I wanted to put two extra words on Daddy's headstone, but everyone nixed the idea.
So what was wrong with "Gone Fishing"? It seemed an appropriate epitaph to me.
Encapsulated in those two words were the dreams and hopes of a man who was most at peace when fishing beside a flowing river or on a placid lake.
Can you blame him?
Every work day for over 40 years, Daddy had labored in the sweltering heat on Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley Railroad as a pipe fitter, a job far beneath his potential. But with seven children to feed and clothe during the years of the Great Depression, he didn't have the luxury of searching for work better suited to his temperament and mental abilities.
All during the week in that workingman's furnace, Daddy would dream of fishing. It was his passion, his release, his oasis, his succor.
Raising seven children and giving financial assistance to the six who attended college, left him with barely enough to purchase a fishing pole, let alone a car or boat to transport him to a favorite fishing hole. He was dependent on the good graces of relatives or friends to take him fishing.
One day, the term "Gone Fishing" took on a new and different and very compelling meaning to Daddy. He experienced a life-changing conversion to the teachings of Jesus Christ and became a "fisher of men."
So dramatic was the change that his fellow-workers sought his counsel and asked for prayer. At their invitation, Daddy spent his lunch hour teaching a Bible class to a large group of men who were desperate to give meaning to their lives but were drowning in an economic morass while trying to raise their large families on $1.43 an hour.
I recall vividly the day Daddy arrived home from work, dropped his black, domed lunch pail on the kitchen table and made this announcement: "You're looking at a man who now makes $2.12 an hour! Can you believe it?" He was so overjoyed he hugged everyone in sight.
We could have lived on Daddy’s $2.12 an hour in 1943 except that both my parents took "Gone Fishing" in the Biblical sense literally. They taught Sunday School classes, conducted Bible studies and prayer meetings in our home and invited church visitors to have Sunday dinner with us. They wrapped their arms around the needy, the lonely and the unwanted as they persuaded one after another to invite Christ into their lives.
One memorable Fourth of July, Mother and I sat on the screened-in porch of my sister's cottage at Lake Ontario watching nervously as Daddy stood precariously in a fishing boat out on the lake. Suddenly, his Airrus spinning rod bent nearly double. Daddy had caught an 8 pound 6 ounce northern pike.
Rushing to the cottage, he was almost too excited to clean it but Mother and I had long-since embraced the "You catch 'em, you clean 'em" philosophy.
After a fish dinner, Daddy and I walked into town for a holiday band concert where a large, white bandstand was draped in red, white and blue bunting and American flags. My father, a World War I Navy man, was a devotee of John Philips Sousa's famous marches that were listed on the printed program he held.
Earlier that afternoon,. I had watched my father "go fishing" to catch a large northern pike. What happened next became one of the most precious memories of my life, as Daddy was about to "go fishing" again, this time for a catch of priceless, eternal worth.
Looking over the crowd, Daddy spotted a park bench where a young woman sat alone. Approaching her, my father removed his hat and asked politely, "Would you mind if my daughter and I sat here beside you to watch the concert?"
She looked up, her eyes red and swollen from weeping, and motioned for us to sit down. Daddy handled the introductions with ease, then sat quietly observing the crowd. Finally, he reached over and touched the young woman's arm.
“I feel you are under great stress. Would you like me to pray for you?” Daddy asked softly.
With that, her floodgate of tears opened widely as she began her account of spousal abuse punctuated by the glaring bruises on her arms, neck and forehead.
Shocked and full of compassion, Daddy counseled her, then prayed as she asked Jesus to come into her life.
Daddy had indeed “gone fishing” that day. Twice.
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