Living at the Foot of the Cross
Chapter One

 

Adisturbance in the shallows along the western bank of the Raison River gave me reason to believe that Ol’ Sam must be lurking just inches from the shore. I was certain he was hiding in the shadows of an overhanging pine tree that only a few days earlier had been felled by some enterprising beaver. Charlie and I were in our bass boat, The Jenny Bee, anchored some forty feet from the shore, waiting for that right moment to cast our deadly lines. We took utmost care to make no sound that would spook our elusive adversary.

Ol’ Sam is an eighteen-pound largemouth bass, the obsession of every serious bass fisherman in Central Ohio… including me. My name is Alex Shepherd, or as I enjoyed being called in those days, The Reverend Alexander Shepherd, Senior Pastor of The Centerview Community Church of Centerview Ohio. Oh my, what a mouthful that is!

This was my day off, and I was enjoying my favorite pastime, fishing the Raison river with my best friend, Charles Goodman, better known with great affection to his family and friends as ‘Charlie.’ It was a sunny mid-summer day, the atmosphere was alive with the buzzing of the cicadas singing their noisy love songs for all to hear and enjoy. A gentle breeze accompanied the late afternoon Sun as it made its slow descent toward the Western horizon, pushing its extending shadows across the River toward the other shore. We were sitting just off the western bank casting our lines into the late afternoon shade along the shoreline, hoping to entice a largemouth bass to our lures.

Could I lay my Jitterbug right in front of him without getting tangled in the overhanging branches? Here goes. A gentle sidearm cast sent my lure flying just over the surface of the water to its target.

BAM! The waters exploded into a raging tumult, a battle between man and fish, the Leviathan of the Raison River against a somewhat overweight, not too tall, balding, preacher. He was out of the water as soon as he saw it coming, taking my favorite floater into his gigantic mouth, while suspended in mid-air. He then shot into the nearest patch of lily pads to consume his latest windfall. But, alas, this windfall had barbed hooks, which now were set deep into the flesh of his mouth. My rod bent close to the breaking point but he wasn’t mine yet. Too many over confident anglers have been this close, only to lose their prize to a bad hook set or a broken line… or worse, a broken rod. And the battle begins:

“Grab the net,” I shouted to Charlie who was in the back of the boat, reeling in his line as fast as he could. “I’ll need some help getting this guy in the boat.”

“Hang on, Dude,” Charlie shouted back. “Don’t lose him. Keep that line taught. Woooheee!”

Within seconds, Ol’ Sam buried himself so deep into the lily pads that it seemed hopeless that I’d ever get him out. He was fighting with all he had as I was giving all I had trying to work him free of those weeds and bring him out into the open water. Back and forth he went until, with one violent leap, he broke the surface of the water bringing the line with him high enough to clear the pads. Heeding Charlie’s advice and keeping my line taught, I was able to swing my rod back and pull that monster fish through the air ‘til he cleared the weed patch and fell into the open water.

“Holy mackerel, Dude,” Charlie shouted. “You got Ol’ Sam, all right.” Ol’ Sam was a legend of the Raison River. Everyone who fished this river with any regularity had a story to tell of Ol’ Sam but, alas, not one of victory. Not a record breaker, to be sure, but he was the biggest largemouth bass I had ever seen, one that anyone would be proud to reel in and claim ‘braggin’ rights.’

Charlie Goodman was my best friend. We first met when Marylou and I moved to town seven years earlier. I had accepted the position of Senior Pastor of the Centerview Community Church in Centerview, Ohio, a small town twenty miles outside of Columbus. He was native to the area and had grown-up in the church.

We hit it off from my first day as a church pastor, and the friendship has continued to grow since then. I had just wrapped up my first sermon and put my ‘Amen’ on the benediction. A tall, lanky, middle-aged man with a full head of wild unkempt brown hair walked up to me with his right hand extended. “Not bad, Dude,” he said. “Not bad at all. My name’s Charlie. Do you fish?”

I looked up into his grinning face and took an instant liking to this man.

“Uh… yes,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I do. My names, Alex, but ‘Dude’ will do fine.”

“Good,” he said. “I’m going out this afternoon. Care to come along?”

“Well… I uh…” I turned to give an anxious look toward Marylou, who by this time, was standing by my side.”

“Go ahead,” She said laughing. “Some of the ladies asked me to join them this afternoon.”

“Sounds like a plan, Dude. I have a truck and a bass boat. I know where you live. I’ll pick you up at two o’clock. Plan on fishin’ until it’s too dark to see. Bring plenty of food and water.”

And that, dear reader, was the beginning of our beautiful friendship. By the way, for the record, my name isn’t ‘Dude.’ Only one person has ever called me that, and so far as I know, he’s never called anyone else ‘Dude.’ I wear the name as a badge of honor and affection.

Meanwhile, back to Ol’ Sam: I worked that fish for half an hour. He swam back and forth, around in circles, under the boat, around the boat; at one point he nearly jumped into the boat. Charlie kept shouting “Woooheee! Hang on, Dude. Keep that line taught.”

I shouted back to him, “You just keep that net ready. We’re having a fish fry for supper tonight.”

I can’t be sure who was more exhausted, Ol’ Sam or I – or even Charlie for that matter. Sam and I were doing all the work, or so it seemed, but Charlie expended an awful lot of energy cheering us on and appeared to be quite exhausted as the battle was drawing to a close.

A few minutes later, I had Ol’ Sam by the side of the boat. Charlie was more excited than I had ever seen him. He leaned over the edge of the boat to scoop our catch into the net and, without warning, took a forward flip and tumbled over the side of the boat and fell into the water with a gigantic splash. I confess that my initial reaction was to laugh. Although he wasn’t wearing a life jacket, Charlie was an excellent swimmer. He disappeared under the surface of the murky water and I couldn’t see him anywhere. Just as I was preparing to go in after him, his head popped up on the other side of the boat. “Hey, Dude, watcha lookin’ for?”

