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A Daughter Comes Home

04/26/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange

(Host) Commentator Willem Lange was beginning to feel like an old apple tree. Then one of his kids came home to Vermont, and that has made all the difference.

(Lange) The tip of my fly rod dipped toward the water. "Whoa!" I said. "This is a good one!"

"Throw me the net! I want to take him off the hook!" cried the lovely blond lady from the other end of the boat.

"I thought you were afraid to do that."

"I am! But if I'm ever going to get any better at fishing, I'm going to have to learn to do this." Nervously she waited, then slid the net beneath the fish, and scooped it up. Holding it in the soft net, she gingerly pulled the fly loose. The trout went back into the pond. "It was easy," she said, "as long as I kept pretending it was like a newborn puppy: slippery, so be gentle, and don't drop it or hurt it. But what do you do if the hook is in deeper?"

An ordinary conversation between a young person and an old person in a small boat on a small pond on a sunny afternoon. But the lovely blond lady was my daughter, and was seriously gladdening my heart with the thought that the love of fishing seems to live in at least one of my kids. Also that she seems to care about the ethics involved in the exercise of that gift.

Most of us seniors in this increasingly mobile age are old apple trees whose fruit has rolled far away. Only a few of our friends have kids who haven't left. Their grandchildren play on swing sets in their yards a couple of days a week, and all three generations benefit. I can't help but wonder what they may have done to make their kids' hometowns seem more attractive than anyplace else.

We live in a town that exports almost all its kids. Our three scattered to the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Ohio; and we two left behind had settled down to a long slog toward an unknown certainty.

Then last summer our youngest moved to the edge of the Northeast Kingdom, less than two hours away. We can share recipes, tools, books, meals, holidays - everything.

Mother had some surgery recently. She wouldn't be up and around much for a while after she came home, and for some reason the kids didn't think I could cut it as a nurse. So the baby came home to help.

This kid, who really was the baby of the family in lots of ways, was suddenly our 32-year-old caregiver. She produced incredible meals - roast chicken, chicken salad, saut¿ed salmon with little red potatoes, asparagus, and goat cheese salad. And we got a tiny taste of what it's probably like to be old and dependent, and to be told what and when you're going to be eating.

All our children amaze me, and I sometimes pat myself on the back over their virtues. But taking credit is foolish. We just did the best we could, trusting their instincts to put them into their orbits. To watch, on a sunny afternoon in spring, the baby of the family cradling a big rainbow trout as if it were a slippery, newborn puppy... You think it can get any better?

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. His latest collection of stories and essays is "Where Does the Wild Goose Go?"
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