The following is from Paul Baechtold founder of Casting Currents, a site dedicated to sharing the stories of why we love fishing. Please take the time to read this through. Paul shares our love for fishing and we hope you’ll share your story with him on his site.
January 31st, 2010
“Paul? It’s your mom… Pop-Pops isn’t going to make it. Two months of fighting double pneumonia on emphysema-tarnished lungs is too much for him to handle. Dad’s been down there, in the hospital with Aunt Terry, Uncle Tim, and Mimi for about two weeks. Mimi’s being monitored by nurses too because her blood pressure is through the roof with all this going on…She’ll be okay, but Pop-Pop won’t.”
“Okay, I’ll e-mail my professors tonight, and start driving down early in the morning.”
“No Paul, you can’t. Your dad, Mimi, Tim, and Terry don’t want you to see him this way—as your last memory and all…”
“What? That’s messed up. I can handle it. I’m an adult. He is my grandpa. You can’t make me sit around all day and night in my dorm agonizing about nothing except him and how he is doing. I have to go down there.”
“Paul, no… Your dad can barely handle seeing him like this and he is his father. He doesn’t want you to wake up in the middle of the night like he is right now with nightmares about the hospital or about Pop-Pop.”
“But don’t you get it? I am going to be that way here, unable to do anything except worry and then feel guilty about not being there when he passes. I have to go.”
“Paul, no. This is not up for debate. You are to do as you’re told, and we will fill you in with updates. There is no other possible way to handle this. Don’t fight your dad on this; he has to deal with too much already. Make life simpler for everyone down here, and just stay up there praying every day and night.”
I hang up the phone. Tears immediately flow down my cheeks—from being overwhelmed, from feeling helpless, from pure sadness. I have no choice in this matter. I have to sit and wait for the news, the worst news anyone can receive—death of a loved one.
Pop-Pop died eight days later, in his sleep, from complete organ failure in his lungs. One second he was pumping oxygen to the rest of his body, and the next he was not. Like the flip of a coin, his luck ran out.
My dad called me in tears that night. I could barely make out the words coming through my phone over the excruciating cacophonic sound that was a mixture of sobbing, sniffling, and hysteria. There was nothing more important to Pop-Pop than seeing a smile on everyone around him and happiness for his family. He was hardnosed, and justifiably so after serving three tours in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, but with age came a softer side that he consciously showed to everyone around him. He provided a better life for his three kids than he and Mimi had, and did everything in his power to ensure his four grandkids had it even better than his own kids.
My most vivid memory of the two of us is from when I was young- probably around three or four years old. Fishing was our adventure. Every time we’d go down to Alabama to see them, we would spend at least a day out on the lake or at least fishing from the docks of Lake Guntersville. When the weather wouldn’t allow it, he’d put my little raincoat and boots on me, and take me out to the driveway where he kept his boat. It could be pouring down rain, and he and I would sit in that boat talking about nothing (as I commonly would do as a little boy) and he’d watch me practice casting into the bird bath on the other side of the driveway. To me, it did not matter that we were sitting in the driveway, we were fishing. I was with him, and he was with me. I caught my biggest fish sitting in that boat, in that driveway, in Aniston, Alabama- with Pop-Pop by my side.
February 11th, 2010
Today is the day of the funeral. In honor of Pop-Pop’s service to his country, current members of the 101st Airborne Division came and did a 21 gun salute. When I realized what that truly meant, and what serving our country meant to him, I cried uncontrollably, almost hysterically. In between the sounds of the gunfire and the orders of the regiment leader, you could hear the occasional sob, people sniffling, and above everything else- me. Leaving the funeral, I tried to wipe away the remnants of the tears still clinging to my cheeks, and quickly began thinking very existentially. How could I ever do something as meaningful in my life as he did when he made the conscious decision to serve his country and lead men into foreign battlefields? He was not your average soldier… In recognition of his service and decisions made in the field of battle, he retired from the military with the most prestigious rank offered to non-officers- Sergeant Major. I was ready to enlist, but knew I couldn’t. My mom would never let that happen. A feeling of insignificance took hold of my heart and mind, and no matter what I tried I could not seem to shake its grip on me.
Consciously, and probably sub-consciously as well, I walked away from Pop-Pop passing onto a better place with the intention of redirecting my life so that it revolved around the activity that connected us the most—fishing. Every time I pull up to a lake shore or wade into a shallow creek bed, I go back to those rainy days sitting in his boat, in the driveway. I go back to how he wanted nothing more than to see my face light up every time I got that hook to land in the bird bath. Every time I catch a fish, I know he is up there smiling. I have become an avid marine conservationist, because as long as fish populations are healthy and thriving, he is with me. Becoming a passionate fisherman may seem like a somewhat insignificant defining moment in my life, but to me fishing is my life. When I’m stressed, I fish. It is my chance to spend a couple more hours with him, and it always feels like I’m making up those days I couldn’t be with him and the rest of my family in his final days. There are nights I dream about the chance to sit in my driveway, in my boat, with my son or grandson passing on that same bond that Pop-Pop shared with me. Pop-Pop may be gone from this earth, but he is never gone from my heart and soul for as long as I have access to some poles, some bait, and water.