Every family has its loons. In fact, in my family I might be one. In any event, my wife’s family did not escape the assault of members who might be considered a little off-center.
Take Uncle Ethelbert, for example. His first wife Mary was a Beauty Queen, with no good taste except the body she was given at birth. Mary did have a kind heart, however, and once sent a blouse to her mother-in-law, my wife's grandmother, as a gift. It was a hideous, printed satin blouse, embellished with every conceivable flower and color. It was the kind of gift my wife would say only a husband could purchase.
Now, Grandma had some sense of style and a clothing standard. Mary’s gift did not qualify. So Grandma, rather than waste the item, sent it to her sister, Evelyn, as a birthday present. Evelyn, having been blessed with sight at birth, re-gifted the blouse to her daughter, Rosemarie, who was a little more daring. But Rosemarie was not ready for the funny farm. When the time was right, she passed on the awful material as a Christmas present to Mary, who thanked Rosemarie and wore it proudly for life. When Mary died, Ethelbert notified the family a month later by sending postcards to everyone saying, “Mary died.” Strange family.
Now, what could that possibly have to do with me or a catfish? Well, I had a hell of a summer, about which to this point I have not written. Nevertheless, I fished a great deal this year, mostly around mainland Florida and the Keys. I did little else but write and fish most of 2013, and many might think that quite strange.
On one occasion, about two months ago, I heard about a run of tarpon coming through the Matanzas inlet north of Daytona. With a quick upgrade to heavier tackle, I jumped into my Jeep, with my wife, and took off after the elusive species. The tarpon escaped my pursuit, but it was not long before a vicious tug nearly ripped the rod holder from my vehicle. I was convinced I was experiencing a tarpon strike, so the enjoyment was exquisite, albeit false. When the man-beast struggle appeared to be over, I had landed a gigantic catfish, unlike any I had seen before. Pride cometh before the fall.
I have been fishing my entire life, and some of my adventures were risky at best. Over the years, I had learned the art of focus. Rarely did I lose concentration. Yet, on this occasion, I felt the need to lift the giant sea creature for all to see. I moved my eyes from the beast for merely a second when it spun around and lunged at me with a vengeance, driving its spiked barb through my hand. Getting hooked or fin spiked is part of fishing, but this became a new experience. The barb pierced my hand coming out the other side, with enough blood spurting to draw in sharks from Australia. The barb had to be cut, since I could not pull it back through the hand.
The pain of such a catfish spike has been written about often, but never personally experienced by me. Many believe it contains some kind of venom, and it certainly felt that way. I could not stop the bleeding, so I put my hand in the salt water, took out my first aid kit, and taped up the wound best I could. Fearing infection, I knew I had to race home, contain the bleeding, cover my hand with hydrogen peroxide, and wrap it with a secure bandage. Before I left, however, I realized that everything in life comes full circle. I had assaulted fish with my poor behavior for many years, and now it was my turn to be victimized. Without anger, I released the ugly creature, unharmed, to its sanctuary in the sea.
I am still harboring the pain, the lump, and the scars. Unlike other strange people, I will wear them not-so-proudly for life.
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