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Being Helpful

Story ID:3392
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Scottsboro Natal South Africa
Year:1970
Person:Vincent
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It was a fine, sunny day like so many others in the Natal Province of South Africa when my Uncle Vincent decided to take a stroll on the beach. Natal, on the south-east coast of Africa, boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The warm Mozambique current washes from North to South down the coast providing pleasant conditions for water activities. The ocean is teeming with aquatic life and fishing from the beach is a very productive and satisfying past-time.

On this day, Uncle Vincent decided a stroll down the beach near Scottsboro would help to clear his head and provide a little stress reduction. As he walked along the beach he removed his sandals to enjoy the feel of the surf running up the beach to lap at his toes. He wore shorts and because he had taken his shirt off he was starting to develop that sleeveless red-neck under-vest burn, known and ridiculed the world over.

In the distance, Uncle Vincent saw a man fishing from the shore. This was not an uncommon site and usually fishermen would have a spot with a small picnic basket and the tails of four or five unfortunate fish, sticking straight out of the sand, where they had been buried to keep them from baking in the African sun. On this occasion the man had no fish tails sticking out of the sand and after observing him for a short time, Vincent could see why.

The man had obviously received the fishing rod as a gift for his birthday and was just learning how to use it. Vincent sat down on the sand nearby, observing the man as he cast his hook a few feet in front of him and watched as it splashed uselessly into the tumbling waves just ahead of him. The man would wait a few minutes and then reel the short line in and try another cast. Although his arm movement would normally have resulted in a fifty foot cast, the sinker and hook would splash only about ten feet in front of him and he would stand there waiting for the bite that would never come. He seemed content just to be outside standing on the edge of the surf and not catching anything, but this became irresistible to my Uncle.

After watching this procedure for as long as he could stand it Vincent finally walked down to the man as he was reeling in the last inadequate cast and said: “My good man. Please allow me to show you what you are doing wrong. Look, this is a really wonderful rod, I believe the shaft is graphite and this reel has a built in, automatic clutch which should make casting very easy for you.”

The man looked at Vincent without a word and seemed to acquiesce as Vincent took the rod and reel from him.

“I am Chief of Surgery here at Scottsboro Hospital and I have fished this beach on many occasions and if you’ll just let me show you how to cast, you could be pulling in twelve and fourteen inchers!” Vincent continued. “Firstly, you’re using too much arm strength in your cast, it is all in the wrist, a flick of the wrist and you can send your hook out thirty or forty feet. You see that’s where the bigger fish are. Also this thumb clutch is an amazingly easy thing to operate, you’re very lucky to have it. All you need to know is how to engage and release and, of course, when to do both.”

The man just looked at Vincent, listening politely and watching the movements Vincent made to illustrate his instruction.

“Look, I’ll just reel the rest of this in and show you.” With that Vincent reeled in the man’s line and started to illustrate his wrist flick. After a few illustrative flings Vincent decided it was time to show the man the real thing. “Once it is all reeled in nicely, you depress the thumb clutch and cast and release the clutch at the height of your cast. The hook will really fly then. Look, I’ll show you.”

After diligently checking to see that there was no-one behind to catch the back swing of his hook, Vincent gave the right amount of arm motion and an exaggeratedly sharp wrist flick and released the clutch. The line started to come out of the reel as if it was trying to escape a fire. It poured out faster than the hook could travel. Miles of fishing line spewed from the reel through the eyelets and then under the eyelets as the holes couldn’t accommodate the explosion of line. There was nothing he could do. Vincent tried hitting the thumb clutch again, but the line kept coming and started gathering around the feet of the erstwhile fisherman and his talented coach.

After the reel stopped its high-pitched whine and the line stopped issuing, there was a strained silence. Vincent looked at the poor man and said: “Not to worry, this sort of thing happens every now and again, we’ll just untangle this mess and get it back into the reel.”

Hours passed as Vincent tried to untangle the line. “This goes through here and… if you could just hold this one, I can pull this through… no, that’s not the right one, let me try this… Ok, hold these two up here like this and put this one in your mouth, now I’ll just step through here and pull these with me…” and so it went with the man calmly acquiescing to every suggestion.

After another hour of untangling Vincent was standing on the beach with a huge ball of knotted and tangled fishing line. The man still had not said a word. All of a sudden Vincent stopped trying to untangle the line, looked at the man and handed the tangled ball to him: “Here.” He said, turning on his heel and walking off leaving a confused, would be, fisherman looking after him.

This story has a moral, but I’m not going to help you discover it.