By Andrew Cremata

Somewhere between a floating crescent moon and the inky depths of Tagish Lake, a mother moose leads its calf away from speeding vehicles on the highway and into a wide greasy meadow. The moon hangs over jagged mountain peaks like a pale gray sickle against the deep blue backdrop of a fading evening sky, eager to harvest the final days of summer in preparation for the fall feast.

I’m lost in thought, the monotonous hum of rubber tires against pavement transformed into something like a meditative mantra. Somewhere near Summit Lake, a submerged memory surfaces like some ancient deep-sea monster of legend come to reclaim its ancestral land. 

It’s the night of my grandfather Jose’s funeral. Late summer in Tampa, Florida, and I’m standing in the parking lot of the church under a rising full moon. My friend is with me and we’re outside because the church is packed full of my grandfather’s family and friends who came from far and wide to pay their respects. 

My grandfather had been sick for some time – bedridden in the hospital. The night before he died, my father asked if I wanted to visit him. I chose to stay home and listen to music. 

The wave of guilt I felt as a teenager washed over me as I passed Summit Creek. The unexpected emotion signaled an older memory of an outing with my father and grandfather on my first-ever boat fishing trip. 

The night before, I could barely sleep, my mind racing with anticipation. At sunrise, we boarded the vessel, owned by a family friend, and slowly motored through dense fog until we reached the fishing grounds.

No sooner than our baits hit the water, fish began biting. Our captain managed to place the boat directly over a massive school of whiting and within minutes, fish were piling up in the cooler. 

There was nothing in the world Jose enjoyed more than fishing and he was smiling broadly as he reeled in one whiting after another. The fish we caught were all average size – around 13 to 14 inches long. 

Suddenly, Jose’ hooked into something that put a deep bend in his rod. 

“Mirar!” Jose said in his thick Hispanic accent. “I got a big one!”

Moments later, Jose pulled up a massive whiting, at least 20 inches long and double the size of anything caught up to that point. He hoisted the big fish up and out of the water before swinging the rod sideways to lift it into the boat. Unfortunately, my grandfather pulled a little too hard and swung the whiting entirely over the boat before it twisted off the hook and fell back into the water.

My grandfather scowled while everyone else laughed. No matter. It was well known that Jose’ always caught the biggest fish, as though it were ordained by the fishing gods. 

Nearly five years later, during one of Jose’s final healthy days, I caught the biggest fish. It was the first and only time I ever bested my grandfather. On the drive home, I was vocal about my accomplishment. Jose’ complained and made excuses but his smirk betrayed a feeling of pride, knowing he’d passed along the knowledge of something both mysterious and meaningful.

The secret of catching big fish.

The secret is one that cannot be explained, either by definition or allegory. Searching for words to describe this formula is as futile as attempting to map the dark side of the moon with the naked eye.

 On the night of his funeral, I marveled at the sight of hundreds of people I’d never seen before in attendance at Jose’s funeral. He was known as a rigid man, hard-working and blunt, with no patience for mincing words or delicate handling. So it surprised me to see so many eager to express their love and respect.

Repeatedly, I heard the same words from both strangers and family friends.

“Your grandfather always spoke the truth, even when it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.”

“Jose helped me and my family when we were going through a really tough time.”

“I loved your grandfather. He was the wisest man I’ve ever met.”

It’s difficult to imagine a thing so dense as a man’s life. How the threads of his words and actions weave through time and space, connecting human lives and creating something sublime. 

Jose’ always caught the biggest fish but he was best known for other reasons. I wasn’t old enough to know the man who had touched so many lives, but I am grateful to have inherited his joy, and I hope, the ability to speak the truth.