Time in Willow Creek: 12 months, 2 days
To Kevin’s surprise, Harold was receptive to his proposal for a fishing day. He wasn’t quite sure why he was so interested in getting closer to him. Maybe he enjoyed the challenge of penetrating his tough exterior. Perhaps he really did want to know everyone Juliana knew. Whatever the reason, he was delighted to have the opportunity.
Harold arrived at Magnolia Blossom Park a half hour early on purpose. If Kevin was going to be early, he had to be earlier than him. There weren’t many people there at 7:30 in the morning. Just a gardener and a woman dressed far too eloquently to hangout in a park. He stood at the entrance of the park with his hands in his pockets. It was a nice day. Light wind, cool enough for a jacket but not wear it all day. At 10 ’til 8, Harold spotted Kevin in the corner of his eye swaggering down the street. Boy is on time. All right now. As he got closer, and could see his outfit, he couldn’t help but smile. They almost had on the same outfit, but what Harold appreciated the most was that it wasn’t an outfit that was purchased the previous day specifically for this outing in attempts to impress him. It had character and looked like it had been used before though kept up very well. Hmph…yuppies don’t have outfits like that.
“Good morning, Mr. Humphries!”
“I didn’t think you’d have the right clothes.”
Kevin laughed. “This was my father’s fishing outfit. He wore it when we used to go fishing when I was a kid… I kept it.” He shrugged his shoulders. His face was nostalgic.
Harold grunted. “Let’s g’on and see what the fish are doing.”
Kevin smiled and followed Harold to the river which was at the very end of the park. He had offered to carry his fishing gear but was rejected immediately.
“I’m old. I ain’t dead.”
Kevin tried to keep his snickering inside.
The river ran around the Humphries’ neighborhood, but Harold said it wasn’t a good place to fish. “That’s where fancy folk fish,” he said. “Ain’t nothing there but stuff that ain’t worth catching.”
The young man’s stride was longer and faster than the old man’s ambling gait. Kevin had to concentrate on not surpassing him. When they finally reached the river, Harold continued with his fishing advice. He pointed at the spot immediately ahead as he slowed. “Most folk just pick the first spot they see.” He veered off to their right and settled at a more secluded spot. “I go where the frogs are. I think they know something.”
Kevin smiled. Such wisdom was lacking in his world. He had forgotten what it was like to be around his elders.
“Let see what you got,” Harold said as he baited his hook. Back in his day they used to dig for their own worms, but he didn’t mind the modern-day convenience of buying a can of worms.
As he previously stated, Kevin hadn’t been fishing in many years. He also had to purchase bait, but perhaps it had been too long since his last fishing trip. He went to the pet store in search of bait. There, he found all kinds of options. Worms, leeches, crickets, crawfish, minnows, grasshoppers, cut up pieces of fish, and something that intrigued him called doughballs. He figured they wouldn’t sell it if it didn’t work, so he bought it. Harold watched him take the jar out of his tackle box and mold the dough around the hook. He chuckled in that grunting fashion that only old men could do.
Kevin knew what he was laughing at. “Let’s just see if it works.” He cast his line into the water. It didn’t go very far.
Harold shook his head. He knew Kevin was going to be rusty. It was time for him to get schooled. “All you young boys think you got to use your muscles to throw it in there. All you gotta do is flick,” he raised his rod to his torso, “and dip.” The line flew to the middle of the river with just the flick of his wrists. “Flick and dip.”
“Wow! How did you do that?”
He gave the young man a prideful glance. “It’s all in the wrists.”
They waited in silence as men who fish typically do. Ever since Harriett quit trying to find him a hobby, he only left home when he needed to. Fishing was another one of his neglected hobbies. He had forgotten how nice quiet was.
Ten minutes later, Kevin felt great tugging at his line. “I got something!” He felt like he was six years old again. Harold looked at his rod and saw how arched it was. He laughed in that old man grunt again.
The young man began to reel in the line as the old man continued laughing.
“What’s so funny over there?” He couldn’t help but laugh too.
His rod was even more curved than it was before, and his smile grew with his excitement. He thought it was so cool that he was going to catch something before Harold. “It’s a big one!”
Harold was still chuckling. “It’s big all right.”
Kevin wound the reel as fast as he could, eager to see that fish pop out the water. Instead, his rod straightened and his baited hook came flying at him instead. “It got away?”
“Guess the fish don’t like your Johnnycakes.” He was still chuckling. “You snagged you a big ol rock.”
“Is that what that stuff really is?”
“Don’t know how they make it, but when you make it at home just whip you up some cornbread batter and make it real thick. Only bottom feeders like it.”
“Oh.” Kevin was as intrigued with this knowledge as he was disappointed in his purchase. “Maybe I’ll just watch and learn today then.”
Harold grunted. He didn’t want Kevin to give up, but he appreciated that he wanted to learn from him. As the morning moved along, and the two men kept silent, Harold’s mind began to wander as it often did. He in no way saw Kevin as a son but still wondered if that was how life would have been with Blake. He never did have anything in common with Axel and therefore had no one to pass on his hobbies and skills. Perhaps if Kevin maintained an interest, the fishing skills wouldn’t die with him.
“Watch this,” Harold said. He felt small, gentle tugs at his line and cranked the reel slow and steady. Then, just as the water was getting too shallow for the fish, he reeled it in quickly and out came a fish. “See? Unless you out in the ocean fishing for something big like bass, you’re rod ain’t gonna bend that much.” He looked at his fish and grunted. “Puffer fish. Can’t eat that.”
He threw it back. Kevin recalled the time he had Puffer Fish Nigiri in France. He figured he should keep that detail to himself.
“You ready for lunch?”
They walked over to the picnic area. Someone had made some hamburgers and left them for anyone to eat. People in Willow Creek were just friendly like that. Harold eyed an empty table and claimed it.
“Can I ask you something?” Kevin asked. Harold was open, but he didn’t like answering silly questions like that. Luckily Kevin knew to ask anyway. “How did you and Mrs. Humphries meet?”
He was silent for a while and was considering if it was a question that deserved an answer. After all, there wasn’t much talking in fishing. But, he was enjoying Kevin’s company. Perhaps if there was a reason he was asking–especially one concerning Juliana–maybe he could offer him some advice. “Pop and her pa was friends. When I wanted to get hitched he said I should meet her.”
Kevin wasn’t sure if he should ask, but he wanted to know. “Did you like her?”
Harold wasn’t much of a talker, but he was a straight shooter. “She talked too much.”
“Oh.” He laughed. “So why did you keep seeing her?”
He grunted. “That’s the problem with you young folk. Always lookin’ at the outside. Don’t wanna do no work. All y’all care about is neckin’ and going to bed. You need to find you a woman that can cook, clean, raise the chil’ren, and ain’t afraid to get down and dirty and work. You don’t want some little dainty doll that can’t take care of nothin’ when you gone on. Get you a strong one that respects you. The ones that win pageants can’t do nothin’ for ya ‘cept spend all your money and whine.”
Kevin’s father died when he was a child. As a teenager, he lost his mother and was raised by an uncle. As he listened to Harold’s sage advice, his mind also drifted to what could have been. His father was much younger than Harold but still of a different generation than him. He wondered what kind of advice his father would have been giving him in that moment.
“What’s your intentions with Juliana? You gon’ marry her?”
Kevin sighed. It seemed like all he did lately was explain himself and defend their friendship. “Mr. Humphries… I care about Juliana. I do… But, not in that way. I want to get married again one day, but I’m not 100% ready right now.” He figured his secret was safe with Harold. “Juliana and I are just really good friends.”
Harold began the old man laugh again.