I don’t know why it popped into my head last night. I think it was a scene in the movie we were watching or a mention of some other trigger word that started the film reel in my head, but suddenly I was in Danbury, New Hampshire, and I was as half as tall as I am now.
The edges are blurry now, thinking that probably more than twenty years have gone by, but it was summer, and the humid heat was heavy. The heat bugs filled the woods with noise and the mosquitoes were everywhere. We were going fishing. I don’t remember how the trip was decided, only that suddenly a bunch of my cousins and I were piled into a car or truck – maybe too many to be legal, maybe not, I can’t remember, and Jay was in charge – the only adult that comes into focus. Jay was my Dad’s cousin – though I usually call him my uncle. In my earliest memories, he was the “tough” guy. The one that always spoke to us clear-cut and to the point. The one that let me hang off his arms like a jungle gym. The one that loved the Farm more than most.
We had bought worms somewhere, and then we were pulled over on the side of the road. The little river was shrouded in the shade of the woods by the road. The water wasn’t ever more than knee-deep it seemed and fishing, that you could do with your eyes. The water ran fresh from the mountains, and although the bottom was dark because of the granite rock, it’d glisten amber in the sun.
I remember the happy chaos. I was one of the younger ones, and most of my memories of my big Irish side of the family are like this: a comfortable whirl of commotion that I’d be swept up in.
There weren’t enough worms for all of us. Some cousins were trading fishing poles, others were splashing in the shallows. No one was catching any fish. Jay held the container of worms up and picked one out of the dirt they’re packed in. It squirmed in his hand, and then instead of putting it on one of our hooks, he put the container down, grabbed the worm in both hands, and ripped it clean in half.
“There,” he said, “now there’s twice as many.” I stood there horrified as I watched him wipe the blood off his hands, primarily because the little worms definitely didn’t bleed, but also because I absolutely wasn’t expecting that. We got used to the ripped worms, and the day continued with what I believe was a keep-the-kids-busy activity because there were definitely no fish the entire time, but the blurred hours by the edge of the river are colored beautiful.
Later it comes back into focus, and too many young and inexperienced fishermen led to an almost-tragedy when one hook and half a worm swung in the wrong direction and latched perfectly onto my cousin Melanie’s glasses – right above the bridge of her nose.
And then the rest of that day disappears into the inner workings of my brain. There are studies that say that every time you open a memory back up you can change it, alter it, or lose it. Maybe at one point I had that whole day locked into memory, and now it’s slipping away, but when they randomly pop into my head, like the half worms did yesterday, I really do love when they come back around.