Dad crouched on a boulder planted in the middle of the Wind River. For what seemed like hours, he had studied the deep pools and brisk eddies around him. With a spider’s grace, he flung his line, allowing the lure crafted from pheasant feathers or polar bear fur to settle on the river’s surface. Its shadow was larger than the mosquitoes’. A breath and a heartbeat. A flicker beneath the surface. Dad pulled more line from the reel and allowed the lure to slip across a riffle and into a pocket of darker water. Suddenly, there was a tug on the line. With a flick of his wrist, he set the hook and reeled in his catch. His prey struggled, swimming this way and that. Dad’s fishing pole arched, but his hands remained steady and his gaze intent.
From where I watched on the bank, it seemed as if everything happened in slow motion. I fixated on his green rubber boots as he carefully stepped towards the boulder’s edge. Next, I focused on the net as he lifted it from the river, its dripping web frustrating the trout within as it writhed for freedom.
And then everything sped up. Dad pulled the fish from the net, grasped it firmly, and dashed its brains out on the rock beneath his feet. From the many-pocketed vest he wore, he pulled out a sharp knife and dragged the blade along its belly from tail to top. His blunt fingers reached inside the cavity and pulled out the liver, lungs and heart and released them back into the stream. “That’s gonna be good eatin’,” he said, grinning.
His composure fractured from time to time. One snowy winter’s day, I hitched a ride home with my boyfriend, Doug, in his Chevy Impala. When the car skidded into a telephone pole, my head connected with the windshield. Dad came to help, crying out, “Oh God, are you ok?” I reassured him as best I could, but he couldn’t look me in the face, bruised and bloody as it was. He took me to the hospital where a doctor prepared to treat the hematoma on my forehead by unwrapping a massive syringe. A nurse assisted him to a seat, where he sat with his head between his legs.
In memoriam, Harold Stanton, who passed away on this date in 2013.