Reeling It In

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

Even Papa H Agrees

In the United States, one of the prototypical American TV shows of the 1960’s was an ensemble comedy program entitled The Andy Griffith Show. Every week it opened up with the credits playing over a small-town sheriff dad taking his son to the local “fishin’ hole”, as a tune was whistled along that remains, in the minds of many over a certain age, the symbol of a quieter, easier rural life.

Well, Andy was back on my mind this week when I learned about an organization that has found a new use for the fishin’ hole in these times of War, The Reel American Heroes Foundation.

If you check out the bio of the organization’s founder, Ronald DeFreitas, you’ll find the story of a typical American guy trying to make a living in this world. A husband, father, and grandpa, by day he is the information technology guy for the Prince William County public school system, in the suburbs of Washington DC, the guy who actually knows what that error message means and who, by grace of fate or God, can actually find in the bowels of the mainframe that PowerPoint presentation you need for the staff meeting in one hour, thank you.

But Mr. DeFreitas is also a bass fisherman. And in many parts of the US, that means one thing: his patience is more than sufficient to handle your computer-bug panic, while his love of the silence of a pond without waves knows no end.

His tale is one that moves the word homespun from its wink-wink connotations in this supercool world of ours to a place of, dare I say it, honor. It was on an Internet forum that he hooked up with an American soldier in Afghanistan who was missing bass fishing while serving in the midst of the mountains, and he sent the soldier a care package of fishing magazines and DVD’s. You read that right: fishing magazines and DVD’s.

It was when he then got requests for similar packages from other soldiers that Mr. DeFreitas got the idea that maybe he was onto something.

Since then, he, his family, and his friends have put together a non-profit organization dedicated to one goal: helping combat veterans come together and go fishing, in the silence of early mornings, in the banter of friends sharing a meal afterwards. After a full day’s work, he spends what time he can pulling together events and, what’s more, seeking contributions so that he can provide any combat vet who needs one a new fishing pole and a fully-stocked tackle box.

Now come on, admit it: did that bring a smile to your face or what? Mayberry, the fictional hometown of Sheriff Andy, apparently is still alive and well in the early twenty-first century.

Both my grandfathers were avid fishermen back in the lakes and streams outside my extended family’s home in Des Moines, Iowa, in the heart of the American Midwest.  Now, truth-in-lending: I was anything but an avid fisherman-off-the-old-block. I was a comic-book kind of kid back then, so the quiet of the water was better enjoyed lost in the thirty-first century world of The Legion of Super Heroes. Still, I can understand the allure of water’s smell, the quiet monitoring of the pole’s lead, the dance played between man and fish.

And let us never forget one of the great short stories of twentieth-century American literature, Earnest Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River, the story of World War I combat vet Nick Adams, a story not so much because of an action-driven plot, but because of its careful observations of a traumatized, former soldier, much like Hemingway himself, who walked through the ruins of a burned-out town to find some moments of peace and accomplishment watching and catching trout in a nearby river.

Pretty good company, Mr. DeFreitas.

So congratulations and many thanks to the man who gave homespun a certain literary modernist twist, whether wittingly or not, and opened up a world of quiet connection that, clearly, some combat vets are looking for, striving for, and living for.

Andy would probably be sporting a smile and drawling a “Well, I’ll be, that’s some mighty fine fishin’” just right about now.

Until tomorrow, be well,

Doc

To learn more about the Reel American Heroes Foundation

click here.

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