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25 September 2018


My grandpa kept his earthworms in a tin bucket in a dark corner of the garage. My sister and I, we would dig just a little bit beneath the surface and they would start to show themselves, wiggly in the musty peat. He was the first fisherman I knew, my grandpa. He would sit patiently on the banks of New Mexico lakes or wave his fly rod in a slow and rhythmic wave in the middle of cold mountain streams. But as much as he loved his granddaughters, he didn't have much tolerance for us fishing with him. We chattered way too much. We churned up the waters and wasted bait and asked for lunch when breakfast was hardly over. I haven't been fishing in years.

Even so, when the conversation with our neighborhood boys turned to fishing not too long ago, I was all in. "What do you use for bait?" asked Mario. "Sometimes we grab cockroaches and use them." Eek. OK, well maybe I was mostly in. Without doubt, this would be an new adventure for all of us. 

The boys meet us on Friday afternoon, eagerly early, and load up in the van, ready to go. My teammates scrounge up all the rods they have between them and buy the cheapest fish at the grocery for bait. We ladies supply the people food. We load a cooler of water in the back of the van. Seven boys and 6 adults, ready to roll.

We head north out of the neighborhood. Remember, north from our location pretty much takes you directly to the the US/Mexico border, directly to the river. 
"Derecho." our 15 year old guide directs us.
Following the road, straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead, we pass a family on the side, walking home from school. Bright green and shrubby growth lines the steep bank of the Rio Bravo (Americans know it as the Rio Grande, but we are on the Mexican side so...). The United States lies just a good stone's throw to the right. Farther down the unpaved dirt road, we pass a brick factory, rectangle mud blocks drying under the hot border sun. We drive past all kinds of abandoned shacks and run-down houses and some inhabited ones, too. Who knew people live all the way out here? Finally, the van dips and curves and comes to a stop in an open field when we absolutely can drive no farther. 

A tethered horse lifts his head as if to check us out, but quickly gets back to grazing. Over the course of the afternoon, we also meet a family of pigs, wallowing and snorting in the mud at the edge of the river. A couple of cows wander by. A herd of goats trot through on their way home at the end of the day. 

The boys string their rods, bait their hooks, and wait. I'm pretty sure that my grandpa would have banned several of them, they way a couple splash and shout. Although the boys tried earnestly, they didn't catch one fish on this afternoon. One boy did hook two turtles, releasing each to scurry back into the water in a hurry. Several times, lines got snagged and caught on river debris and had to be cut and set free. Eventually, one boy went back to his fishing tool of choice, an old empty brown beer bottle wrapped with line, a spark plug tied on for a weight. 

And then, after a longer time than we expected, we caught the attention of the US Border Patrol. We figure we are being watched, and finally spot a camera on a tall pole set back from the river's edge. We see one vehicle and then another pull up on the bank across the water. We watch them as, through binoculars, they watch us. We amuse ourselves, wondering what they might make of this crew, a few gringo and Mexican adults sitting in the sand, a few Mexican boys fishing. I mourn that we live in a place where goofy boys can't go fishing and swim in the river without being watched by officials on the other side.

We scarf down tortas, crusty rolls dusted with flour and stuffed with beans and ham and cheese and avocado, while continually waving away the ever increasing number of flies. The boys start the afternoon mostly dry, but eventually succumb to the heat and to the call of the cool water. They dive and splash until we call it a day and pile back in the van for the return trip home. 

Really, I'm still the impatient and restless girl that my grandpa hesitated to take along on his fishing trips. Nonetheless, just as I knew with absolutely certainty from my grandpa, I abide in the deep love of my heavenly Father. I'm trusting Jesus. I remember back at the beginning of his earthly ministry, we are told about a time that Jesus met some young men fishing. Scripture tells us, 
Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed." (Matt 4:18-20, The Message)
We're praying that he's making new fishermen out of these boys, too.

1 comment:

Dawn Zenkner said...

I love this story. Thank you for posting and giving us a little peek into your day.