Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.
- Norman Maclean
Some folks grow up idolizing their older brothers, wanting to be just like them. Keith was my older brother closest in ages to me, 3 years my senior. I knew from an early age I did NOT want to be just like Keith. How could I be?
An early incident, in our pre-adolescence, went a long way toward leading me to this conclusion: it occurred on a camping trip, I think to the Icicle River, during the late 70's. Keith had decided it would be a good idea to capture a chipmunk and safely store it away to play with later. What could go wrong with an idea like that, right?
So Keith sprang his trap, with a box propped by a stick, which was tied to a string. (There must have been bait involved, as well, but I don't remember what that was.) Pure textbook. Like I said--what could go wrong?
No vermin or varmint could resist that trap...and it wasn't long before Keith got the chipmunk he was looking for. Now where to put it? Oh, yes! How about a tackle box? Of course! Talk about genius. (Don't ask me how he actually transferred it to the tackle box--I can't fully explain genius, you know.)
(At this point, I really did want to be just like my big brother Keith.)
Anyway, there it was--the tackle box holding Keith's prize. What to do now? Leave well enough alone? Just let the chipmunk "settle down" for a while, and let it quit pinballing against the walls of the box? Or open the box up right away, and take a "closer look?" I think you can guess what happened next: the box lid came up, Keith's hand went in, and the chipmunk's mouth clamped down.
YEE-OUCH! Damn chipmunk!
(Man, look at how red Keith's blood is, I remember thinking.)
Keith found out about the sharpness of rodent teeth, and I found out I really did not want to be to just like him.
If it wasn't the chipmunk incident that convinced me that I couldn't follow Keith's act, it may have been his "rattlesnake hunts" a year or two later that cemented things once and for all. He would bicycle--often with older older brother Kevin (who may have been a little reluctant, but naturally did not want to be showed up by young buck Keith)--several miles to the Quincy lakes to the snakes' dens, carrying a stout stick as his "weapon of choice." Keith and Kevin always seem to find the snakes, dodging the serpents' strikes long enough to disable them and take their rattles as "trophies."
If this mundane, commonplace activity did not do enough to discourage me from emulating Keith, occasionally he did something different with the snakes: he brought them home in a five-gallon bucket! His aim in doing this never was clouded by bad intentions, however--he just wanted to "play" with them a little. Find out what they were made of, you know.
Luckily, Keith never did get a full appreciation of what was inside a rattlesnake, but I think he did get a pretty good sense of what our mom was made of after a few of these trips. The venom, as it turned out, came from a different source than what he was expecting.
So it may have been official at this point: I didn't want to be just like Keith. It simply wasn't happening. Snake wrangling wasn't my gig.
Yes, back in the day, before there was reality TV, there was Keith. What an opportunity missed! Where were the cameras to follow him around?
Whether it was shooting our brother Kent in the shoulder at point blank range with a BB gun; cutting Kevin in the hand with a rusty, broken-tipped pocket knife; engaging in a fistfight rope-a-dope with one of our beloved stepdads; chipping golf balls to "inadvertently" crack Kevin in the noggin (which, by the way, indirectly led to my first broken golf club); adopting an adult pheasant to keep as a pet in a second-floor apartment; getting fired from Uncle Jerry's farm for the third or fourth time; rescuing a lame hawk that he found in our cow pasture; or getting sucker punched by some jealous drunk gorilla (who likely had confused him with brother Kurt), Keith was often center stage.
When did he find the time to do all this stuff? Wasn't he supposed to be doing homework or (in later days) working?
Oh yeah--maybe that's why Uncle Jerry kept firing him.
"What about Keith as a fisherman?" some folks might ask.
There are so many pictures of him with fish. Well, as someone who fished with him regularly, when it came to casting a rod, Keith was the luckiest son-of-a-gun that ever lived. And I say that with no bitterness whatsoever. None at all. Not one iota.
Now, if there is one thing about Keith I wish I could copy, it would be the sheer, unadulterated enjoyment he received just from being on the water, fishing. (In his case, you could rightfully describe it as "catching.") I will always miss seeing the effortless way he operated, the pure joy and excitement he displayed in each of his many angling successes. This was his comfortable element, where he was most confident.
(I'm compelled to say, there were times where I thought Keith's confidence bordered on cockiness. And, as I mentioned earlier, my comments here are not tinged with even the slightest amount of bitterness.)
But I digress; one cannot discuss the legacy of Keith the fisherman without touching on a few questions that linger like the proverbial elephant in the back of the room.
The first question is, what kind of ruler was he using to measure all those fish that he caught? (Was there a sliding mechanism involved somehow? Elastic, perhaps? And surely, the 20" gradient did not come before the 19" one? Or did it?)
The second question is--and it's closely related to the first--what type of scale was he using to weigh all those fish? (Was it from a reputable manufacturer? Did he ever get it certified by a third party?)
And finally, the last question is, what numbering system was he using to count all those fish he caught? (Did it originate with the Egyptians? The Mayans? Some other higher order of bean-counters?)
As you can tell, I can only address those questions with more questions. The Keith "mystique" figures to remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Now more than ever, I understand that I couldn't be Keith if I wanted to be. That wasn't my function. I was responsible for verifying his records, his hits and misses. What a compilation!
Well, I guess my biggest miss starts now. I've been skunked fishing a bunch of times, come home without too many times to count, but only now am I finding out what "empty" really means. Where did you put your ruler, Keith? (Not that I will need it.)
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