by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2019
Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information to last him the rest of his days.”
Today I am going to tell you a story about a boat. In the twelve hours I was aboard that boat, so many moments happened, each one raw material for a story all by itself.
When I was ten years old, my father took me on a fishing trip. He and some of his coworkers had pooled their money to rent a boat for the day, complete with captain, which would take them out to fish for rock cod off the Four Mile Banks near Laguna Beach, CA. My father loved fishing. I was still a bit of a tomboy at that age, so I was quite excited to be in on the adventure.
A fishing trip means you get up while it’s still dark out, drive down to the marina, find the right dock, and go aboard. I was the only kid on board. I learned later that my father’s co-workers weren’t exactly thrilled to have me along for the trip. Back then adults still believed in behaving themselves in front of children. Me being there meant they couldn’t drink and gossip and carry on the way they’d been planning. I still wonder if my father knew that, or if he knew and just didn’t care.
There we were, heading out of the marina, the sky still black and dotted with stars. I didn’t have much experience with boats, so this was a rare thrill for me. I sat on the rail, holding on to the strip of wood on the side of the main cabin that stuck out like a smaller rail. I watched the bow wave, marveling at the reflection of all the lights on the dark water. One good whitecap could have jolted me loose and thrown me over the side. I don’t know why the adults let me sit out there all alone in such a precarious position. Daddy was a twenty year Navy man. Maybe he thought I had enough Navy in my blood to give me good instincts aboard ship. If my mother had ever found out about this moment in my seagoing adventures, the closest I would have gotten to another boat would have been floaty toys in the bathtub.
The captain took a liking to me. I think that had to do with me catching the first fish. It was a young shark about as long as my arm with eyes the color of pale jade. The captain declared me to be lucky, then asked me if I wanted to keep it or let it go. This was not an “eating fish,” as my father called them, so it seemed only right to let the shark go. From then on wherever I cast or dropped my line, I caught the most fish. Daddy found this hugely entertaining. Later on he told me my good luck did not endear me to his coworkers, who had placed bets on who would catch the most and the biggest fish. Apparently my catches counted toward Daddy’s total.
Then came the moment that was the polar opposite of all the joy I felt sailing along in the dark. Rock cod are considered good eating by humans and other fish. As we reeled in our catch, those other fish showed up and tried to steal them off our lines. At first I couldn’t understand why the rock cod were coming up with big red holes in their sides. Daddy told me to go up on the flying bridge and look out over the water.
Circling the boat were two thresher sharks. These are really not much trouble, but this happened right around the time when Jaws had hit the theaters. There I was, out in a relatively small boat, miles offshore, being circled by the two biggest sharks I’d ever seen in person. Scared the living daylights out of me, much to the amusement of the adults.
Why am I telling you this story? There’s a lot more to this day. I haven’t even mentioned the poker game. (The adults wouldn’t let me play. A) I was too young, and B) I was already too lucky!) Mine your life for these moments. You were there! You know the details that will bring those moments to life.