The Boy

When I was young, I spent many hours on the beach watching the waves roll in. The rougher the sea, the more I liked it. The relentless fury filled me with excitement.
I would search the beach at the tide line looking for anything of use. This was during the war and often canned food would get washed up from the ships that had sank. I had learned that if the can was bloated then the contents had likely spoiled and I should leave the can where it lay. But sometimes I would find a can that was clean and in good condition. We were so hungry and the food from those cans tasted so good. I would run home to my mother with my treasure and she would open the cans so carefully; sometimes the food would be edible. One time, I found a large can of peanut butter. That can lasted a long time.

I didn’t realize at the time that the ships that had sank were the very ships striving to bring us food. They had been torpedoed by an enemy bent on starving us into submission.

But I was young and the reality of war hadn’t yet been imprinted in my mind. Britain was at war! I knew that my cousins were fighting in the army and my father was at sea, as he had been all his life. But it still wasn’t real for me! My world was a small one. I went to school, I worked at the farm across the road, where I helped with the milking before going to school, and I played on the beach! The beach was a sanctuary, an escape. The smell of the salt air and the spray of water on my face gave me the feeling of a connection with a majestic force.

The beach had very high tides, as much as 26 feet from high to low water. I had learned about this and also how to set a night line from an old man. This man, our neighbour, told me that a night line was a simple way of catching fish. It consisted of a line about 300 feet long with short leader and hook every 6 feet (or fathom). I bought the line and hooks with the bit of money I earned at the farm, and the old man helped me make up my line. He talked as we worked and I was thrilled just to hear him tell his stories of his time at sea.

My line complete, I made my way down to the waters edge at low tide, laid out the line and carefully staked each end of it. Then I started to bait each hook with a lug worm that I had
previously dug up. I worked fast but as I got to my last hook the tide had turned and the sea was lapping at my feet. I stood and watched as the water covered my first night line and wondered why it was called a night line when it would remain there day and night.

I had set my line at 6.00 in the evening and had to return at 5.00 the next morning to see if I had caught any fish. My mother and younger sister were very sceptical of my ability to catch anything. Reluctantly my mother allowed me to use the alarm clock. I set it for 4.30 the following morning. At the sound of the alarm I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, ran down the stairs, pulled on my boots, and headed out the door. Back then there were no buildings between my house and the sea, just wind swept dunes. I knew the way by heart.

There was a little light as I made my way to the beach. I ran down to the shore toward the white foam that marked the edge of the receding sea. I stood, barely able to contain my excitement, waiting to see my line uncovered. It seemed I waited forever. Then, I saw a movement, could it be, yes, it was a fish on my line. It was a young cod about 18 inches long. I had brought a canvas bag to carry all the fish I had anticipated catching. I took the fish off the hook and put it in the bag. Then followed my line looking for more, but there weren’t any more.

I had to dig up more lug worms from the sand to rebait my hooks. I worked frantically to complete the task. The tide was creeping up the side of my boots before I was finished.

I ran home with my fish; surprised my mother with it, then hurried over to the farm. The sound of unaccustomed praise rang in my ears.

I kept that night line going through summer and winter for many years. At times I cried in frustration at an empty line or ran around trying to beat away the screaming gulls from the fish on my line.

I can see myself now standing alone on that beach, hands raw from the salt water and so cold that I no longer felt them and I hear the beat of the waves pounding on the shore.

The Boy


Brighton, Canada

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