Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial day a good time to hit the river



The merry month of May this year has fully compensated for hateful February and March, for the fly fishing has been awesome. May is now my favorite of the calendar dozen.
May even had five weekends for fly fishing. Now, that’s compensation.
Last Monday was typical, with little mayflies hatching sporadically during the day and trout lazily rising to sip them in here and there. I had some luck. For the weekend’s fishing five creeks in my neighborhood, I caught wild and hatchery rainbows, some energetic and colorful browns and a couple of little brook trout. All hit dry flies of a pale persuasion.
Brook, brown and rainbow … that’s a hat trick.
In the evening, just before dark as the sun slipped behind the Mount Hardy, my home creek exploded with mayflies sparkling in the waning sunlight like flecks of gold.
They were in a hurry, and while I was studying the water from a bridge, the little sulphur flies bounced off my face and arms. I caught a couple, looked real close at their No. 16 hook sized bodies, and attached the appropriate offering to my tippet.
Then I caught a ton of trout.
At the end of a turbulent ribbon of water splashing cheerfully over ancient rocks, a pool smooth as glass beckoned. I never catch fish there but I always try.
As the moon poured a silvery sheen on the water, I flipped a perfect cast that settled softly as a sigh and disappeared almost immediately. On the next cast, I lost sight of the fly, but when the line moved, I lifted the rod and brought in a brown.
I fish alone, mostly. Sometimes, my mind wanders, especially near Memorial Day.
Flashback 42 years and join us in the Raven bar in Virginia Beach. Our faces are lobster red and the beer ice-blue cold.
Johnny was with one of our school’s cheerleaders and I was with the beach girl I later married. Johnny was just out of Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and I was getting ready to enter that hellhole of sweat, bugs and cussing. He was having a ball regaling me with boot camp horror stories. I began to think it may not be a bad idea to try and join Air Force.
Johnny and I had been teammates on the Maury High School wrestling team. I was the littlest and usually the most nervous, and Johnny was the biggest and calmest. He wrestled guys in the heavyweight division who were bigger since he weighed in at about 185. It’s amazing today to think at that size he was all-district in football and won a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. He had a big heart.
At a high school dance about seven years before, he probably saved my life by helping me lose the pint of gin I had imbibed with way too much alacrity. I don’t recall a heck of a lot more about that dance.
Guess I’ll always remember that night at the Raven in the summer of 1967.
Within a few days, Johnny took off for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, and I got on the bus to South Carolina.
I never saw him again. Johnny died in Vietnam of gunshot wounds in combat.
I got the word first from my Dad: "Your friend Johnny got killed in Vietnam."
It felt like I had been punched. It must have been an awful mistake. I thought the same thing three decades later when I visited the traveling Vietnam Memorial. I could not find his name. Perhaps there was a mistake.
Then a kindly camo-dressed vet showed me. There were little crowds of people around, children playing and laughing, adults weeping as they traced the names of loved ones and comrades on that black marble. I almost lost it right there.
A couple of years ago I had a dream that Johnny showed up on my front porch. It was the middle of the blackest time of night. I heard a knock. I opened the door. And there was Johnny … for a few seconds before the apparition faded into a mist. Mistaken again.
What a waste. While watching a football game or a wrestling match today, I cannot help but speculate what a fine coach Johnny would have made. He’d be a granddaddy by now too, with a bunch of little guys crawling all over him.
So, the merry month of May ends on a melancholy note, as it has for me the past four decades. I can’t forget.
Today I’ll also remember Sarge and Jerry who fought the demons inside for years after Nam. I’ll remember Lewis B. Puller Jr., the son of the most decorated Marine in history who came home crippled and maimed. Demons got to Puller, too, and he finally took his life.
That war killed those boys just as certain as it did Johnny. Just slower.
What a mistake that war was. It would be a bigger mistake to forget, though sometimes, I think we have.
I’ll fish the yellow and red dry fly tonight. I really have no name for it, but I could call it a "Chesty."
You Marines know what I’m saying.
Semper fi.