stormy wind that scared everyone. Jonah confessed to the captain that it was his fault they were in danger, and that the sailors would have to throw him overboard to save themselves. Now, that seemed like an awfully bad thing to do, so they tried to row to shore instead, but things just got worse and worse! At last, they agreed to throw Jonah into the waves, and when they did, the storm stopped at once.”
“But, Poppy, did Jonah drown?” Reggie face registered deep anxiety. His friend Kenny’s kitten had drowned the summer before when it fell off the dock during a picnic, so he knew what the word meant.
“No, no,” I assured him. “a very big fish—some people say it was a whale like in your mammals book—was swimming nearby, and when Jonah fell in, it snapped him up as the robins do with fat pink worms!”
“Yuuuuck!’ responded Reggie with a repulsed look on his face. “Did he die?”
“No,” I answered again. “He slid down that great fish’s throat slick as grease and landed in his stomach. Now, let me tell, you that was a stinky, cramped place to be, and…”
My story was cut short by a sharp tug on Reggie’s pole, and his line immediately grew taut. We stared into the water and saw he’d hooked what for our little lake was a “whopper,” and Reggie whispered in high excitement, “Poppy! A fish!”
“Hold steady now, son!” I began to inch over to help him reel it in, but Reggie in his eagerness forgot the rules, and started to stand up. I knew what could happen and responded with lightning instinct as I saw him falling forward, shifting all my weight to the boat’s opposite side. Simultaneously, I reached out and grasped Reggie’s arm. After a couple tense moments, we steadied ourselves, and I helped Reggie land his fish.
When we’d admired it a respectable amount of time, Reggie turned to me with mirthful eyes and giggled, “Poppy, if you hadn’t saved me, we would’ve had another upside down fish story to tell Grammy tonight! Only this time the fish would have catched a little boy ‘stead of a man!”
Laughing, we headed toward shore to clean our prize and finish the twisted tale of Jonah and the whale!
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