“Good grief, Charlie, are you all right?”

“I don’t know; let me see.” He stood up and checked himself over. “Yeah, I seem to be all here.” The water was not even four-feet deep and Charlie was over six-feet tall. At that, we both burst out laughing.

“Okay, you’re alright; good,” I said. “Now for the important question: Where’s Ol’ Sam?”

“Oh, him,” Charlie said, lifting the net above his head with Ol’ Sam intact, safe and secure. “He’s right here.” By that time, we both were laughing so hard my sides began to hurt.

“Well, first things first,” I said. “Give me that fish before we lose it; I’ll get to you later.” With great care, Charlie handed me the net, and I put Ol’ Sam into the hold. Then, I helped Charlie back into the boat and handed him a towel that we kept on hand for just such emergencies. It was a hot sunny day, so Charlie removed as much of his clothing as he would dare and hung them up to dry.

We took all the appropriate photos of our great catch, weighed him, and measured him. Then, looking at each other, we smiled, nodded, and with loving care released Ol’ Sam back into the water to fight another day. I gave a brief sigh and looked back at Charlie just in time to see him wipe away a tear. I knew this dear man well and suspected no sadness. Perhaps it was just a tear of joy for the once-in-a-lifetime experience the two of us had shared.

As our day of fishing came to a close, Charlie donned his still damp clothes. In no time, we had The Jenny Bee onto the trailer and, with me driving, were homeward bound.

The ride home started out rather quiet. After such a joyous day of fishing and laughter, it didn’t seem that any additional conversation was needed. But along the way, my mind turned to that image of Charlie standing in the river and holding Ol’ Sam over his head for me to see. Our two minds must have been on the same channel; as if on cue, we both busted out laughing so hard that I had to pull the truck and The Jenny Bee to the side of the road until we could shake this silliness out of our systems. I hadn’t laughed so hard since I was a child. Being “proper Christians,” neither of us were drinkers, but if anyone were to see us in this state of levity they would be difficult to convince.

To prove my point, a Deputy County Sheriff pulled up behind us with lights flashing and a toot of his horn to alert us that he had arrived. It seems that he wanted to investigate what was going on along the side of his highway. He stepped out of his cruiser and walked past our boat in tow, pausing for a moment to look in and inspect the inside. Charlie kept saying under his breath, “You’re in deep trouble, Dude, you’re in deep trouble…”

The deputy was a large, middle-aged man, well over six-feet tall and in excess of two-hundred and fifty pounds. I watched in the side mirror as he approached the truck. He paused to removed his hat and brush back his full head of curly red hair that showed signs of graying around his temples. With a look of authority, he spun around and went back for another look at the boat and its contents. Charlie turned to me and said, “Oh my God, Dude, he’s swaggerin’. You’re in deeeep trouble.” At that, we again exploded into uncontrollable laughter as the deputy approached the truck.

“Everything all right here fellas?” He asked in his serious sheriff’s drawl.

Charlie and I struggled to suppress our giggling as I answered, “Yes, officer, everything’s fine; we just pulled over for a moment to talk.” I glanced over at Charlie, and could see that he was holding his breath in an effort to keep from laughing. But it was to no avail; he burst into another explosion of laughter and I couldn’t help but follow suit.

The officer smiled and said, “You fellas seem to be having a pretty good time. I wonder if you would mind stepping out of the vehicle.” Now I ceased laughing, but Charlie was continuing to enjoy himself over on his side of the truck.

We both stepped out of the truck and soon were able to convince the good officer that we were not under the influence of any spirits apart from a joyful spirit. Charlie and I apologized to him and did our best to assure him that we meant no disrespect. We told him our story of catching Ol’ Sam and Charlie falling out of the boat.

“Wait a minute – wait a minute.” the officer interrupted, his drawl all but disappeared, “You caught Ol’ Sam? I’ve been trying to catch that fish for years. No wonder you two are in such a goofy mood. May I see him?”

I tried to explain to him that we had released our catch and he looked down at me and said in a cynical tone, “Yeah, right. Suuurrre you did.”

“No, really, officer,” I answered. “We did it for you, so you too can have the joy of catching him. Look, I’m a preacher.” I handed him one of my cards. “We’re not allowed to lie about things like that.”

“Well, what kind of things are you allowed to lie about?” he asked with a broadening smile, his drawl returning.

“Well, you know,” Charlie said, “things like how fast he was driving, whether or not he came to a full stop at the stop sign, how red the traffic light was when he went through the intersection.”

Now the deputy was laughing along with us. He introduced himself to us as Deputy Adrian Makepeace. You guessed it, that triggered an even greater outburst of laughter.

“You’re beginning to tread on dangerous ground, fellas. You’d better get out of here,” he said, still laughing, “before I arrest the two of you for disturbing the peace – my peace.”

I thanked the good officer, pointed to my card, and invited him to come to church. He thanked me and told us not to be surprised if some Sunday morning he showed up on our doorstep. “If you fellas are as much fun at church as you are here, it should be a real joy to worship with you.” He then told us that he had to go catch some dangerous criminals and cautioned us to drive with care. We shook hands and returned the advice. “See you in church,” I called to him as he returned to his cruiser.

Charlie and I were dead silent as I drove the truck the rest of the way to Charlie’s house. At one point, I glanced over at him; he was staring straight ahead looking as though he was asleep with his eyes wide open. And then I saw it: A tear running down the side of his face, only this time he didn’t bother to wipe it away. “Something’s going on,” I thought to myself, but said nothing. “He’ll tell me when He’s ready.”

 

Copyright© 2016 Frank Rauck

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