While my son, Oliver, was undergoing cancer treatment, my family of three read a book about Curious George heading to the fishing hole. That image—which reminded me so much of my own childhood, trotting down a wooded path like Opie Taylor—seemed like the perfect leisurely escape from the hospital's cosmos of sadness. Oliver grasped the concept of fishing only slightly, perhaps because it offered a more charming space far away from the hallways of the cancer floor. At the same time, I was reading The Idle Parent, a book that, in one chapter, lauds the simple luxuries packed into life on a pond, pole in hand. We all dream of an idyllic escape, I suppose.
Just last week, while devouring birthday cake atop a place mat that depicted a map of the United States, Oliver stopped his hand at North Dakota and proclaimed that he'd go fish there. Several times during our stays in the hospital, Oliver's grandfathers promised that they would take him fishing. But, over the Fourth of July holiday, his grandmother actually gave him that opportunity.
This first fishing trip wasn't your average walk to a pond. We had traveled to Duxbury, Mass., to visit the family of my wife, Stacy, before heading back to New York for Oliver's final round of surgery. Known for its fishing culture, Duxbury sits on the bay just southeast of Boston; boats can be seen throughout the town, in garages, in the marsh, docked up three stories on parking structures.
The day before we were to set off to sea, one of Oliver's grandmother's best friends scooted out in his own boat to drop several lobster traps. Growing up on the peninsula that juts from Duxbury Beach, Captain Billy's family had a long history with the water just outside his front door. Setting lobster traps only a day in advance may not result in any lobsters, Billy warned us. "It usually takes three or four days, but maybe little Oliver will bring us some luck."
Still, the next day, Oliver excitedly jumped on the boat with his puffy orange life jacket and a huge smile. As we headed into the bay, Oliver talked endlessly about the lobster he would catch. Soon, we pulled alongside the orange buoy floats that marked Billy's six traps. The first captured about 10 crabs, including a large spider crab that Billy dropped in the deck of the tiny boat. Traps two, three and four produced the same result; Oliver asked about the mythical lobster. When Billy started reeling in the fifth trap, it hit the starboard side of the boat. "Lobster!" his wife exclaimed.
During the episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Big Fish in a Small Town," an amateur catches the town's legendary silver carp named Old Sam and sends him off to the "Raleigh Aquarium" for viewing. The Mayberry crew causes an uproar at his absence, to which Andy responds, "Well, a fish is a fish, Floyd." But the wise Floyd promptly retorts, "Not when it's been given a name."
Similar to Old Sam, we released Oliver's new friend—which he instantly named Larry—back into the bay later in the afternoon. As Floyd would have had it, Larry will go down as more than just a fish—or, as it were, a lobster—in Oliver's tale.