Back when I was a boy, I loved to go fishing with my grandparents down in the panhandle of Florida. They are long since gone now, but the memories, the love and the lessons remain deep in my heart.
I have told you about them before. Granny and Grandpa Tharpe were the perfect grandparents for a little boy. Grandpa was a milkman. He was manly as manly could be, strong as an ox, weather beaten and the second best fisherman to ever grace the planet. He was second only to his bride, a fisher-woman by the name of Margaret Jane Jenkins Tharpe, Maggie to those who knew her. That woman could catch a fish in a dry river bed.
When asked about it, she would simply say that the secret was in how you held your tongue and whether or not you chewed your bait long enough before putting it on the hook. Whatever her secret was, it worked. Nobody could out fish her.
Now Granny was just about as tough and weather beaten as Grandpa. She had a lot of Creek & Cherokee in her which made her tough and dark, and those native born roots of hers seemed to give her a very unique way of teaching lessons to her grandson.
From time to time the old peach tree switch was used, but for the most part she simply said what needed to be said, and that was that; but trust me, once she taught a lesson you had better get it. Once was it, after that you paid a price for forgetting. I learned very quickly under her tutelage.
For the most part the lessons she taught me have been retained by me and have held me in good stead over the years. There is one lesson that she taught that tends to be a bit troubling however, because for the life of me, if I’m not careful, I will forget it; and just as she predicted, I will pay the price of a heavy spirit.
One day while my Granny and Grandpa, and my brother Mike and I were down on the Chipola River at my favorite fishing spot, Whiskey Slough, I learned that lesson.
It was one of those lazy summer days when the heat turns your thoughts to shade trees and the humming of the dragonflies invite a nap. My brother Mike was in a boat with Grandpa, and I was in another one with Granny. We rented the old wooden Jon boats from a fella at Willis Landing just up the river. They came complete with paddles, leaks and bailing buckets. Actually the owner just provided an odd assortment of coffee cans for bailing, while the courage to venture out was provided by the customer.
Well, as the day progressed, everyone was catching fish: bream, shell-cracker and the occasional channel-cat. Everyone was catching fish, but me, that is.
I was about six years of age or so and the injustice of the whole thing just got the best of me, so I was fussing and fuming and giving my Granny no rest.
Of course that didn’t move her from her spot. She was catching fish, and I was not about to be allowed to horn in on the deal. Fishing edict cannot be sacrificed, family member or no family member.
As the day lengthened, I caught a fish or two. Actually it was more than that, but far less than anybody else, and I just wouldn’t let up.
I griped about Mike catching more than me. I griped about Grandpa catching more than me, and I griped about my boat-mate’s lack of caring or concern for her poor disheveled, disconsolate grandson onto whom fate had placed such a heavy burden.
It was somewhere in the midst of one of my more colorful diatribes when Granny decided it was time to teach me a lesson. As I marched on with my litany of injustices, Granny reached down and untied my stringer from the gunnel. After that she took what few fish I had caught and slowly and methodically removed them from the stringer and dropped them over the side of the boat back into the coffee colored water of Whiskey Slough, all the while humming some unrecognizable, but very pleasant tune.
In so doing she managed to shut me up. Actually, I was speechless. How could she have done this? Had she lost all reason? It was during this lull in my verbal pity party that Granny looked over at her poor, astonished grandson and said, “Are you happy now? Your stringer isn’t half empty anymore.”
Looking back, my Granny did me a favor of grand proportions that day. Please note it took me a while to appreciate it; but she taught me that being happy with what you have is a lot better than lamenting over what you have don’t have. In other words, rejoicing over a stringer that is half full is much better than crying over a stringer that is half empty or as was true in this case, empty all together.
Love, Pastor Tony