Poetry from Bill Tope

Angling with Opal

In Grandma Opal’s world, Tuesday is fishing day.

But again, so is Thursday, Friday, and, if you’re

Extremely fortunate, Saturday and Sunday as well.

Any day of the week, around Grandma’s farm and

The environs, there is good fishing. Those bluegill

Don’t stand a chance. The time of departure is

Always six a.m.

Daybreak unfolds the way it always does on Grandma’s

Farm, with the sun peeping through shredded clouds and

Laying on lacquers of vermilion, rose-pink, and orange.

Rays of early sunlight first caressed the base of the

Clouds, then speared through their fluffy, cottony

Fabric like flaming lances. Next, from the top spilled

Out a kaleidoscopic layer of magenta, like a fiery

Volcanic explosion of raspberry jam,

When all of this is going on at four thirty to five a.m.,

It is still dark, but more dusky than black. at that hour.

In the morning, normally exuberant dogs won’t bark.

They, too, are enjoying the majesty of the sunrise. But 

The birds: the seeming millions of sparrows, cocky

Blue jays, gorgeous cardinals, fat starlings, ladderback

Woodpeckers and a hundred other avian varieties,

Loud, chirping and tweeting and singing their songs of

Life.  And, even now, in the middle of summer, there

Are no mosquitoes.  They, too, have their own hours.

By six a.m., they’ll be out and about, but not yet.

The electric power lines are starkly visible in the

Expanding light. They stand out and like thick black

Garlands adorning a room where a party will be held.

Countless birds are already perched along their lengths,

Solemnly observing the earth below. As it grows lighter,

The grass turns from black to gray to blue. It rained last

Night. It rains every night during the summer, for exactly

Ten minutes, not a gullywasher but a steady sprinkle,

Depositing just enough moisture to soften the soil so you

can dig for earthworms for bait. That’s Grandpa’s job.

By quarter to six, Grandpa comes lumbering in,

Squinting through his Coke-bottle-thick spectacles,

Huffing up the back porch stairs while carrying a metal

Bucket containing at least six million worms, newly dug.

Grandma growls, “Jap, you smell like worms!” He

Snorts, looking up. “Be still, old woman,” he replies in

Mock rebuke. But he takes himself off to the bathroom,

Where he avails himself of the Hai Karate cologne

That one of the grandkids gifted him at Christmas.

While Grandpa has been digging bait, Grandma and the rest

Of us have been gathering provisions: fishing poles, rods,

Reels, heavy blue tackle boxes, stringers, creels, scalers,

Fillet knives, fishing knives, at least ten thousand complex

And exotic fishing lures, extra lines, fish hooks, lead sinkers,

Corks—you name it, we take it. We pack all this stuff, along

With five people and one dog, into my grandma’s newest

Buick.Muscle Car.  It has a.351 engine, I think; The lady

Loves to lay rubber, even on a dirt road.

After driving endless miles and conversing with every living

Resident of Franklin County, we arrive at our destination.

We had already passed it at least an hour before. For 

Grandma, fishing is like any other excursion: she always

Comes clad in a perfectly proper, albeit comfortable, dress.

Usually a red print. And Grandpa is always attired in his

Tan Dickies work clothes, a can of Skoal tucked away in his

Shirt pocket.

And Grandma is a smoker. Before I enter kindergarten,

She tries to teach me the alphabet by referencing the back of

A pack of Lucky Strikes: “Can you say these letters, Sugar?”

She asks, turning over the pack to reveal LSMFT.

Embossed on the back. “That means, ‘Lucky Strikes Means

Fine tobacco!’ ” She explained. And she grins eerily.  I nod

My head vigorously and, a little freaked out, I walk over to

Stand by my mother.

We fish all day, I get sunburned, and Mom gets a headache–

It happens every time—and Grandma yanks the head off.

A turtle.  Say what?  Well, it happens this way: Grandma

Uses one of her best fishing lures, a large red thing, and

The turtle has the mendacity to swallow it. I still don’t see how

He goes it down his tiny throat. Grandma hoists the large

Reptile into the air by the fishing line he’d swallowed, and she

Beats him, muttering, “That lure cost me nine dollars, and you

Won’t need it wherever you’re going.”

At length, frustrated by reckoning with the uncooperative turtle,

Grandma slams his carapace against the muddy bank and

Placing one booted foot onto his back, she tugs with all her

Might. The turtle’s head snaps off and swings by the fishing line,

Mesmerizing me.  I think I’m going to be sick. “I told you

I’d get that lure back,” she intones gravely to the bodiless turtle

Head.  I go to stand by my mom again.

Throughout the long day, fish are snatched from the lake like

Nobody’s business. Grandpa says at one point that we’ve caught

More than a hundred bluegill. A while later, I approach Grandma and

find her taking her hook out of a large, incredibly ugly fish. “What’s

That?” I ask, pointing to the creature. She snorts.  “Carp,” she says.

Dismissively.  I look at her questioningly. “Ain’t nothin’ But bones,

Sugar,” she tells me, and she leaves the fish to die on the bank.

The fishing trip concludes with us speeding back into town in the

Buick, not much the worse for wear. Arriving back at the little farm,

Grandpa immediately appropriates the catch and repairs to the

Garden house, out beyond the vegetable garden. There he

Proceeds to whack the heads off the exhausted, oxygen-starved

Bluegill and eviscerate them. And he isn’t wasteful of time, running.

Through the fish like a Ginzu chef. At length he returns to the kitchen

With what must be twenty pounds of fish.  Grandma rapidly disposes

Of them, wrapping most in white freezer paper and trundling them

Off to the deep freeze.

But she selects at least five pounds of bluegill for supper. She

Dips the fillets in milk and eggs, then dredges them in seasoned

Flour. Next, she dips them into the milk mix again, and finally,

Through an intensely seasoned concoction of corn meal. They go

Into the iron skillet. The oil crackles vigorously.

But I see none of this. While the cooking is proceeding apace,

My mom and I are assessing the damage to my person: several

Ticks are removed from my hair; both knees are scuffed.

And we discover an infestation of the dreaded chigger. The only

Known cure for chiggers is a liberal application of fingernail

Polish remover, preferably in a neutral scent. So I skulk around

For the rest of the evening, smelling like a fingernail salon. By now

The little house is filled with the heady, intoxicating aroma of frying

Fish. My mouth waters.

Supper is almost ready. Grandma places a large platter of perfectly

Fried bluegill on the kitchen table. We all dig in as if we had never

Tasted fish before. And we haven’t, either. At least not this good.

“That’s a mess of fish, Jap,” remarks Grandma, matter-of-

Factly.  “Sure is, Ope,” agrees, Grandpa, talking around a face full

Of fish. Corn meal dribbles down his shirt and his glasses have

Grease on them, but he pays this no mind.

Outside the kitchen door, the crickets begin to sing. The sun is down

Now, and it gets notably cooler in the kitchen.  In the distance, a dog

Barks at a full moon. Grandma looks my way. “Get enough to eat,

Sugar?” I nod enthusiastically. I don’t suppose that at that instant. I

wondered if, sixty years later, I would remember every detail of that

Magical, wonderful day.