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My first true loves.........
Grandpa and fly fishing......
My first love was my Grandpa Boyd. No man in the world measures up to my memories of him or the way he loved me. It’s true.
When I was a little girl, around six years old, my Grandpa bought me my own fly rod and reel. It wasn’t some little kid set up either; it was an eagle claw with its own case. The case was a long silver aluminum tube with a screw on cap and inside was my fly rod, nestled safely, within the soft folds of a red plaid flannel sleeve.
I was so proud of my new rod and reel because they were just like Grandpa’s. You see, I had already been fly fishing for about a year and Grandpa was telling me, in his own way, I was good at it, he was proud of me. People in that generation didn’t know how to say I love you very easily or voice their emotions out loud. They just showed you.
It wasn’t that grandpa bought me something new; it’s that what he bought me were magical times and the best memories a girl could ever have.
One year we camped up around an old mining area. I’ll never forget it! The drive there, in the old red Plymouth with the big tail fins, windows down, smelling the pungent scent of the huge old yellow pines, the dust from the gravel roads billowing out behind us. Grandma was riding shotgun like she always did. She would drop us off downstream and then drive up to where we would come out and meet her after a day of fishing.
Grandpa and I set up our rods. We grabbed our creels and fly boxes and taking my hand he led me back through the huge swaying trees to the stream we could hear in the near distance.
As we passed through a meadow we had to skirt around some old stagnant ponds created by a dredge, still sitting there, the old white paint peeling, the windows mostly broken out. Hundreds upon hundreds of tiny baby frogs were everywhere! Grandpa stopped and let me catch them and play with them for a little while, telling me about bringing my daddy up here once and the baby frogs were so thick you could hardly walk for stepping on them.
We continued down toward the stream and Grandpa told me the history of the old mine. How, when it petered out, the nearby town became a ghost town. I was, of course, fascinated and a little fearful of the ghosts. I ran to catch up with him and slid my little hand into his big calloused one and we marched further into the woods.
When we reached the stream Grandpa chose a fly called a royal coachman and helped me tie mine onto my brand new leader. He grabbed my hand and we stepped into the cold fresh mountain stream and began casting into the small holes and curves the water had created over and through the boulders and fallen logs.
We fished and hiked and talked about old times. I loved to hear about the old days. Grandpa once confessed to me that he had been a boot legger in his younger days. He laughed about it as I puzzled how he had ever met my sweet, Seventh Day Adventist, Grandma Margaret. Later I asked Grandma and she told me they had met at the Adventist Academy, and I kept Grandpa’s secret to myself.
A few hours later, we had caught our limit; we stopped by the side of the stream and cleaned our fish. Beautiful, native rainbow and cut throat trout. Grandpa showed me how to cut the stomach open to see what the fish were feeding on. Sometimes there would be these little bugs in there covered in a shell of tiny rocks and sand. He called them penny winkles and showed me how to pick them off the rocks peel the outer shell and put them on the fly hook to add body and smell for the fish.
We put our cleaned trout in plastic bags and popped them in our creels and started the hike up the side of the mountain. I don’t know how but Grandpa always knew which way to walk along the road to find Grandma sitting in the car reading her Bible as she, always, patiently waited for us.
There was a cooler full of ice, a beer for Grandpa, a fresca for Grandma and me, sandwiches made on homemade bread. Sometimes Grandma would pick huckleberries and we would have desert too.
Grandpa and Grandma took me to Yellowstone National Park almost every summer. One year I remember in particular, I was about eight years old. I had had my own fly rod for a couple of years by then and I was a master at casting long and far across to the holes on the other side of a stream or river.
As I was practicing casting across the great Yellowstone River my Grandpa was talking to a couple of other men and bragging about my ability to fly fish. As they voiced their doubts about an eight year old girl fly fishing Grandpa made a wager and I proceeded to prove them wrong as I cast further and further across the river until I was laying that fly into a nice hole just on the edge of the other side. I caught a two pound cut throat Grandpa caught a ten dollar bill. We kept that a secret from Grandma too.
Yellowstone was always an adventure back in the 1960’s. There were bears there in those years, grizzles, browns and black bears all over the place. There were signs everywhere saying not to feed the bears but everybody did it and Grandpa always brought marshmallows and chocolate bars along for me to share.
One time we were feeding a small black bear and when I ran out of chocolates we got back in the car to leave but the bear wanted more. He climbed up on Grandpas old red Plymouth and sat on the hood and wouldn’t get off even when Grandpa started the car. Finally he honked the horn and the bear peed on the hood and slowly climbed down and walked away.
Another time, and I got a spanking for this one, we stopped where a lot of people were taking pictures of a big old grizzly momma and her cubs lying in the sun. I walked right up and sat next to one of the cubs and started sharing my chocolate bar with him and my Grandparents and the whole crowd were frozen in shock.
Nobody moved, nobody breathed, and nobody said a word until my Grandma, in a soft low voice, said “Sister you come away from there right now.” But the baby bear and I weren’t done with our candy bar yet so I stayed where I was. That little bear had a tongue about a foot long and every time it was my turn to take a bite that tongue would snake out and try to get it away from me. Momma bear just sat there watching us and grooming herself. She didn’t mind another cub, even a human one, sitting by her baby; I didn’t see what the big deal was.
About the time I was running out of chocolate some guy decided to get brave and held his fingers out to the cub like he had something for him trying to coax him away from me so he could get a picture of it alone. That big grizzly momma stood up on her hind legs and growled so loud it about scared the pee right out of me. The guy turned around and started to run down a trail to the trees and she took out after him like she was going to do some major harm. He tripped over a tree root in the trail, fell and broke his camera and the big bear just stopped, came back over by the cubs and lay down in the sun. She was just warning him.
