Once upon a time, I dealt with a very long-lasting foot injury. To spare you most of the details, it was something that required a lot of surgery and an awful lot of time to get through. Looking back, I made the best of it and tried very hard to make the best of my time. Anyone with mobility issues will tell you that healing time is the worst enemy, especially to an active person. In and out of surgery meant that I was on crutches and used walkers, wheelchairs, canes, braces, boots, walking casts and air casts for years. To make the best of it, I occupied my mind and my hands with a few new hobbies and made many friends by doing so.
One in particular was The Captain. As avid boaters, my husband and I kept our boat at a marina near our home because putting in and pulling out were difficult for three legs (his two and my useful one), especially with the size of our boat. Loving water, I hung out at our marina every day and crutched (or wheeled) myself to and from the boat dock faithfully. I would crochet as I daydreamed, sitting on our boat in the slip, looking at and listening to the water. I met The Captain at our marina. He wore a captain’s hat every day and was in his mid-80s at the time. He was as faithful at his hobby as I was coming to the marina. The Captain, Paul, was a fisherman extraordinaire.
Always saying hello and making small chitchat as he came by our boat slip, Paul and I became acquainted. One morning, he asked me if I knew how to fish. I told him I had fished successfully before, mostly by sheer luck, and caught catfish by trotline with another friend I made during my convalescence. With my admission of being a novice, our friendship began.
We met every day that summer. Sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m., when I would say that I couldn’t because of my leg pain, he would tell me I could if I only learned how to do things another way. I learned to catch crappie, and boy, did I catch crappie! We would limit out some mornings in less than an hour. I learned to manage my pain as well as how to clean and cook crappie. My husband and son (who do not fish) had crappie coming out of their ears. Some days, we would deliver our neatly packaged, freshly cleaned filets to seniors who were homebound. Oh, the joy on their faces — and I was always sure it was The Captain’s visit and not the crappie that was the true cause of it. On days when the pain was bad or the fish weren’t biting or when we hit our limit too early, we would enjoy breakfast at the marina. I confess that I learned all about fishing, but I learned more about life, death, war, peace, the Gospel, injury, healing, joy, grief and friendship.
The Captain was a World War II Navy veteran. He served in the South Pacific and at the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He remained stationed in Japan for years after the war, running supplies and relief for the Japanese people on Okinawa. His stories and the grief that sometimes came through even after so many years touched my heart. He told me of the people he helped after the war against them. They were the ones that created his nickname. They called him The Captain, and somewhere along the line someone gave him the hat. His beloved wife told me once that he wore it at their wedding, although I could never confirm that. He spent 20 years singing gospel music all over the country. His career was so diverse, it amazed me. His life was ordinary to him, extraordinary to me. I never met anyone who had done so many things in one lifetime.
The Captain seemed to be the anchor that the other folks, young and old, needed at the marina. I watched them come by the dozen to seek his humor, advice, approval and his handshake or hug. He would fish beside someone while talking about some heavy things, and they would leave lighter-hearted for it. He said the hard words people needed to hear, straight but with unmistakable empathy and compassion. He did so to me many times. He was a fabulous storyteller (as all good fisherman are) and would have the entire dock laughing hard as we jostled for our favorite fishing spots. Our morning fishing sessions lasted several seasons, until we moved away.
The Captain passed away late last year, but I know I was blessed to have known him, as so many others were in his lifetime. I learned much from him but most of all that friendship comes in many shapes and sizes and isn’t limited by age or our differences.
Crappie and conversation, friendship and healing — and on top was a captain’s hat worn by a true Christian gentleman.