hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 3, 2013

Granddaughter's first fish a whopper

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — She’s 3-foot-2, eyes of blue, answers to the name of Mazie Grace, and is on the verge of turning 4.

She’s one of six grandchildren, competing for attention with two older brothers and a younger sister. She can’t hit a baseball like the boys, but put a fishing pole in her hands and she suddenly turns dynamite. She’ll hide a chocolate chip cookie under her pillow and usually comes out of a bathtub dirtier than when she entered.

There we were, on a lake, just before her second year of preschool. Her only previous experience with a fishing pole came earlier this summer, when she tried casting from the dock while her brothers were already sinking worms.

The experience turned into a nightmare, as all three lines got tangled, with hooks flying amok. I was able to save the moment by removing the entire mess to shore and calling it a day.

Mazie’s debacle drew immediate rebuke from her siblings.

“Stick to your dolls,’’ they intimidated. “Fishing is a big boy’s game.”

All my grandchildren are near and dear to me. I don’t know what it is about a granddaughter that steals your heart with every glance. If she gets a bit more attention and affection than the others, it’s only because I may be a tiny bit partial.

The fishing calamity only made her more determined than ever to show up her brothers.

“Let’s go hit the lake,” I suggested, without the boys knowing. “What’s more, we’ll take their two rods. We’ll bait them both up with crawlers and see what happens.”

We chugged up the motor and sputtered away toward the weed patches across the lake. It was an overcast day with hardly another boat to be seen anywhere, much less a ripple. In the distance were two brothers crying, “Hey, what about us?”

It takes work to be a proud grandfather. And a little bit of forbearance. What you do for one, you must do for another. If one child wants to fish, you take on a crew. What gets downright chaotic is when all six want to fish and there are only three poles.

“Let’s take turns,” you recommend, before hearing a chorus of “me first.”

Mazie had that look of impetuosity like she was on a mission. For someone her age, she’s grown up in an arena of tomboys, hitting the same balls her brothers wallop and kayaking with the same oars. What they do always seems to be the ultimate way.

“Papa, do you think I’ll catch a fish?” she cooed.

“Only time will tell,” I answered with a silent prayer. “Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

Down went the anchor and out went the lines, bobbers and all.

“See that red and white ball? If that sinks, it means you’ve got a fish,” I explained.

As time passed, so did our conversation. We talked about school and her upcoming dance classes. We spoke about the playground we had visited the day before and the trip to the arcade. We chatted about her swimming lessons and the upcoming trip to Disneyworld to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. It will be done family-style.

Then, as fate would have it, one bobber submerged, then the other. A double hit!

“Grab one. I’ll take the other,” I barked.

I reeled in a sunfish so small it barely fit in the palm of my hand. Meanwhile, there was Mazie, negotiating her fish.

Out of the water it broke, like a marlin in its final gasp, and again, a second time.

“Hang in there Mazie. It’s your fish.”

“Take the rod, Papa. I’m afraid.”

“Hey, it’s your fish, Mazie. C’mon. Got yourself a whopper. Let’s bring her home.”

It’s as if her pride were at stake — retribution for all the insolence she received from her brothers. The fish was a fighter. So was she.

After much trepidation and reeling, she saw the large-mouth bass approach the boat. The more it flipped, the more it flopped.

With one fell swoop, I grabbed it with the net and hauled it aboard. Mazie kept her distance from the behemoth, thinking it might suddenly swallow her whole. Over the side it splashed, waiting to be displayed and ceremoniously photographed.

The boys were waiting with an impetuous grin. Their sister had failed to meet their mettle this one time. No crown was to be shared this day.

“I caught a fish — a big bass,” came a velvety voice from the boat. “Bigger than you caught.”

On this day, Mazie Grace was “Amazing Grace.” She caught her big fish and upstaged her brothers. Moments like these are meant to be preserved forever.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.