I stared at Gramp’s “Gone Fishing” sign as I had many times before over the years, and smiled. My grandfather loved fishing and, as the only doctor in our town, his frequent desire was to steal away from patients, hang that sign, pack up his gear and commune with God on the water.
Summers back, when I was a teen, he’d planned a weekend trip to Lake Vermilion in Minnesota. Blessed with an abundance of personality, Gramps rarely stifled his joy, which spread like melting butter to those around him, but he was positively giddy in anticipation of this outing.
“I’ll finally get to use my sign,” he laughed. My grandmother had gotten him the “Gone Fishing” sign for his last birthday, along with a new rod and reel.
“You going alone, Gramps?” I asked with no hope of accompanying him. He knew if an activity didn’t involve a mall of some kind, I wasn’t interested.
“Are you kidding, Kimmy?” he gawked. “I’m never alone.”
I rolled my eyes playfully. “I mean … any other human person going?”
Slow-falling lids covered his brown eyes as his lips curled back across a full set of dentures. “Absolutely no one.” He’d have had it no other way.
The night he planned to leave, Gramps entered the house dancing, grabbing me for a spin around the kitchen floor. “I can’t wait to hit that water, baby girl!”
But just as my grandfather zipped shut his suitcase, the phone rang. Mrs. Connelley had gone into early labor. Thank God he hadn’t already left, because a two-day ordeal ensued that sent our entire town to its knees. By the end of that weekend, however, our prayers became shouts of thanksgiving as both mama and new daughter had pulled through. Like the rest of us, Gramps basked in the joy of the miracle, but he never hung his sign that weekend. Instead, he unpacked his gear and went back to work.
For the next year or so, Grampa tried to get away from his medical demands to go fishing with God. When it didn’t happen—because of Mr. George’s heart attack, Jackie Henson’s appendix, the food poisoning outbreak at the school, and the mysterious fever of little Marlon Wicks—I know he was disappointed, but Grampa seemed content, enjoying the company of the Lord alone in his den.
Time continued on its journey and when Gramma passed away, my grandfather relocated his favorite sign to a drawer beneath their wedding photo. They’d been married 43 years and he stared at her image longingly, missing her of course, but moreso with envy, as if she’d gone someplace he wanted to be.
So, when he too went home to be with his Beloved, it only seemed fitting to affix that special, unused sign to his gravestone. After all, he was luxuriating in the present of God, wrapped in the love of the Creator amidst unspeakable beauty for all eternity. What he sought as a respite on earth, he would live out forever in death, encapsulated in the words on his headstone … “Gone Fishing.”
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