The Old Fisherman by
25
(35 Stories)

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The cross-legged old fisherman with his Fu Manchu, and a fish dangling from his line, has been on display in my dining room cabinet for a decade, following a stretch on display in my mother’s dining room cabinet in Brookline, Massachusetts, which followed a long stay in her mother’s (my grandmother’s) dining room cabinet in Providence, Rhode Island, which is where I first saw him, circa 1952, circa 4 years old.

I liked the old fisherman from the beginning.  He sits comfortably on a body-contoured stump, exuding patience and serenity, lightly holding his fishing pole.  His jug is alongside (maybe for fish storage, maybe for refreshment). He wears leather strapped sandals, a broad sun hat, and a flowing green and blue robe.  His white beard and hair suggest the wisdom of age. He is contemplative, certainly in no hurry.  He may be surprised that his serenity has been interrupted by the arrival of the fish. 

I don’t know his whole provenance, but the stamp “CHINA” on his bottom is a clue.  This mark came into use after 1891 when US law required all imports to be marked with their country of origin.  In 1919, the addition of “MADE IN” was added.  So there is a good chance he was made in China after 1891, and imported into the United States before 1919.  From what I know of my grandmother’s provenance, she arrived in the United States from Poland-Russia in the 1870s, joining family established in Baltimore, and moved with her husband (my grandfather) to Providence, Rhode Island sufficiently before enactment of the Volstead Act in 1919 to establish a robust liquor distribution business, which was thereupon shut down, but which seeded my grandfather’s migration into the real estate business.  I would speculate that the old fisherman joined my grandparents as they settled into their household and raised their family in Providence pre-WWI.

I liked the old fisherman from the beginning.  He sits comfortably on a body-contoured stump, exuding patience and serenity, lightly holding his fishing pole.  His jug is alongside (maybe for fish storage, maybe for refreshment). He wears leather strapped sandals, a broad sun hat, and a flowing green and blue robe.  His white beard and hair suggest the wisdom of age. He is contemplative, certainly in no hurry.  He may be surprised that his serenity has been interrupted by the arrival of the fish.

In the various display cabinets I have known him in, my grandmother’s, my mother’s, mine, he has always been the life of the display cabinet, an action figure telling a story, surrounded by  inanimate pretty plates.

As I recall, my mother’s dining valuables, her silver, her crystal, her china, and related finery, were divvied up among my three sisters.  After my mother died, when the four of us met to allocate her residual possessions, I was surprised to find the old fisherman unspoken for and still available.  I took him with my first chance, without close inspection, based upon my lifelong appreciation of him.  I was told later by one of my sisters that his value was diminished because his hat was cracked.

Yes, his hat is broadly cracked, and as I look at him today I see that he is also missing one of his fingers, perhaps a fishing mishap, that he was lost in contemplation when his fillet knife slipped. But I am happy to have him.  I like his serenity. I like his expression of wisdom.  Insofar as possessions may or should be deemed friends, he is.  In fact, he’s an old friend.

——-

As an afterword, and as a reflection on the relationship of things to people:

(a) The old fisherman and I first met when he was an old fisherman and I was a little kid.  He hasn’t aged a day since, while I have aged a lifetime.  I hope I can catch up to him in serenity as well as age.

(b) I have in my study a photograph of my grandmother and grandfather, the former owners of the old fisherman, circa 1953 (see photo below).  I remember when this photograph was bright and full-colored, and my grandparents beamed with life.  With the passage of time, it and they are fading.

 

 

 

 

 

Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.






Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Lovely story Jon, and as always so well-written.

    We all need as many serene and wise friends as we can get.

  2. Susan Bennet says:

    Your old friend is delightful in every way, Jonathan, his colors still vivid and his “cracks” unseen. He clearly was well-cared for by those who came before you, and he is lucky to have a home with you now, regardless of his value “on the market”. Which is what we all want from life, isn’t it? Thank you for introducing us.

    • I am pleased that you are pleased to have been introduced to the old fisherman. He advises me that he is pleased to be introduced to you, and he appreciates your appreciation of his still vivid colors, especially his green and blue robe.

  3. Marian says:

    You hit the jackpot when you chose the old fisherman, Jon. The cracked hat and other imperfections only add to his charm. He is such a compelling figure, and you attribute deep meaning to him. The faded photo of your grandparents is incredibly moving as are your observations on the relationship of things to people.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Like you, I value things based on the feelings they invoke in me, imperfections and all. Your old fisherman is truly something to be treasured. I love his expression and the vivid colors.

    • Yes, I feel he is a treasured objet. His presence reminds me of the feelings evoked (invoked?) by John Keats in his Ode to a Grecian Urn, wherein the beauty of the lives painted onto the urn is an indelible and surviving moment in contrast to the wear and tear of time suffered by those of us living in the outside world.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    So happy that the wise fisherman brings you serenity. And the remembrance of your grandmother and mother. It’s good that you have him to remind you of patience and the sea. Perhaps someday, you will catch up to his age. May it be so.

    • Thank you for your sunny positivism. By way of update, since I displayed the charming old fisherman last Sunday, I have undertaken glue surgery on his cracked yellow hat, trying to minimize the distractions he faces along his path to serenity.

  6. Suzy says:

    I am late in commenting on this story, but I agree with everything others have said. The fisherman is delightful, and you are lucky to have him. Is the string holding the fish flexible or stiff? Could the fish move around, for instance if the fisherman were at the edge of the shelf? It looks like it could.

    Thank you for including the picture of your grandparents too. The photo may not be older than you are, but it certainly evokes an earlier era.

    • Yes, the fish has wiggle room. If I were the old fisherman I would worry that the fish might just wiggle off the hook and swim for freedom (a la Inky the Octupus, the star of one of my prior stories), but the old fisherman seems unperturbed. “Easy does it”, he says, and I defer. Likely the fish wouldn’t get far skittering down the shelves of the display cabinet, and across the dining room floor. My guess is he’d skitter back to the safety of the hook w his gills drooped between his legs.
      As to the pic of my grandparents, true that the pic is older than I, but more true that my grandparents were older than the pic so I think they qualify for the prompt.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Nice story. Good choice to get the fisherman. I made a similar choice when we divvied up things from my parents. Marie Kondo would describe that as sparking joy I suppose. The faded picture reminded me of all the color prints I have that are looking pretty sad these days. I hope they won’t completely fade away (apologies to the Stones).

    • Thanx. I imagine that the photo of my grandparents will fade to sepia and thence to indecipherable and thence to lost before too long. It looks better and stronger in the pic I took of it for my story than it does in real life. I suppose I could write something about them for my children and grandchildren, try to write something that would enrich and enlighten; but it would not stop the sepia from consuming my grandparents and then turning its attention to me.

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