Of course, in what are still the early stages of my retirement from bartending, there is still that transitioning process, and it still feels pretty strange to be home on Thursday and Friday nights instead of telling stories and listening to them as well during my bar shifts. And, despite the fact that I know it was time to cease my moonlighting mixing, I miss those stories.
Back in my teaching days, I taught all four compositional modes — exposition, persuasion, description and narration — and the one I think my students enjoyed the most was writing their narratives.
From those early school days when, on an early September morning, a teacher looked out into a sea of cherubic visages and first said, “Class, I’d like you to write about what you did on your summer vacation,” most of us just love to tell our stories.
I saw Mark Saine recently for the first time in a long time, and the first thing that popped into my mind as I greeted him was a story he once told me while perched on a Knights of Columbus bar stool during my Thursday shift.
He told me that the day before, he’d played golf solo at The Oaks and discovered upon finishing 18 holes as the gloaming was nigh that he’d lost his cell phone somewhere on the course.
Now, here’s where a lost cell phone story got, for me, quite interesting and, perhaps, for others who never believed their parents when they used to tell them that they used to walk five miles to school in three feet of snow, uphill and both ways, perhaps a bit unbelievable. As for me, a great embellisher of my own tales over the years, it never bothered me much at all when I heard the possible flourishes added by one of my over-the-bar storytellers. In the true spirit of a Mark Twain tale, it’s never so much about the fidelity of the tale as it is about the entertainment.
At any rate, Mark said that in the gloom of impending dusk, he went back to the golf cart and went back out again, starting on the first hole. He said he’d remembered every shot in the round and where every ball landed and thus began retracing his route, from left to center and right, back and forth, occasionally in the woods, hole after hole, until, BINGO, he found the phone in near total darkness on the left side of the 15th fairway.
Now, as for the greatest fish story I’ve ever heard, and I’ll apologize to my fisherman pal Steve Contini, who’s told me some dandies over the bar, well, that award has to go to John Conley.
For some time now, John has engaged in a quick-strike charter fishing trip, picking up his son-in-law in Delaware, about 20 miles outside of Columbus, during the first part of December and driving 654 miles for a one-day charter fishing excursion with his cousin, whose waterfront home is in Mechanicsville, Virginia. John and his son-in-law would bunk with John’s cousin the night before the charter and the night of the charter and, on the third day, he and his son-in-law would retrace those same 654 miles, hopefully with coolers of their catch.
John said once their party of three got to the dock of Captain Jack Frazier for a 7:30 a.m. departure, dressed in their Carhartts and stocking caps, to board Mystic Lady and begin their search for Atlantic striped bass, he expected a typical six-hour day before they would, with a decent amount of good fisherman’s luck, catch their limit.
However, once they reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Captain Jack grabbed his binoculars and scanned the horizon. He spied a large flock of birds that resembled a scene from Hitchcock’s thriller when birds often were seen in large numbers with malice in their hearts and directed the first mate to head directly where the birds were. His experience told him that where there are birds, there are probably fish.
Once they arrived and dropped their lines, almost immediately, all that could be seen were bent poles and fish flopping on the deck in a scene so euphorically chaotic that there wasn’t even time to put the fish in coolers.
In exactly 15 minutes, the fishermen had their limit, and a half hour after that, at 8:30 a.m., one hour after they departed, the Mystic Lady was tied off, and the three fishermen were eating and having some beer, the repast they assumed they’d have enjoyed much later that day. Meanwhile, the captain and first mate cleaned the catch and bagged the trophies destined for three freezers, one in Virginia and two in Ohio.
Perhaps the best part of the story came when John told me one of the last things the crusty old sea captain told them. Speaking in the familiar dialect of the northern neck of Virginia, the veteran seafarer said, “Boys, there’s a fishin’, and then there’s a catchin’. That was a catchin’!”
And, it’s those kind of stories I’ll indeed miss “a catchin’” at my old watering hole.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.