Butch’s dad never took him fishing. He figured most of it out by himself before making some friends who really knew what they were doing. He was a very unlucky fisherman.
There was a lake near our first apartment in Copperas Cove, Texas. A dock ran from shore out to the middle of the lake where there was a building with two fishing holes inside. Old theater chairs were arranged around a large rectangle that was cut out to expose the lake. There were rails all the way around to prevent falling in. Bright lights shone on the water. This attracted bugs, which attracted fish. You could sit in the somewhat comfy chair with your feet propped up on the railing and fish. People all around us were catching fish. Butch was doing what they did but catching nothing. He handed me a pole. The minute my line passed over a specific spot, I caught a fish. This happened three times in rapid succession. But when Butch passed his line over that same spot, nothing happened. Having caught my limit in 10 minutes, I sat next to him until I could not stay awake any longer. I headed back to our campsite with him promising he would be along shortly. I woke up at dawn alone. Very frustrated, I threw everything in the car and drove to the dock prepared to chew him out for staying out all night. But when I got there, I found him sitting on the bank of the lake trying to fish with barely alive worms. It was so sad. He fished for hours beside people like me, who caught all the fish in the world and never got a bite.
Another time he caught a huge fish while boat camping with a friend. He couldn’t wait to get home and show it off. They stopped at a marina on the way back to Sacramento, dropping the line of fish in the water while they went inside to keep it in better shape. Unfortunately, they forgot to pull them back up when they returned to the boat. Butch started the engine and pulled away from the dock. The fish went into the propeller. He realized what had happened before the fish was completely destroyed. Wanting to document that he really did catch a big old fish, he brought it home anyway. We have the most heartbreaking picture of him proudly holding his catch. The top half looks great. The bottom half is the completely bare skeleton that was left after the propeller stripped all the tissue off the bones.
One of his coworkers took him fishing once, promising that everyone who fished with him caught fish. To keep that promise, his friend hooked the fish himself, and had Butch reel it in. He once fished for a week with my dad in Minnesota and never caught one fish they could bring home.
He fished in oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams. If you calculated the amount of money he spent fishing against the weight of the fish he caught over his lifetime, it would come out to about $200 per pound. He had the same luck with hunting.
He loved to fish and hunt because it was outside and he just loved to be outside. He loved hiking through the forest, rough camping, and the adventure of it all. He was the kind of guy who could easily lead a wagon train across the plains and deliver you all safely to California (if you weren’t counting on fish or deer for part of your diet). He was the living personification of what Hannibal Hayes used to say at the end of “The A Team” on TV. “I love it when a plan comes together.
He was bigger than life. And he was the wind beneath my wings. All the courage I had, to go bravely out and change the world, came from having him in my life. When he died, I wasn’t sure I had any of my own courage at all. Worse than the sadness in facing life without him was the terror that there was no version of me that could face life without him. I am amazed every day that I pull it off. As it turns out, I was paying attention all those years. I was learning from him every day. Day by day, project by project, I reach into my “What would Butch do?” bag of tricks and find answers to the question. And when I can’t do something on my own, I am even more surprised that I can reach out and ask for help from the many people who have made themselves available to support me.
One of the complications of the mourning process is that sense of having lost our backup and feeling adrift. It can seem like every day we find a new part of our lives that was bolstered by their love for us, another way they quietly contributed to our sense of well-being, and the sense of having our safety net torn to shreds. Becoming us without them means pulling courage from the depths of ourselves that we may not have known we even possessed. It means facing hard things alone sometimes so we know what we are really made of ourselves. More importantly, it means accepting our limitations and reaching out for help and information when we hit a wall. Even though the best version of us appears to have been built on the rock of their presence in our lives, there is an even better version of us that can be built on the love and support of multiple others who are very happy to have tangible ways to help us if we just ask.
This process will be greatly complicated by the fact that we don’t want to find a substitute for them. We want them. If we succeed without them, are we devaluing what we thought only they could be in our lives? Are we losing them again in a new way? Opening a door, we have never gone through alone, brings first, the pain of standing on that threshold without them. It can seem easier not to open new doors at all. Gradually, though, we learn that best version of us can only be found on the other side of the pain. Like the butterfly, that can only gain the strength to fly by fighting its way out of the cocoon, we, too, are learning to fly.
Best of all, it is a pretty cool place once you arrive………….