A Farewell to a Father E-mail
Written by Rob Grasso   
Sunday, 16 June 2013 00:00

I was four years old. My father was taking me, my two older brothers and my sister, the oldest, to an old military training exercise area along the Jersey Coast. The beach was filled with fragments of metal, an old Jeep, likely blown up with artillery now rusting in the salty dunes. Dad was nagging me to put on my shoes as I exited the boat onto the soft sand; I, of course, refused. I was simply met with an “OK, its up to you.” My dad was a live-and-learn kind of guy. Minutes later, a rusty metal edge met my heel and sliced me to the toe. In the panic that pursued, my memory fades, but the story has been retold over the years. My oldest brother, Chris, a mere 4 years my senior, was at the helm of an 18 ft Starcraft with a wide-open throttle. With one hand, my father was intermittently jerking the steering wheel, with the other he poured iodine onto my foot, which was now hanging overboard. He didn’t want to get the boat dirty I guess, but at least with four kids and tons of fishing tackle always onboard, he had the good sense of keeping a big bottle of iodine in the hatch! The story ends with my brother, Chris, hopping the fence at Point Pleasant Hospital, conveniently located on the water, and my dad hoisting me over it. I can remember the tugging on my foot as stitches were being sewn, and then fading off.  That’s my earliest memory of my father. And I have to stay it’s a pretty good one, and it was only the start of many more to come. 

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My dad passed away recently. His death was sudden and unexpected - likely due to heart failure. He would have been 75 in May. My dad’s life was a rich cornucopia of experiences. Early on, his parents desired him to be in ministry. He worked in the parts department of my great uncle’s Oldsmobile dealership in Bayonne, NJ, and worked his way up to salesman; after tiring of that he started a laundry business with my grandfather in the same town, owned his own hardware store in Toms River, NJ, worked for the railroad, was a boiler operator for the Navy at EARLE, a millworker in Vermont, and built custom wooden sailboats in Massachusetts.  He was married three times, had five kids of his own, and many more through subsequent marriages, and carried friends from past endeavors until the end of his life. People always seemed to gravitate toward him through life as if he had the answers, and if he didn’t, people seemed to want to stay in contact as if maybe someday he would. 

After a harsh winter in Vermont and a broken thumb from falling on his ice covered driveway he decided to head south. Forever. I met him at his house as he was loading the moving van.

“Damn, its cold!” I said.

“Fourteen below," he replied.

Its midnight.

“Maybe we should wait until morning when it’s a little warmer.” I reply.

“No, the roads might start to thaw, and then will never get out of here.”

As we started up the van, we were leaving behind many fond memoirs, cod fishing in Mass., several of which trips involved near-death experiences, smallmouth bass fishing on the Connecticut River, Northern pike fishing on Lake Champlain, fishing the red hot largemouth bass bite before, and during, thunderstorms on his local Cole Pond in an aluminum canoe.  There were the not so good memories, too. Like the time we set off for Somerset Reservoir in Vermont, a similar trek to Indian Valley Reservoir. We drove so far down a dirt and washboard road we figured we must be lost, and turned around only two miles from our destination. My poor backing skills, and some fatherly impatience, resulted in a snapped off lower unit of his 40 horse Tohatsu in a ditch. We left Jamaica, VT around 2:30 am and would be in Florida in less than 24 hours. 

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It was there, Cape Cora,l Florida, where I would discover, again through my father, the joys of kayak fishing. He had a pair of 9 foot sit-ins, one red, and one blue, both with white bottoms. He was very patriotic. We would paddle the canals around his house on the Caloosahatchee River in search of snook and tarpon, but always willing to fight a jack on the take, which is the fish that gave me my first true “slayride.” The stories continue, and I will record them for my memoirs and for those of his granddaughter - my daughter, Cora. He will not watch her grow up, but has left his mark by making a lasting, and lifelong impression during a visit last May. 

It was here in California, off the Carmel Coast, that I was able to share with him my love for ocean kayak fishing.  My old man came out, and I was really hoping to get him out on the water for the opener. Had my eye on the Thursday window, and it that held for us. Wind was howling when we stopped at Marina SB the day before; I didn't think we were going to have much of a chance. After a good meal in Carmel we smoked some stogies on the beach. Surf was still up but wind was gone. Thursday early AM he popped up, suited up, and was ready to go before I was. I was impressed! The old man was turning 74 that month, so I was not sure how much sitting in the yak he could take. We started near the island and started hooking up with lings right away. I released a 27 incher and I thought he was going to choke.

"Was that a keeper?" he shouts.

"Yep," I reply.

"Then what the hell did you let it go for?" 

"There's bigger!" I shout back.

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But that was the best either of us could do. We decided to get out around the point once the early east wind died off. Tried some of the usual spots along the kelp and reefs but it was a lot quieter out there. So after a half hour or so we headed back to the cove and were greeted, in twenty five feet of water, by 5 gray whales. After a short break, we stalked the cove and found a nice pinnacle. I broke off two nice fish on 30 lb braid and pops broke off one, but we managed 3 keeper lings. The cabezon bite was then on; the best going 19.5. We both enjoyed some good scrappy cabby fights, and we stayed out until about 3:30. Great day on the water with the old man who got me started kayak fishing over 15 years ago, in some dink 9 ft sit-ins in Florida, fishing for jacks in the canals near his house Cape Coral.

My father would always tell me his regrets in life as if to try and warn me, but those choices had made him who he was. He took big risks in life, enjoyed big payouts and suffered in shortfalls where he lost it all. Maybe he didn’t always see it because he was too busy living it, but in my eyes he enjoyed a long and enriched life that has created memories, experiences, and character that will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

I love you pop.

 

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