This week we’re going to take a trip down Memory Lane! Each day this week I’ll be posting one of five of my favorite stories ever published here. Some are taken from books (like today’s) and others have only been published online thus far. These are some funny, some sad, some heart-warming moments from the life we’ve lived. I invite you to enjoy them with me, too.
Alex’s Fish Story
July 3rd, 2005
“I was waiting for Dad to come get me,” Alex calmly explained to his mother. Stifling back a laugh at first, she finally came to realize the amazing depth of trust in that statement.
You see, there’s a bit more to the story.
On a hot, muggy Virginia morning, the three Campbell boys headed out to a small private pond to do some fishing. One day prior, the eldest and his father had enjoyed a leisurely hour or two catching a dozen or more little fishies with the owner of the pond. It was so great, we wanted to do it again, and this time with younger brother, Alex.
We drove down in the golf cart, which was a bit of an adventure of its own, and got ready to do some fishin! We had even brought some fish food to entice the big catfish up to the surface. It worked! They were amazing! Really big fish with big mouths that they opened up wide and swished across the top of the water from side to side, catching as much of the floating food as they could with one gulp.
Once we had gotten a bunch of fish around the dock, we loaded up the hooks with worms and tossed in a couple lines. One for Ian, and one that Alex & Dad shared. I was thinking as we did, “What if we actually catch one of those catfish?!” I didn’t really want to try and take them off the pole! And, I was warily watching Ian, as I was not sure he could reel one of those suckers in!
We had a few nibbles, even a few times the bobber went completely under the water… but no luck for a while. Alex was having enough fun just feeding the fish the food we had brought, so he did that and Ian and Dad fished.
We were on a little twelve-foot by eight-foot dock at the edge of the pond, so we had a nice spot to fish from, but a bit dangerous as the boys like to get close to the edge to see the fishies, which Dad was none too comfortable with! So, with the occasional warning, we had no problem.
Not long into the hot afternoon, there was finally some action! After all those nibbles, we finally had something! I started reeling in something larger than a little brim and told the boys to come look! Ian was getting excited too, but had to pay attention to his own bobber out on the water. I finally caught a glimpse of it. It was a bass! About twelve inches long or so. Nice!!!
As I reeled it in and brought it up on the dock I called to the boys to get them to come see it up close. I was reaching for the fish to pull it off the hook when it happened.
I couldn’t really believe I had just heard it. I thought for a second that I hadn’t. But, I had. I turned toward the sound to find Alex was gone! Just… gone! So as Ian continued fishing, not really knowing what was happening, I hurried over to the edge of the dock, and I don’t remember if I put my pole down first or after I got there, but it still had the bass on it when I did! As I reached the edge, I looked over the side and there was Alex’s orange hat… UNDER the water! The water was quite murky, so that’s mostly all I could see—his hat and his slightly raised arms floating under the water, appearing to be heading down.
I just froze. I looked down, incredulous, and I was sort of waiting for him to at least try to come back up. Then I would reach down and get him. It was only about two and a half or three feet to the water surface, so I could probably do it. But… nothing. Not any movement at all!
So I jumped.
I couldn’t see the bottom, but it sure did look like he was sinking, and he wasn’t moving! So, I jumped in with visions of other frantic parents you see in the movies searching to no avail through murky, child-stealing waters. I was not sure what I would find, or what I would do, but love for my son just made me jump!
(I hate even the idea of swimming in ponds, by the way.)
Thankfully, I hit the bottom not long after the surface. The water level was about half-way up my chest. I immediately grabbed Alex and pulled him out of the water. He gasped quickly, and I set him up on the bench on the dock to catch his breath. He coughed a bit, and I asked repeatedly—but calmly—“Alex, are you OK?” His first response was a very shaky, “No…” But, I could tell he was breathing mostly normally, and all was going to get better soon.
It was at this point, Alex being out of danger, that I noticed that the bass was still on my line. Not only that, he was swimming right next to me! For some reason, he had not tried to escape, and drag the pole with him. He ended up in the water, and just stayed there during my rescue efforts. So I removed him from the hook, and let him go.
I got out of the water, and tried to reflect on what had just happened in that five to seven seconds that felt so much longer. I sat next to Alex, who was still shaking, and put my hand on his back. We just sat there in silence for a few moments. Perhaps he was soaking it in as well. (No pun intended…)
Ian broke the silence with a classic Ianism. “This is a day I will never, EVER forget.” (You have to actually say it out loud the way Ian would for it to be an Ianism.) Ian continued to make sense of it in his own way by saying a few more things, but I don’t remember exactly what they were.
Within a few short seconds or minutes, I am not sure, I noticed Ian’s pole dip way down. He had something!!! And as Ian struggled to hold on and reel in the beast, I thought, “Oh no! Ian’s going to get dragged in too!!!” So I jumped to my feet and grabbed on to his pole too! Even with me helping, that fish was putting up quite a fight! We figured we had caught one of those giant catfish, or maybe a whale. That was my second guess. We shall never know as the fish broke the line just as I was trying to figure out what in the world to do with a 2-foot catfish caught by a not quite 4-foot little boy.
“I think it’s time to go back inside, boys,” I said in my fatherly wisdom. They concurred.
We packed everything up and went for a therapeutic ride through the woods on the golf cart. We approached the house, and found that Mom and sister had just headed down to the pond to visit with the boys, unaware of all that had transpired. We met up with the girls and began to explain the whole sequence of events, finally heading inside to clean up.
Still processing everything by recounting the story to Mom, Alex came up with a line that just stunned me upon hearing it. I actually heard it through Jen’s retelling.
“I was waiting for Dad to come get me.”
He was submerged under water quickly and unexpectedly, and he does not usually find himself in such a predicament anyway! No struggle. No attempt to swim. Nothing. He was just “waiting for Dad to come get him.”
What kind of trust does it take to do that? Perhaps a bit of ignorance of the danger he was in? Perhaps. But just the fact that he would say that was so incredible. How many times do we fight and struggle and kick and flail—and it gets us no where—because we aren’t waiting for our Dad to come get us?
He can, and He will.
It was quite a day. I will not ever forget that image of my son floating to the bottom of a pond, looking already quite dead and lost. I am sure Alex will not forget the experience either, as Ian has already declared for himself.
But I hope I never forget the lesson in trust either.
“I was waiting for Dad to come get me.”
This post is a chapter in the book Life In The Rearview Mirror: Reflections on Life Lived
by Greg Campbell, available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.