She was a teenager confused about life. Yet, she loved to fish. I won’t mention her real name, but will tell her story.
She was abused by a cruel father who is long gone and raised by an alcoholic mother who smoked cigarettes like a chimney, a habit that finally killed her. Friends of her mother took time to teach this worthwhile young lady about nature, hunting and fishing, perhaps her saving grace.
She’s was a beautiful girl, pursued by many boys for a date. She picked and choose carefully, leaning toward guys who hunted and fished. She avoided drugs and alcohol, but sadly smoked like her mother. Her best friends became pregnant in high school and had to drop out. Another of her friends became a runaway that liked drugs and hopefully is still alive.
I’ll call this girl Jane, though that is not her name. One day, about 20 years ago my wife heard a knock on the door and found a tall, skinny teenage girl in dirty clothes and long, stringy hair that needed shampoo. I knew her grandpa so she asked to speak with me. My wife asked if she was hungry and she gladly accepted a sandwich, admitting her mother had not been home lately. Jane started talking between clearly cherished bites and admitted to being confused on what to do, but her one passion was fishing in a pond near her house.
“I have been fishing that pond every day,” Jane said, her eyes lighting up for the first time that evening. “I am having a great time catching big bass, some almost 8 pounds. But there is a lot of brush in the pool and I’m running out of lures.”
She left that night with a new spinning rod and reel and my new tackle box filled with a variety of bass lures. Jane probably left with over $400 worth of topwater lures, crankbaits, plastics and other fishing accessories with the promise to come back for more if needed. We gave her a few groceries too.
I recalled my teenage years and was always happy to hunt and fish. A few students go through school and are at the top of everything and popular. That was never my story. I have found that was not the case with most kids.
There were times during my teens when nothing made sense. You can chalk that up to the teenage years or the desire to improve with little hope. I was never the best athlete or the smartest in school. I was and will always will be baffled by most types of mathematics. I need a calculator to figure my checkbook and all 10 fingers to count fish while filling a limit.
So, during these difficult years I needed a pressure release and fishing became the best of all worlds. My family liked my outdoor efforts because it constantly provided fish for the table. Fishing became my time where everything made perfect sense.
So, it was a small investment to give a young girl who had little support several of my best lures and the offer of meals anytime she wanted to stop by. Eventually she moved in when her mother stopped coming home. We gained a new daughter, and it all started with a handful of lures.
I can’t take credit for this idea of sharing tackle. I have watched the most unselfish acts at Bennett Spring Trout Park near Lebanon, Missouri, where experienced fly fishermen and women clipped off their fly that was slaying the trout and gave it to another angler, generally a stranger, with instruction on how to use it. Many of my outdoor-writing friends work with inner-city kids as do I. All kids deserve a chance to be happy and a good outdoor experience is sometimes the key.
Random acts of kindness are always present with outdoor enthusiasts. I owe my outdoor savvy to individuals who took the time to show me, even though I was no relation or no use to them at all. But they took the time and I have thanked many of them over the years. Several have passed on and I hope they somehow know my feelings.
I believe my contribution to Jane became an investment in her future. She needed material to continue her pursuit of big bass. Trying to catch big bass became her release from the reality of peer pressures.
I wanted Jane to enter college and succeeded. I promised to help pay for her college and books if she would quit smoking. She balked at first but eventually took up my offer. Today she is a registered nurse with a beautiful baby girl and a little brown-haired boy named after me. She married a worthwhile husband with an excellent job.
So how expensive was that handful of lures I gave Jane? A darned cheap investment in my estimation, considering their importance to help along an important life.
I have written this column for more than 30 years. Few of my stories have been more important than this final message:
Introduce a child to the good, clean outdoor experience, hunting, fishing, target practicing, camping, hiking, bird watching or whatever sparks their interest. The good, clean outdoors may eventually save their lives like it did mine and Jane’s.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.