St. John’s River, Florida

Dad and I are on the St. John’s River just inside Florida’s Ocala National Forest. Eight ten-foot rods arch from the side of the boat like giant spider legs. Our fishing guide is Denny. His job is to ensure that we catch a lot of fish. He’s a salty dog and I flirt shamelessly with him. Dad threatens to kick Denny’s ass right there in the boat. “It’s her,” Denny waves his cigarette at me, “not me!” But I can do no wrong in my dad’s eyes.

My first pole was a thirty-three-inch mustard-yellow Snoopy rod with a black-and-white Woodstock on the handle. Dad and I fished with worms freshly dug from early-morning Missouri soil. The hook pierced the flesh, turning them into perfect dirt-clad curls. A red bobber floated on the muddy surface. I waited for it to plunge. When I caught my first croppy, I knew by the smile on Dad’s face that I had won a prize bigger than a six-inch fish.

Last January, Dad called with the diagnosis.

“It’s cancer,” he said, “but it ain’t gonna kill me, you know.”

Please log in to access the full content.
If you are new to Narrative, signing up is FREE and easy.