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.”

People on couch
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