We have a little yellow van- a tribute to the Kombi Van you drove across Africa for 12 years. We are doing some sort of big drive – moving somewhere perhaps? I think it might be up to Rockhampton in Queensland. It’s all so hazy now. So much of my childhood is that way, vague and oddly focused, like a selfie taken in front of a bright window. Everything is slightly distorted by nearly four decades.
We camped on a deserted beach – and you and I went fishing. We took the yellow hand line for me, the red one for you . I remember feeling confident at the idea of fishing, so already, even at four years of age you must have taken me fishing often. A slow sunset behind us, a long sandbar with a few inches of water over it, tide in, mind out.
I remember one thing clearly, and that was reeling in the fish myself. A decent size for a preschooler- icy white belly, yellow pectoral fins – a whiting. You caught nothing. A gap in memory and then the moment you took the cooked fish off the glowing driftwood embers, charred, hot and salty. You and Mum ate rollmops, pickled herring on dark rye bread, and one of you commented on how I was the only one who managed to be clever enough to catch their dinner that evening. I remember the sensation of pride I felt then, how big and grown up I felt. I can feel that emotion now, sitting here, and the gratitude I feel for those moments of love and connection rushes through my heart like water on a golden sandbar.
Soon after, Rockhampton, and you and some friends have started net fishing out near Yeppoon. Apparently this was not strictly speaking, legal, but I’m four, and all I know is that I am given the important job of picking out the puffer fish and other unwanted by catch and returning them to the water. Only now, thinking about this do I realise that it was probably a nice way to occupy a little boy and avoid an onerous task. One day I catch an octopus that is trying to escape, and stand very still as one of the men hurries toward me and gently pulls the sucked loose that have stuck all over me. He tousled my hair affectionately, and later we eat that octopus right there on the beach, cooked on driftwood coals. And you tell the other men about that other day fishing, when only I catch anything, and I nearly burst with pride.
There have been other gifts, other kind words. Days of connection and happiness, times of deep lessons about what life is meant to be. But for me pride will always resolve back to that gleaming white and yellow fish hauled across a golden sandbar on a lonely long beach with you.