M y good friends Marin and Sarah have just become new parents to twin boys. Marin is reveling in fatherhood and, as an ardent outdoorsman and angler, has already made plans for all the hunting and fishing trips he is going to have with his two boys.
I smiled when he told me about them. He’s in for a grand adventure, one I embarked on—and one I sort of lassoed my parents into providing me.
I do not come from a family of outdoorsmen. My mom who grew up in Brownsville, Texas, would fish more—if it didn’t involve being outside so much.
My dad grew up in Atascosa County, which is thirty miles south of San Antonio. His youth was very hard. A three-year drought had ruined his father’s farm. The entire family—including two brothers and two sisters—had to work to prevent losing it.
Fishing and hunting weren’t for sport, but to literally put meat on the table. I’m sure he would fish with me more than the handful of times he’s gone with me, if it didn’t bring back memories of those rough times—and if it didn’t involve being outside so much.
I don’t regret that neither of my parents joined me whenever I went fishing, though. They didn’t go golfing with my two brothers, either (that pesky sunlight and exertion thing again).
That’s ok, though. We spent lots of quality time together. holidays, family barbecues, trips, even school were all family time (Dad was our high school principal, and Mom was our English teacher and speech coach in same). Fishing, then, was my personal time.
Even so, Mom and Dad understood that that fishing and hunting were very important to me, and they worked hard to encourage me. One year, when I was thirteen, the five of us spent an entire week in a condominium at South Padre Island.
Five of those seven days were spent fishing in our 16-foot tri-hull, which Dad hauled down from Edinburg with his 1982 Delta 88. Of course, the various rods and reels, tackle, and perceived expertise were provided by this stalwart writer, and a fine time was actually had by all.
Even my big brother Paco, (whose idea of fishing is cross-examining some poor schlub during a big trial. He’s really good at it, too.) enjoyed our time on the water.
What strikes me to this day, is that Mom and Dad dedicated so much of OUR vacation to MY passion. They didn’t, and don’t, prefer me over my two brothers, but they wanted to make sure we all enjoyed ourselves. So, along with the visits to the beach, the tour of the lighthouse and the museum of the wreck of the Atocha, we fished.
And they put up with me, my fishing, and my…misadventures.
One day I came home from a fishing expedition to the local golf course’s water hazard with a catfish spine firmly imbedded in the soft flesh behind my right thumb and on top of my right hand. The catfish managed to stay behind—but I showed him! He was going to go through life lacking a dorsal fin.
Mom’s first reaction was to let the damn thing stay in my hand forever. After she realized it wouldn’t reflect well on her mothering skills to send me out into the world with part of another creature sticking out of me, Mom relented and took me to see Dr. Ben.
Dr. Ben Garza has been my doctor since I was three years old. In the three decades he’s known me, he’s yanked my tonsils, treated my asthma, and held my son. He’s also been privy to my misadventure as an aspiring fisherman. Thus, he was more amused than surprised when Mrs. Gonzales brought in her thirteen-year-old middle child with a catfish spine sticking out of his hand.
Pecks on the cheek and pleasantries were passed back in forth over the table where my hand was propped (Hey, we’re Mexican; the appropriate displays of affection must be exchanged before business is).
“He’s incredible, isn’t he?” Dr. Ben asked.
“Incredible wasn’t among the words I was thinking of,” Mom said, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling.
Dr. Ben numbed my hand with a dose of Novocain and began working the spine out. Catfish spines are barbed, and that makes them a little tricky to remove. This one was stuck deep.
As Dr. Ben worked it out of me, little bits of subcutaneous particles and blood came out with it. Mom went pale and looked like she was going to pass out.
“Are you all right, Judy?” Dr. Ben asked. “Do you need to sit down?”
“Next time, I swear I’m leaving it inside you,” Mom gagged as she turned away and looked at the model of a human pelvis on the wall.
Dr. Ben finally dug the spine out of my hand and held the thing aloft for the nurse, Mom, and me to see. It was an inch long (I could have sworn it was at least three, maybe four times that size), thin and very sharp. In the movies, it would have been streaked with blood, with thin tendrils of gore trailing from it to the gaping hole in my hand.
In real life, there weren’t any streaks, tendrils, or even a gaping hole. There was simply a long, pearl-colored, serrated thorn, a puckered, star-shaped puncture hole (The scar of which I’m looking at as I write this), a gawking kid, an indifferent nurse, and a slightly queasy parent.
Dr. Ben was actually quite pleased.
“Now I have something to add to my collection,” he said.
After the nurse had dressed my wound and given me a tetanus shot as a precaution (or maybe as punishment for putting Mom through this), Dr. Ben led Mom and me to his office. From behind his desk he withdrew a small test tube. In it were the prizes from some of my previous visits:
Two fishhooks cut out of the same foot a year apart, a bb that had rolled around my forehead for two months before I told Mom and Dad about it (Never, ever tape a paper target to a brick wall) and, now, a catfish spine.
As far as I know, Dr. Ben still has that collection.
That those who guide us can put up with the nonsense we aspiring outdoorsmen put them through is nothing short of epic.
Thanks, Mom and Dad. You did all right.
Email Cal Gonzales at
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]