When we were little, our parents used to take us fishing in the summer months. Almost every weekend, we would gather our gear, pack the car and drive two hours north of Toronto to a summer resort area we simply knew as cottage country. We usually stayed at some motel, definitely not five-star but when you’re a kid you don’t notice the less-than-stellar rooms or amenities. My mom would prepare all the food we needed and we would spend the lazy summer days playing games, discovering the woods, and walking along the docks of Port Sandfield, a canal built in 1870 that connected Lake Joseph to Lake Rousseau.
My dad was something of an expert fisherman, so we learned early on how to tackle bait, sometimes leeches, sometimes crayfish but almost always worms that slid through our fingers as we tried to pull them out of styrofoam cups full of dark warm earth.
When he was fishing we knew not to make noise or run on the docks especially if the ‘fish were biting.’ I remember many times my father standing in the pouring rain with his fishing rod as we sought shelter under trees or ran to the car to escape the downpour. He always said that some of his best fishing was done in the rain.
We learned how to run with the net if he did catch a large bass. We would throw ourselves down on the dock, lie on our stomachs and hold out the net for my dad to steer his newly caught fish into. There was always a lot of yelling and screaming and my little sister jumping up and down for joy as the shiny gray fish was placed in the net and then rested on the dock for observation. Dad would look at it, and say, ‘ah…this is a 4-pounder’ and smile to himself, forgetting that his three little girls were huddling around him, so proud of that fish. Sometimes he would let us hold the fish as he slid a chain through its mouth and slid it back into the water while tightly wrapping the end to the dock. We would sit and watch the fish as they tried to escape their incarceration from the chain.
A snapshot from the past Port Sandfield circa 1974
Some of my most cherished childhood memories are intertwined with those summers fishing. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the soft breeze coming through the lakes, I can hear the water as it lapped along the shores and I can certainly still remember the smell of fish on our hands.
As we got older, those joyful memories began to fade and we began to see ourselves in a different light. Growing up, we didn’t have any money and had even less sophistication. We were children of immigrants who could barely speak English and whose idea of family vacations was driving hours in a beat-up old car, eating homemade sandwiches with scrawny, ragged little girls in tow. We were probably loud and thankfully, we were blissfully unaware of how much we didn’t fit in.
We grew up, moved on with our lives, and those summers spent fishing became a distant memory. Years later, I went back to Port Sandfield. As I walked down the small slope of the hill that led to the dock, I saw the beautiful oak tree that had come to symbolize our past lives spent under its shade. My mom laying a blanket on the grass, as we lugged all of our things out of the car and dragged them down to her. I even remember the youngest of us, probably still in diapers, lying on the blanket and playing with the sun’s rays as they pierced through the beautiful green leaves of the tree. Even now, decades later I think I can see the sky in her large brown eyes.
I was living in Armenia but had come back for a visit. I wasn’t well so my parents decided to take me back to a time when we were safe and felt protected, when we didn’t know that people driving by in their expensive boats would look at us strangely, when well-heeled summer tourists who owned cottages that were a hundred times more luxuriant than the small, cramped apartment we lived in thought we were a nuisance, when I didn’t know the world could be such a complex and unfair place.
As I stood on the dock, I could hear our voices singing and laughing and sometimes crying like the time my older sister stepped on a piece of broken glass. I remember the dark red blood streaming from her foot as my mother expertly extracted the shard of glass and wrapped it in gauze. I walked along the dock, the boards of which were so worn down now, and looked out across Lake Joseph and breathed in the clear air and felt a deeply profound sense of sadness.
While I had been realizing a dream and living a world away in Armenia, my parents had gotten old and our lives had become fragmented. We were no longer three little sisters who held on to each other for dear life but grown women with families and problems of our own. Where had the years gone? Why had I left?
And then I saw a man standing on the dock with a fishing rod in his hand waiting for the fish to bite. I was transported to another time when I had demanded to know why we had moved to Canada and announced to my dad that I felt like a fish out of water.
In different cultures and religions, fish have many symbolic meanings. In ancient European cultures, the fish symbolized adaptability, determination and flow of life.
Maybe those summers spent fishing were meant to prepare us for the unique flow of our lives, mine guiding me back to the homeland where adaptability and determination certainly came in hand. (Asbarez)
BY MARIA TITIZIAN