by Mary Napier
A friend’s son, adopted shortly after birth, was a very successful high school and college wrestler, and presently coaches wrestling. As an adult, he initiated contact with his biological mother, meeting her and her family for the first time. In that rather large extended family he found wrestling was the family sport. His mother’s father had been a coach, uncles had been wrestlers, and, unknown to him at the time, my friend’s son had coached his own second cousin. A wrestling gene?
In the eons-old question “Is it nature or nurture?”, this story tips the scales in favor of nature, that hereditary disposition we are born with which determines much of who we are, our athletic preferences as well as our facial features. In the area of long-term health and longevity, there is a significant hereditary component, prompting experts in the field to humorously suggest that if you want to live a long life, you should choose your parents wisely. But our parents, and grandparents, perhaps give us more than healthy hearts and strong bones. They may give us our passions as well.
People who know me know I am passionate about fishing. I’ve put dinner in the oven, a timer in my pocket and headed out to the backyard pond, fishing until dinner was ready. I’ve gone out again after dinner on a summer evening and fished until mosquitoes made me reconsider my decision. And my passion for fishing pales in comparison to that of my brother’s, who at any given moment is thinking about fishing, preparing to go fishing, fishing, or coming back from fishing. I’ve occasionally written about our life-long love of fishing in my blog entitled The Angle, a name taken from the title of the first published book on fishing, a work attributed to Juliana Berners, a 15th century British nun. She was a writer, she fished, and she loved God and His creation. I thought her a fitting inspiration for a blog that I subtitled “…eclectic ramblings from faith to fishing…” Yes, fishing does seem to find its way into most parts of my life.
Several years ago I made two interesting discoveries that caused me to revisit this familial trait and view it through the lens of heredity. I’d been sorting through old papers and years of memorabilia, old photos and newspaper clippings I brought back from my mom’s house when I was cleaning it out. In the midst of all the papers was a small white envelope with the printed return address of the Herald Tribune, a long-running New York City daily newspaper that ceased publication in 1966. In the envelope I found a yellowed newspaper clipping from the same paper. It was an obituary for my grandfather, my father’s father, a man I never knew, someone who had died five years before I was born. It read in part:
Death called on one of the finest characters we have had occasion to meet, John Zima, who has been with the Herald Trib since March 1933. He was well known to most all of the party boat operators from Sheepshead Bay to Babylon and many of our metropolitan tackle merchants. He passed away Monday afternoon in his 63rd year. Funeral services will be held…
The rest of the obituary continued on with the usual information of times, dates, funeral home and church location, surviving family members. What was not usual about my grandfather’s obituary was this death notice was embedded in a column in the sports section, entitled Angler and Hunter: Sportsmen’s Needs by Jack Brawley. The item about my grandfather was printed right after the Jones Beach striped bass surf report (“…weighing 23 ¾ pounds, the other a 22 ½ pounder…taken on an eel rig…on a metal squid…”) and then followed by a party boat report (“…250 mackerel…a mako shark…”). I assume there had been an obituary somewhere in the usual section of the paper reserved for such notices, but I found it significant that a fishing columnist found it appropriate to put it in his column as well. The passion for fishing my paternal grandfather had, to be known by boat owners and bait shops from Sheepshead Bay to Babylon, a distance of almost 40 miles, speaks of someone who did a LOT of fishing.
The same obituary could probably have been written about my own father five years later, his passion for fishing at least equaling if not surpassing that of his father. Though I don’t know how well known he was in fishing circles on the south shore of Long Island, my father owned two boats at the time of his death, and our house was still filled with his rods, reels and tackle during my childhood, eventually to be absorbed into the acquired fishing paraphernalia of my brother and me. Yes, my mother and her father did take my brother and I fishing as children, so I guess there was some degree of nurture along with the predisposed nature in both of us to fish.
But in my continued sorting of old papers and photographs, I came across a picture that I don’t remember seeing before, one that explains a lot about me, like why I can be oblivious to the five fishing rods quite visibly leaning up against the wood stove in the family room, the five tackle boxes nearby on the floor. In the picture, my father is holding me, a very young child, about six months old. There is not enough detail in the background to accurately determine where this picture was taken, but it appears to be in my bedroom or living room of the house I grew up in. The significant detail, aside from the father-daughter moment, is the three fishing rods standing in the corner of the room, there because, well, why not? Living room, family room, or baby’s bedroom – if you are passionate about fishing, your rods are always nearby…
Our family fishing passion has appeared to skip our children’s generation, none exhibiting quite the same obsession as the generations before them. Perhaps there will be grandchildren who will leave rods and reels in random corners of their houses, scraps of fur and feathers from fly tying scattered on their carpets. (Guilty!) If not, that’s O.K. Looking toward my children and beyond, I’d like to think I’ve bequeathed other more valuable attributes than how to bait a hook or tie a Gartside Gurgler, though these are valuable skills, too. I want to be a healthy conduit, passing on good spiritual and emotional as well as physical characteristics to the generations following me. And if the fishing gene – if there is such a thing – becomes dominant again in the midst of those other good things, all the better. But for my brother and myself, lovers of fishing that we are, we can turn and look back in our hereditary line and confidently see we have chosen our father and grandfather wisely.
Mary Napier is a former stay-at-home mom and retired church admin person. She and her husband recently moved to a suburb of Minneapolis because the Chicago area just wasn’t cold or snowy enough. When she isn't blogging God-related perspectives on current topics or writing her family’s spiritual history, she enjoys reading, knitting, fishing or tying flies. You can read her eclectic ramblings in The Angle at marynapier.blogspot.com. or follow her family’s spiritual history at habanrus.blogspot.com.