P.S. Nolf


“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”  Henry David Thoreau

The only light in my world came from the three-inch hole in the door. Around me was a darkness so dense that I could not see my hands held out to either side. The air was musty. As I looked through the hole with its horizontal bar, I could see the beige linoleum countertop of the laundry room. Through the far glass, the hazy shapes of gray seagulls mewled “Ha, ha, ha, ha” as they soared and dipped through the air. I was trapped in my windowless garage during a power outage.  

Last week I had removed the door knob on the laundry room door to order a replacement.  Unfamiliar with the mechanical workings of locks, I had left the latch assembly. When I entered the garage to fetch a broom, the makeshift doorstop slipped. The door closed. The deadbolt locked. My cell phone was on the other side. 

It was highly embarrassing and kind of scary. My house was far enough from my neighbors that nobody could have heard me scream. As I felt around, I encountered a tackle box filled with lures that Dad had chosen for me. Some of them belonged to his grandfather. Fishing was a skill based on hope. My father would cast lures and tackle out into the waters with great precision avoiding the hazards and sunken logs. I merely tried to keep the hook out of the trees behind me. The secret was to keep your line untangled, fishing for the experience, not the fish.

While fishing we discussed the current political issues of the day. Being at different ends of the political spectrum, we never agreed on the solutions. I remember he took me to his favorite fishing spots along the Juniata River near Harrisburg PA. Some of them had nothing to do with the quality of the fishing.

“Dad, why are we here? Isn’t the water a little rough for bass, or even sunnies?”

“Hear that faint roar down river?”


“That’s a one-foot break-off in the sandstone bed. The fisherman can hear the sound but can’t see the drop-off. So he stands up in his boat. This is the perfect viewing spot.”

We watched several boats float down the shallow water. The fisherman almost always stood up, hit the drop-off, and fell into the water protected by his life jacket.

“That’s a Democrat,” my father always announced.

The novelty of being locked in the garage was less oppressive. The darkness no longer felt so heavy. I noticed my breathing was slowing down. I forced myself to think like my father.  As a child of the Depression, he prided himself on his ability to build or fix anything. He installed a bathroom, added electrical outlets to rooms, and built hope chests for his daughters. He tried to teach me these basic home survival skills but it was easier to rely on him.

There was a MacGruber side to our MacGyver adventures. Dad had an eight-foot, aluminum jon boat with an electric motor and oars for backup. He maintained a truck and trailer to haul his boat to the loading ramps. After he backed the trailer down the ramp and into the water, my job was to stand on the upper level of the ramp and hold on to the boat’s rope as he parked the truck and trailer. 

Off he drove into the busy parking lot. I looked at the gorgeous view of the slow-moving river flowing through the colorful autumn foliage of the surrounding hills. I wished I had a camera to capture this day. When I looked at the boat, it seemed lower in the water. I double-checked. Yes, it was sinking fast. By the time my father walked back to the boat, the only objects left on the ramp were me and a rope leading into the water.

“Why didn’t you put the plug back into the boat?”

“What plug?”

“You know, the plug that keeps the water out of the boat.”

“You never told me about a plug!”

“Your mother and I thought we drowned the dumb ones,” he said, which I thought was a moderate response to the sinking of his beloved boat. 

Often we went fishing with the goal of catch and release. I learned how to cradle the fish, to hold the fish steady to remove the hook with the least possible damage. Sometimes I held a captured fish upside down for a while to confuse it enough to hold still while I removed the hook. Minimizing injury to the fish involved using the proper hooks, tackle, and techniques.  

As my father aged, it became harder for him to hand-crank his boat on and off the trailer. My mother decided he needed help, so we went shopping at the local marine store. When we walked in, we were both overwhelmed by the options. Neither one of us was very knowledgeable about boats. I kept my hands to myself so I didn’t sink another one. 

The salesman approached us. “Can I help?”

“Yes, my husband needs a wench.”

Long pause. “A what?”

“Yes, he wants a wench, a pretty big one, to pull his boat up on the trailer.”

“I’m sure he does.  Are you OK with this?”

“Yes, he’s not as strong as he used to be.”

Long pause.  “Do you mean a winch?”

“No, I’m sure he said wench.” 

“Uh, Mom, Dad may like a wench of his own but I kind of think he wants a winch for his boat.”

I didn’t have a wench or a winch in my garage. Somewhere there was an electric drill, another gift from my dad. The hacksaw was useless since there was nothing to cut off. A hammer would enable me to smash through the door eventually. A screwdriver might release the bolt.

I inched my way to the right, slowly feeling around with my hand to avoid the cutting edges and spiders. There it was! A long-shanked screwdriver, whether Phillips or slotted, it didn’t matter. I inserted it into the deadbolt assembly and pulled back the latch. With a huge sigh of relief, I escaped from the garage with its musty air underlaid with the faint rusty scent of tools, moldy artificial Christmas trees, abandoned hobbies, and the disassembled pieces of my great aunt’s loom. “Yea, yea, yea,” screamed the seagulls. I went looking for my cell phone to tell Dad about my latest misadventure. But he had already escaped to the light. 

We’ll no more a-fishing go.