I wasn’t allowed to have any candy or lotion or anything sweet or any type of food in the tent at night because the bears were thick in those woods. At night in Yellowstone they had an outdoor movie, seriously, and the kids would come from the camps around the area to watch the movie. After that it was time to clean up the camp and get ready for bed. EVERY night grandpa would be out banging a pan with a spoon scaring a bear away. Sometimes they would get my nestles quick and eat it all which meant no hot chocolate in the morning.
We saw many different animals in the park, moose, elk and deer as well as buffalo and of course the bears were like puppies sitting up begging on every curve in the road.
There was a mountain there called Obsidian Mountain where the obsidian was so abundant you could pick up handfuls of it, I went back in 1982 and there wasn’t any left that I could see. Grandpa showed me how Indians made arrow heads from the sharp stone by using another stone to strike it just right to knock off flakes around the edges.
One thing, besides bears, kept me awake at night. The steep mountains we camped next to. Grandpa had taken us to a campground that had been buried, with the people still in it, by a huge earthquake. There was a plaque on one of the house sized boulders with the names of the people who died there and the people who were never recovered, still buried in Yellowstone Park. I used to lay awake and watch over my Grandparents at night, keeping an eye on those mountains.
Of course, there was Old Faithful and various other magical bodies of water. Grandpa told me how some white soldiers had survived the Indians by hiding in Yellowstone. About the Indians being afraid of the mists and hissing of the waters there, saving the trespassers from certain death. I had a connection to those Indians as my grandfathers great uncle’s name was Jesse RedHeart, he raised appaloosa horses and told the grandest stories, not as good as Grandpa though.
As I grew to the age of ten, Grandpa took me on harder trails and more remote fly fishing expeditions. One quite memorable time was up around the Lochsaw. Grandma stayed in camp this time as there were no roads for her to meet us on.
We drove to a turnaround off the road a few miles up and walked back onto some railroad tracks. We followed those tracks for sometime before we came to a railroad trestle. In case you’ve never seen one I’ll give you a little insight into railroad bridges. They are scary! They bridge two mountains or hills as the trains don’t go up and down they go straight across. There is no dirt in between the railroad ties so you can see the earth getting farther and farther down as you walk and you have to be careful where you put your feet or you will step through the large gaps. When we were half way across this long and curving trestle and the ground was miles below us, remember I’m ten, I asked Grandpa if the trains still used this track. He said yes and my next question was “Where do we go if a train comes?!” Grandpa just laughed and told me we would have to run to the other side. I had my doubts we could outrun a train so I picked up the lazy pace I had started out with.
Grandpa seemed to love the hardest places to get to while fly fishing. I have seen country very few people have had the fortune to see. One such place was accessible only by a little foot bridge strung across a canyon with white water down below, not far really but far enough to scare me. This foot bridge consisted of cables attached to wood planks about a foot wide and two cables, one on each side, about waist high on an adult, to hold onto. It was free to sway in the wind and bounced up and down as you went.
He let me go first and when I was in the middle of the bridge he put his foot on the end and made it bounce a little more and laughed at the look of pure terror on my face! I was frozen in place and refused to continue across so he came to rescue me without a thought to the weight capacity of that little foot bridge.
That’s how Grandpa was; he gave new meaning to the words living large. He really did live large.
I could go on and on about our adventures together as well as his gardens, the prize roses he grew every year and got his picture in the newspaper. The delicious fresh vegetables right out of the garden, the rich earthy smell of the compost piles he tended so carefully. He was my hero and he gave me the love of the best things on this earth.
We continued our summers together as I grew older, spring breaks were spent sitting on the back porch eating smoked white fish and drinking a cold one. Grandpa knew how to enjoy the quiet moments together as well as the active ones.
One year, I called Grandpa from Denver Colorado where I was enrolled at Denver University, to plan our summer fishing expedition. His voice sounded frail and tired. I asked him what was wrong and he told me nothing not to worry. I asked him where he wanted to go this year and his answer to me was “Sweet heart, I’m not going to leave this valley ever again.” I asked him what he was talking about but he wasn’t forthcoming with me. As I hung up the phone I had a horrible feeling in my heart. Grandpa was so strong last summer and I never thought of him as aging.
A Month later, in March 1986, my dad called me and told me Grandpa had passed away. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even ask how. I just hung up the phone and crawled in bed and cried day and night for about a week. I didn’t go to his funeral. I didn’t want to remember him in that way, didn’t want the last picture, in my mind, of that great hearty man to be lying in a casket cold and motionless.
My memorial to my Grandpa that year was to spend the summer visiting all the places we had fished together. Alone, I walked in the same footprints he had left for me to follow; I cast into the same holes he had cast a fly hundreds of times. I heard his voice echoing off the mountains, whispering on the winds through the branches of the big yellow pines, the swaying lodge poles. Heard his laughter in the bubbling waters of the streams he scooped with his big hands to wash the sweat from his face and the back of his neck. I could feel his big warm hand holding mine as we crossed the streams together time and time again.
As I sit here writing this I remember a movie, Robert Redford directed and produced, A River Runs Through It. It makes me reflect back on how the rivers and streams running through my life have molded and nurtured me, how Grandpa mapped out my character.
I now have a granddaughter that I take fishing. When I take her little hand in mine to cross a stream I thank God he gave me a Grandpa who loved me and taught me to love the simple things in life.
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