Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Think (09/02/10)
TITLE: Hook, Line, and Thinker
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Raymond Hess, a retired professional fisherman, was a man of few words and even fewer clothes. Every pair of Ray’s tattered overalls displayed overlapping mosaic patches, sometimes as many as three layers deep. Otherwise he wore stained white t-shirts, scuffed leather boots, and a frayed straw hat decorated with dangly fishing lures.
By all appearances he looked to be a simple man living a private life, one preferring candor and solitude to complexity and activity. However, his friends knew Ray mulled over just about everything, often weighing one side of a debate and then the other, pondering and deliberating and cogitating. When he did speak, his opinions and conclusions were often insightful and powerful.
In the summer Ray practically lived in his age-spotted rowboat, Elsie, named after a favorite pet Holstein cow from childhood. A smoke-blowing, chug-a-lugging ten horsepower motor - one intoxicated from years of guzzling too much gasoline and oil - violently hiccupped Elsie around the lake to favorite fishing haunts. Ray loved Elsie and her dragon-of-a-hiccupping-motor. The three of them belonged together.
During the winter months when Elsie sat bottom-up in the yard capped with snow, Ray read volumes of old books authored by literary masters and filed them away in his mind to quietly ferment. He believed it important for thoughts to age; it made them more palatable and ultimately more useful.
His wife, Margaret, was an active, busybody sort. “You’re all closed up like a clam,” she often told Ray. “Such a brooder!” On many mornings she flipped huge buttermilk pancakes with a flourish, catching the corner of her apron in mid-flip as if to emphasize her opinions. Her thunderous voice competed with sausages crackling and sizzling in an iron skillet. “How’s a woman supposed to have a relationship with a thinker-type who spends all his time all hunkered down in a fishing boat or behind a book? How, I ask you?”
Margaret’s grumblings went unanswered day after day, year after year. Ray, in his masculine, straightforward way, didn’t take her seriously. He liked privacy; what was wrong with that? He didn’t consider his meditative nature counter-productive to relationship. He wasn’t anti-Margaret, he just had a lot on his mind. And quite honestly, she was always busy doing her own thing, anyway.
One autumn afternoon while Margaret harvested the last of the butternut squash and pumpkins from the vegetable garden, Ray sat on Elsie’s splintered back seat and cast his fishing line, hoping to land their evening meal.
Waves lapped gently against Elsie’s hull. As usual, Ray was lost in thought, this time focusing on the fact that the following day would mark the forty-fifth anniversary of his marriage to Margaret. The two had weathered many ups and downs and stayed together through thick and thin, glued by commitment as binding as any concrete. What could or should he do to celebrate?
As Ray tossed a silver-spooned, barbed bait along the edge of some lily pads and slowly began to reel it in, a novel thought occurred to him. Had Margaret likewise been fishing for him with chronic pleas for attention, but he’d never taken the bait? He pulled the artificial lure from the water, laid his pole across the seats, and looked around the boat.
AH! There were two long receipts in his tackle box – evidences of fish-bait-shopping-sprees at a local sporting goods store – and a long pencil he sometimes used when probing swallowed hooks from fish. He began to carefully write his thoughts with literary style, in very small, scrawled handwriting: his first-ever love letter to Margaret.
You continue to be the most gorgeous creature on the face of the planet. You are, and always have been, my ideal woman. Thank you for choosing to be my bride so long ago and for standing by me so faithfully.
Your industrious nature has been invaluable in complementing my introspective one. Thank you for being true to yourself.
I have not verbalized my love often enough. I am doing so now. I love you!
We should do something special to celebrate our anniversary – you pick an activity and let’s DO IT!
There was no more room to write. He folded the papers, tucked them in the bib pocket of his overalls, and continued casting. He would give them to Margaret in the morning when he offered to help her make their pancakes.
Yes, tomorrow he would unselfishly think only of Margaret. Tomorrow he would be hers: hook, line, and thinker.
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