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The memory of a June morning now ten years past hammered mercilessly at Michael McGuire, each detail of it, every nuance.
Jamie had just turned nine, and Michael McGuire was then an account supervisor in the New York advertising agency that he had started working for in the mailroom. Not too shabby, he would think, for an Irish kid out of the Inwood section of Manhattan which might have been Oshkosh as far as Madison Avenue was concerned the son of a subway motorman, who had gone to Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, joined the ROTC to help get him through Fordham University while living at home, and paid back the army with three years of service in the Counterintelligence Corps in West Germany.
That morning the sun was a shimmering metallic yellow, about the span of Michael McGuire's hand above the horizon, when he came out of the house toward the boat. Jamie had been right behind him clutching his new rod. "Dad," Jamie had said, "why does the sun look like that in the morning? Why isn't it, you know, red like when it's going down?"
"I think it's because all the pollution in the air hasn't started yet," he said. The truth, of course, was that Michael McGuire didn't really know and hadn't even thought about it before. The question pleased him though, and he wondered again if he had been that inquisitive and outspoken when he was Jamie's age. But he couldn't remember.
The boat was wooden, a secondhand Lyman lapstrake inboard, nineteen feet long. Considering that she had to be sanded down and painted and varnished every yearand the bottom given a new copper coat, one of those glossy new outboard fiberglass jobs would have been a lot more practical to maintain and run around in, especially in the shallow stretches of Moriches Bay on the south shore of Long Island. But the Lyman drew just two feet at the propeller guard, so you only had to be truly careful when the bay was at dead low tide. And with the weight of the inboard engine, you could go out of the inlet into the ocean, if it wasn't too rough, without that skitterish, bouncing sensation McGuire often felt when he was in somebody's outboard. Besides, Mary Alice had fallen in love with the Lyman's traditional workmanship the instant she saw her and said, "That's what I want for my birthday, for all of us," and the next day he went back to the boatyard and got her, and the first thing he did after that was to have Mary Alice put on her transom.
Michael McGuire had been anticipating this morning all winter long in the city, the time when the schools of bluefish migrating up from the south would finally hit the Long Island shore and he would take Jamie out with him. Late last summer, after he bought the Lyman, he had gotten a bamboo pole for Jamie to fish for snappers, the voracious baby blues that swarmed around the wetland fringes of the bay after the spawning season was over, slashing into clouds of frantic little silvery shiners and killies before heading into the Atlantic.
It was such a perfect introduction to fishing for a boy. He remembered how when he was a kid on vacation in the Catskills with the rest of the family, his father had played cards and drunk beer all day with other union members while he went off by himself to the take with a pole and a bent pin and a slice of bread and waited for hours for a bite that never came. It was a wonder he ever tried fishing again. But wasn't that what being a father was all about? To be better.
He had shown Jamie how to insert a snapper hook into the tail of a shiner and push the shank through to the shiner's head, and where to clip the red and white bobber to the line and toss it near the leaping baitfish that came out of the water and then fell back in like a splatter of raindrops and to watch for the bobber to dip under the surface when a snapper hit. Almost instantly the bobber had gone under and he would never forget how his son had cried out, amazed and delighted, as he swung in the wriggling six-inch snapper. Within an hour, a couple dozen more snappers were taken, and Mary Alice deepfried a batch of them so you didn't have to worry about the bones and served them up with scrambled eggs, and Michael McGuire had said, "Next year, we'll go after the real thing," and Jamie looked at him solemnly and said, "Is that a promise?"
The weekend before that June morning, after they had all come out from the city, he had driven with Jamie down the Montauk Highway to the tackle shop in Hampton Bays to pick up the trolling rods and reels he had left over the winter for reconditioning, the ones he would use later in the summer in the ocean along a sandbar that ran for miles off the beach, and to retrieve the eight-foot beautifully whiplike graphite casting rod that he had commissioned for himself, and to get one of the fiberglass rods in stock for Jamie to start out with.
"Which one should I pick?" Jamie had said, and Michael McGuire said, "You've got to decide for yourself, son. Try them out and take the one that feels best for you. That's the only way you can tell." Then after Jamie had chosen a bright red rod that had some nice action to it, he bought him a Shakespeare spinning reel, and while the eight-pound test line was being spooled on it, one of the men standing around the shop...
Father and Son. Copyright © by Peter Maas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.