You would not think something like that would stir up emotion...not good emotion anyway. But it does for my boys and me.
My dad was an avid bass fisherman. He loved nothing more than finding the ultimate honey hole where he could reel in the ultimate lunker. He also loved nothing more than telling a good story and having someone listen to it, especially his grandkids! Dad’s soft plastic fishing worms were very important to him. He loved to come to Birmingham from Jackson, TN where he could load up on Zoom worms from Mark’s Outdoor Sports. I don’t know what exactly, but there was something very special about Zoom worms. For some reason, they could catch a fish better than any other lure.
As Dad aged, he did not get to fish as often as he wanted, but his love for fishing and worms did not fade. He kept holding on to his Zoom worms because they held a special place in his heart, I guess. He kept telling my mom, “Somebody could use those worms, Faye.” He wanted to give them to kids at a nearby school or go to the local lake (Lake Graham, named after my dad) and give them away to his fellow fishermen. “Surely our grandsons will want them,” he would wishfully say.
During the summer of 2015, we went to Jackson one weekend, and I decided to go into the storage room and get Dad’s worms. For my mom’s sanity, I set up a folding table where I could spread them all out. She didn’t want them on the kitchen table because—as only a fishing widow would know—the grease from the worms gets all over the table and is hard to get off. I hadn’t realized fishing worms were so greasy! I laid them out over the table so that Dad could easily reach them in his wheelchair and positioned three chairs for my boys facing Dad. That way he would have the captive audience he so desired in order to enlighten them about his worms. He had a story for every single one! You would have thought he was giving my boys the medals he had from his years in World War II, or one of the many sports articles he had written for the Jackson Sun, or one of his trophies from years of coaching Babe Ruth baseball, or a bumper sticker from when he ran for city council, or a plaque he received for top sales in the snack food business that has been in my family for over 80 years; but no, it was just a bunch of plastic worms (I hope he doesn’t know I said it like that). He pointed out some really nice speckled worms, he educated them about finesse worms, and he even informed them about worms that he referred to as “meat head”. He was careful to divide them equally, making sure that each of the three boys got the same number of those special worms. He was so meticulous about everything that day.
When he finished, he loaded each of the boys’ worms into some of the empty baggies that had held them for the last 10-20 years. The bags had handwritten labels that meant something to him, all sorted by color, tail size, thickness, type, and maybe even rank! It was logical to him, but of course none of it made sense to anyone else.
That day is forever etched in my memory. We knew the end was near for Dad. He was 89-years-old and had suffered two strokes. His times of clarity had lessened with each passing year. I knew it was a moment we needed to seize.
My boys were so happy that they took two hours out of their life to sit and listen to my dad, their granddad, talk about worms. They only obliged because it was important to him; they didn’t realize that it would turn out to be one of the best decisions they would ever make, that it would be one of their last special moments with him.
But it was. Dad died just seven months later.
My boys have the rich memory of that experience with my dad. They each have a baggie of worms with Dad‘s handwriting on it, and they have the actual worms that meant so much to him. Most of all, they have the satisfaction of knowing that when you stop and give the gift of time, especially to a grandparent, there will never be regret. They will never regret making that decision to sit across the table from their granddad learning about worms, but ultimately learning one of life’s great lessons: if you’ve got the lunker in the honey hole, don’t let it get away!
Linda Spain is a 6th grade math teacher at Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills, AL. She and her husband live in Birmingham and have three young adult sons ages 17-23. She enjoys teaching her students, watching sports, and spending time with family and friends.