My grandfather died on November 19, 2008. Born Alexander Paolucci, this master fisherman was known among his family and friends as “The Bass Hunter.”
My father was the only son of five children; therefore, his relationship with my grandfather was different than that of his sisters.
They were best friends, two strong links in a long family chain. When I was old enough, I was introduced to fishing. Being five years old at the time, I was a casualty of impatience.
I had an Atari waiting for me at home, and a slew of Star Wars toys just begging to be played with. Yet, I could never deny the thrill of seeing a bobber plunge beneath the surface, or the sudden jerk of a pole.
Fishing with my grandfather was both an exciting and stressful endeavor. There was the pressure of catching a fish, but there was also the stress of catching one before my grandfather threw his line in the water.
Fishing with my father was slightly different, yet no less memorable. A gifted storyteller, he enjoyed reciting tales of past excursions with his own father, tips and advice that my grandfather had given him, and stories about his uncles in Pennsylvania who could give us all a run for our money.
I always knew he wanted me to fall in love with the sport as deeply and as easily as he had done, so he was careful to make it a pleasurable experience.
He expressed his disappointment colorfully whenever we left empty handed, but he always vowed to one day return and make up for it.
The ride home was spent recalling previous trips where the day had proven bountiful, as if he was trying to reassure me that people do actually catch fish sometimes.
All the regaling and bonding aside, anyone could see the true essence of these experiences for what they really were.
It was the celebration and honoring of a family tradition, the reinforcing of old links in the family chain. Stories of these experiences were being written on the face of our family history, which those of us who participated would recollect over time.
When my grandfather died, my father underwent a profound change. He was 60 years old and suddenly without his best friend and mentor.
My father had lost contact with a lot of his old chums, and my brother and I were busy with our own lives. For the first time in his life, after having lost his mother only a few years prior, my father was alone.
He still had his sisters, with whom he was close, but his role model and lifelong companion was gone.
The one act in which he found the greatest solace was fishing.
My father was in mourning, and he was desperate to connect with his late father. When he asked me to go fishing on opening day, my father also mentioned taking my daughter to the Milford Fishing Derby the following month.
I knew that this was more than a casual invitation. In each of these outings, he was both mourning and celebrating his father. By strengthening his relationship with his son and granddaughter through a treasured family pastime, he was keeping his father alive; he was keeping him close.
Opening day was spent listening to stories about my father and grandfather, both humorous and endearing.
I listened attentively, appreciatively, asking questions when necessary, and always expressing my sincere interest.
In his tales, I could feel my grandfather’s presence, as I’m sure my father did as well.
On the drive home, my father beamed with fond reminiscence of trips past, as he recounted every funny mishap and impressive haul in vivid and entertaining detail.
I could almost see the pain lifting away from his heart and knew the healing had officially begun. He had learned how to cope with his grief in a way that made sense to him, but more so, he had learned how to survive his loss emotionally and spiritually.
My father had connected with his past and present through a seemingly lost family art, and in doing so rejoiced in the memory of a legendary fisherman, the fabled Bass Hunter.