“No, son,” my brother says. “It’ll scare the fish. Just a little bit longer and we’ll quit. I thought you wanted some trout?”
Dylan stands on one leg like a flamingo, his head tilted as if he’s considering the question. If he ever wanted any trout, it’s gone now, the notion floated downstream like a toy boat. His younger brother, Evan, has retrieved a fallen tree branch from the riverbank and is swatting at something, probably a dragonfly. He looks like the world’s youngest conductor, coaxing music only he can hear from a symphony of hidden fish.
My brother has finally cast his line to just the right spot. In a few minutes, the end of his fishing pole trembles like the arm of a meter on some delicate instrument.
“Kayden, come here,” he says. “Here, hold this. When I tell you, start reeling him in like this.”
Jeff holds on with one hand to help her set the hook. I can see the back of his head is brown and realize that I am probably getting burned. I haven’t been outside much, especially without a hat on, and these days neither Jeff nor I have enough hair left on top to protect us from the sun’s burning rays. You should have seen us 20 years ago — I had enough hair for a ponytail, and Jeff wore a mullet. Neither of us weighed as much as 175 pounds. A lot of years and pounds since then.
Kayden, my 5-year-old daughter, has never caught a fish, and doesn’t seem too sure about the enterprise. As usual, though, she is game for anything. The pole jerks again, and Jeff sets the hook. Now the pole bends, but not with enough force that she can’t reel him in by herself, which is what I was hoping. If it’s a trout, it’s not a big one.
“Whoa,” she says.
“Just keep reeling,” Jeff says. “Like this.”
He helps her just enough to prove to her that she can do it alone. In a few more seconds, a small fish breaks the water and briefly dangles in the air. Kayden is excited. She caught her first fish. Now what? Jeff grabs the fish, a hornyhead, with one hand and pulls the hook out with the other.
“Here, you want to touch him?” he says, offering the fish to Kayden as if it were a popsicle.
“No thanks,” she says with an adorable breeziness. She caught a fish. Milestone accomplished. I know that she is thinking about what she’ll say to mommy, the narrative already taking shape in her head — her first fish tale.
I look back toward the house, way up on the hill past the pond. I can see Tammy with one hand on our 2-year-old son, Jack, who has lately discovered the tremendous joy of being at the wheel — of anything. Now he’s on their riding lawnmower.
“Drive, drive,” he says, constantly. He is, like his grandpa, never more contented than when he is holding a steering wheel. He will gladly sit in the driver’s seat of my car for as long as I can stand it, moving the wheel back and forth as if he were navigating a series of cones in a driving competition. He pushes random buttons on the dashboard, gives the turn signal a try, then the windshield wipers, the gearshift. Then more driving.
“Yay!” he yells, bouncing up and down in my lap, looking out the window to see whatever there is to see in a driveway. I can see him bouncing up and down on the mower, laughing. I wish his grandpa were here to see it, to have seen Kayden catch that fish. I wish he could have met them.
“Hey, Chris, you want to see some tadpoles?” Dylan says.
My brother and his wife are renting this house, but they are thinking about buying it, and I hope they do. A stream stocked with rainbow trout. A good-sized lake with tadpoles and bullfrogs. A wrap-around deck overlooking it all, 5 acres, open fields. I can see a decade of kids playing ball, riding sleds in the winter and go-carts in the summer, fishing for bass, pup tents pitched near the river at dusk, flashlight beams slicing up the trees, their parents watchful on the deck, talking about how fast it goes, how fast they are growing up.
“I would love to see some tadpoles,” I say. “Will you show me some?”