My mother and I used to go fishing. Now, I am not talking about fishing from a pier, a boat, or a river bank, my friends. I am referring to my mother’s love for fishing in a stream that ran behind her childhood home. Yes, an actual stream with slippery rocks, deep areas, and still, black pools that she claimed guaranteed at least one fish.
We would get our fishing gear packed early in the morning and begin our journey. We drove to my grandparents’ home, checking in with them before marching out across the grown over, abandoned pasture. The grass was nearly as tall as I was in spots and my mom would look back over her shoulder often to make sure I was still upright. Years ago, my grandfather had built a wooden frame around one of the natural wells on the outer limits of the pasture. A piece of baling rope dangled from the backboard of the frame, and attached to that rope was a small, steel dipper.
I have since sampled many brands of bottled water from all over the world, yet none can even begin to compare with the water I scooped up into that battered old dipper. We would savor each ice-cold drop and then continue on our way toward the stream.
My mom, with no hesitation, would walk right into the stream, her pantlegs rolled up over her white sneakers. She would reach down into the fishing basket hooked to her belt and pull out the bait; usually a nightcrawler. She would tell me to stay out of the water and fish from the shore. As she slowly fished her way down that little stream, I would follow along the side with my pole held out beside me.
According to the memories I have kept fresh in my mind, I believe I snagged a fish once completely by accident and I called out to my mother. She took one look at my situation and began to laugh, assuring me it was OK; the other fish would understand. My mom nearly always caught her limit way before we reached the point where our little stream runs into the Aroostook River.
I would watch her there, standing on a nearly immersed, slick rock, her right hand holding the fishing rod while her left hand operated the reel and the loose line. Her chestnut brown hair hung down below her shoulders, riddled with curls that grabbed onto the rays of sun, gleaming with hints of copper. She would whisper to me as she stood there, telling me to stay close to her side. “We make a good team, sweetheart. You are the very best fishing buddy ever.” I was so lucky to be her daughter.
My mother taught me to drive a car as soon as my feet could reach the pedals. She read to me every night from the newspaper, going over the headlines and having me try and identify the letters. Though I do not recall those reading lessons, I do know I cannot remember a time in my life when I could not read.
My mother could be found cutting potato seed in a cold, dismal potato house; her magnificent hair tucked up inside an old winter hat. She wore gloves that were caked with potato dirt and under a worn jacket that belonged to my dad, she wore a frayed flannel shirt. The next day, you might find her skipping about town in her golden Chrysler New Yorker, hair gleaming, colorful dress, brown high heels, and makeup (lipstick was very important).
When my sister, Lisa, and I said goodbye to our mother, her life was sustained by a respirator. Her heart had stopped beating for nearly 20 minutes and there was little if any brain activity at this point.
As Lisa and I stood there at her side, I remembered our fishing adventures and how I would stand on the side of the stream, watching her do something she so enjoyed. As she carefully waded down toward the river, I realized it was time to say goodbye to this spectacular woman who, with my father, had given me not only my life, but all of their love. I would not be able to follow her downstream. It was time to let her go.
To all of you who are mothers, be it biological or otherwise, have a glorious Mother’s Day and remember what treasures you are and how much you are loved every day.
Belinda Hersey lives in Caribou with her husband, Kent, and their two dogs, Barney and Morgan. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.