I was twenty-two, still a student at ASU, and living in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Pappy (my mom’s dad) had cancer that started as a melanoma on the side of his head, moved to his throat, and eventually moved to his lungs. It was inoperable. He was in his early seventies.
He was in a hospital in Conway and there was nothing the doctors could do. Mom and Dad called and told me he’d been moved to the hospice section. I drove down to see him.
He was on a lot of pain medication. He couldn’t speak. But from his eyes it seemed he was still fighting. He’d been a fighter all his life, for better or worse.
I’d been lucky enough to grow up close to Mammy and Pappy. When I was little, we lived in a singlewide trailer on the same lot as Pappy’s house. The community was called Skunk Hollow.
His house had a pond behind it and a canal connected it to Lake Conway. Pappy was an exceptional outdoorsman and used to take me (and many of my cousins) fishing on the lake. He even took a few of us hunting.
I was very close to him. So close we could go for hours without saying a word to each other. Words were, for the most part, unnecessary. The last time I saw him was no different.
The week after my last visit, I was back in Jonesboro mucking out stalls for a horse doctor. It was a no-breeze, steamy August afternoon and all I could think about was him.
After dumping another wheelbarrow load onto the small mountain of manure I looked up at the sky. Big, billowy clouds floated across a bright blue sky. I felt chills as I said, “Lord, I pray you take him so he doesn’t suffer anymore.” Then a wave of peace and sadness came over me.
When I got home I found out that Pappy had gone home. I’d known it from the moment I prayed but it was still unbelievable. I went down to his visitation the next day.
Visitations are sad but it was good seeing all my family. A dead body is nothing like a sleeping body. Life is the spirit and it clearly was not there.
I just stood there not knowing what to do but missing him terribly and trying to remember the sound of his voice. I went outside and cried. Inside, I was a mix of inconsolable sadness and rage. That kind of emotion takes a lot out of you. I took a breath and thought about him and what he’d want me to do.
I knew it wasn’t crying and throwing a fit over something that can’t be changed. Fishing on the other hand seemed like something he’d approve of, even if I couldn’t bait the hook for the tears.
I left the visitation and went back to his house, the same old house in Skunk Hollow. I picked up a fishing pole and tried not to cry. I knew he’d rather me fish than hangout at some funeral home. His body might be in the casket but he was with Jesus in a much better place.
Standing on the bank of the pond behind his house, near the canal that led out to the lake, I rigged up a purple, triple-ripple worm. Texas-rigged, just like he’d taught me years ago. As I looked across the pond, I thought about all of our adventures. My arms felt like limp noodles as I casted that worm out.
My mind was in a different time and space, a million miles away. I watched the worm hit the water. Immediately my line shot out and an unseen heaviness bowed my rod down. I jerked up to set the hook but the rod bowed more. The fish was heavy and the rod just kept bending downward. A few seconds later, the eight-pound bass was tearing through lily pads. I kept his head up and eventually he was flopping on the muddy bank. I was whooping, hollering, and crying all at the same time.
God reached down from heaven to me that afternoon and without words he sent an undeniable message that Pappy was with him. I conveyed that message to everyone else that was present by grabbing the fish and running around like a crazy man yelling: “Look at this fish! Pappy’s alive! He’s alive! He’s in heaven!”
Romans 8:28 declares: “All things work together for the good for those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose.” God does not cause tragedies. Death is a result of Adam’s sin. But God does loves each and every one of us and He will comfort us if we let him. Be on the look out. He will be found when you seek him and he will hear you when you pray.
He worked my Pappy’s death to my good through a fish. Through a fish He fed the five thousand; my fish was a miracle equal in measure, at least to me. That bass changed my understanding of God and deepened my faith forever. I realized He is personally interested in me. And that knowledge allowed Him to deliver other miracles during darker times in my life because He knew I would give Him the credit and tell others about Him because of it. And one day I will see Pappy again.
That is the true victory won by my closest friend. He died on a hill called Calvary but rose again.
Thanks for reading and God bless.
p.s. Skunk Hollow is mentioned in Malevolent Tide, as well as several fish and a whale.