My older brother Greg and his family recently moved back East from Colorado, and since I hadn’t seen my nephew Jacob in over a year, I wanted to give him a little gift to welcome him back. So I bought him a fishing rod, and when I handed it to him his eyes popped open like a pair of ping-pong balls.
It turned out that the gift was his first grown-up fishing rod–the first that didn’t have a cartoon character painted on it or come in packaging that didn’t read, “Just Like Dad’s.” He clearly wanted to thank me, but he was too excited to say anything intelligible for a while.
Of course, his excitement was perfectly understandable. I’m sure many of you can relate to the thrill of getting your first new, real fishing rod.
Sadly, I can’t.
My first fishing implement was a foot-long stick with fishing line wrapped around it. And as the youngest boy in a family of eight, my first legitimate rods were hand-me-downs that didn’t inspire any particular excitement. When I finally got a new rod of my own, I do remember being excited, but that is not my lasting memory of it.
I was a teenager at the time, working a summer job at a spinach farm 70 hours a week for about 3 cents an hour. Eventually, I weeded enough rows of spinach to buy a brand new Shakespeare spinning rod from Kmart. I had seen the commercials showing off the toughness of the Shakespeare Ugly Stick, and while my new rod was not an Ugly Stick, it was a Shakespeare, and I figured that was close enough.
So when I got it home, I paraded the rod around the neighborhood, showing off its flexibility and strength. I’d grab the tip and pull it down almost to the handle, and then I’d say, “Look at that! You can’t break this rod! You can’t break it!”
I noticed my brother Greg sitting in the shade under our cedar tree. I hadn’t shown him the rod yet, and I figured he’d be especially envious. So I rushed over and started my rant. “Look at this rod,” I said, bending it double. “You can’t break this rod! You can’t…”
There was a sort of crackling noise, and the next thing I remember was standing there with a piece of splintered fiberglass in each hand, feeling conspicuously stupid, and a little sick to my stomach. My brother pointed at me and laughed wildly. “Idiot!” he said between guffaws. “Ha, ha, ha…idiot!”
For several weeks afterward, Greg would occasionally sidle up to me while I was minding my own business. He’d sit there until he got my attention, then lean in and whisper, “Idiot.” Eventually, I turned him into our folks who made him promise not to call me that anymore.
* * * * *
Finally, Jacob regained his faculties and thanked me for the rod. And with the above memory fresh in my mind I warned him against bending the rod double because it might break. He nodded and ran off into the front yard to make some pretend casts.
“That was a great gift, Dave. Thanks,” Greg said. “And I don’t think you have to worry about him breaking it.”
“You don’t think so?” I said.
“Of course not,” he answered. “I mean, what kind of idiot purposely bends his rod so far that it breaks?”
“Hey,” I said. “You promised.”
“What are you talking about?” he said, not remembering at first. Then a wicked smile suddenly crossed his face. He leaned in to me and whispered, “Idiot.”
“That’s it,” I said, smiling back. “I’m telling mom and dad.”