Dateline: Still Here, Point Sebago, lake Sebago, Maine
“Let's drink to the three thousand million…”
Meet Herb Meyer. 50 years old from Lyman, Maine, married two kids, on the Maine Team and a, hmm, um, an Eel catcher, thing, guy.
“I’m a mason…”
“Really…I didn’t think you could talk about that, like a secret or something.”
Herb just looks at me. What? I’m at B.A.S.S. tournament and you want to start talking secret societies or something.
“…I’m a bricklayer…a mason.”
Normally I begin interviews better than that.
Then, I get flustered a bit and call him, ‘erb, like the dude was a parsley or something.
I’m about to give the guy an out of the whole dang thing when he says, “I also catch and sell Elvers.”
This could go real well, or real bad depending pretty much if I ask him if he is in the Elves selling business or not.
“Elvers, you know, eels.”
Saved, he spoke first.
Herb, is a self-employed bricklayer from Kennebunk Port, Maine, “but db you pretty much don’t work in the winter time, so by spring the money is running a little tight, so I started catching and selling Elvers.”
I’m still freaked and basically have no idea what he is talking about and I’m google-less at the moment.
“An Elver is a baby eel, they come up all along the East Coast and up into the rivers of Maine from down in the Saragossa Sea off South America.”
Here’s my strategy for the rest of this interview, don’t ask nothing.
Shut-up and listen.
“Elvers come in from the ocean as babies and grow up in the fresh water.”
I write that down.
“From March 2oth until the end of May you can catch them, only a few hundred people in Maine are licensed to do that, me being one of them.”
I write that down.
“Europe and Asia buys them from us so they can raise them over there, we sell them by the pound, 3,000 elvers to the pound.”
I write that down.
“A couple of years ago I sold 63 pounds of them for $2,800 a pound.”
I stop writing.
“In two months I made $176,400 cash.”
I don’t need to write that down, I will never forget it.
“I took all that money and paid off every bill we had, bought a new Toyota Tundra, paid cash for it, put my license plate on it that says “ELVERS.”
I took a photo of it.
“Next month I’m going to be on the Animal Planet channel, they came up and filmed me catching Elvers.”
I’m going to watch it.
“I have a bad memory, I forget to do things, I was afraid I would forget to renew my Elvers license, couldn’t get a new one if I did that so my wife renews mine every year and gives it to me as my Valentine present.”
I would too.
“…let's think of the humble of birth…”
This one is for, The Big Guy.
My wife’s father, passed a couple of years ago, was a career firefighter in Buffalo, NY.
I never called him, Art.
I never called him, Dad.
I called him, Big Guy.
He was a mountain of a man, I’m not, but I think he always liked me calling him that.
Random goes out the door when I hear of someone in the military, police or fire department. So be it, that’s the way it is.
Meet, Don Adams. Retired firefighter of 34 years in Rutland, Vermont, two knee replacements took him out, but he left as the lead driver on Ladder Truck #1.
“Most of my career I fought indoor fires.”
He is a big guy, like Big Guy, “I miss it, miss the guys, loved the job, but these took me out,” he is rubbing his knees as we talk.
Don’s older son is a firefighter in the same department that Don once worked, “We have fought the same fires together, he’s good, real good and I wouldn’t say that if he weren’t.”
His younger son, “Chris, he’s a fisherman, in fact we are fishing this tournament together, he’s real good at fishing too….wouldn’t say that…”
Been a rough year or so for Don, “Lost my job and my dad in the same year, me and him were real close, I’m a Jr.”
So meet, Don Adams Jr.
We sat and talked some, I told him what I knew of the Big Guy, told him of my firefighting friends out in Waukegan who also fish, he gave shout outs to both, “I miss my guys, it’s a close group at the fire house, I was a union guy for a long time, always stood up for the guys….”
Don just trails off, not wanting to say anything more about “standing up for my guys,” other than to say, “you do the right thing, I have to lay my head on the pillow at night…”
We talk more, I wish him well.
“The big thing is, I miss helping people, miss that.”
Then as he was about to leave, “Oh, you know, I just recently joined a volunteer fire department out where I live. I told them up front, I was square with them about what I can and can’t do, and they took me in, great bunch of guys, going to get back into it…”
And he was gone before I could ask any other questions, walked off down the beach here with his son.
Wherever it is that Don Adams Jr is now a volunteer firefighter at, know this, soon the people of that town will be able to lay their heads on the pillow at night and know that if anything happens that night, or day, one of Vermont’s best will show up to care for you.
As did the Big Guy.
“…raise your glass to the good…”
This was the hardest one to do.
Struck way too close to home.
Way too close.
Meet, Joe Croteau, fishing with Rhode Island, lives in MA, “I can stand on my street and put one foot in Rhode Island, one foot in Massachusetts.” Married 44 years to Irene, “I’m an only child,” his son Brian says as he stands behind his dad, “but I have 10 stepbrothers and stepsisters.”
Joe and Irene try to explain it, but I get lost pretty quick.
“I was a commercial fisherman, we built the boat ourselves,” Joe says as head nods back to Brian, “picked up the hull after Hurricane Bob, built the rest of the boat around it.”
Joe and Brian are fishing this tournament together, as they have fished together for years, “His doctor,” Irene starts telling me, “Joe’s doctor said ‘Irene you make sure he fishes that tournament with Brian, you make sure he says…”
That’s all Irene says for a moment, in the next moment she says to me, “He has stage four brain cancer.”
Joe says nothing, just looks at me.
Irene: "He has had cancer three times in the last four years. Began with Prostate Cancer, then Esophageal Cancer, and now Brain Cancer, Glioblastoma.”
Brian: “First he had the Prostate stuff, then he had a hard time swallowing, then this brain tumor.”
I want to stop this interview right now, all of those things strike very close to home for me, Prostate Cancer, Brain Tumor, trouble swallowing.
My hand shakes as I write it.
I hear of his three strokes, three heart attacks, and yet the man sitting opposite from me is smiling at me, “I love to fish.”
Irene: “The docs they adjusted his radiation treatment, did it on a couple of Saturdays so he could be here. He just finished a couple of days ago.”
Joe lifts his hat and shows me the wisps of hair he has left.
Brian: “Fishing is his life, relaxes him, makes him feel good, there is no place he would rather be then here fishing this tournament with me.”
And when Brian stops talking, I get up, step back a couple of feet, and take a photo of the two of them together, it is the only photo like it in this story. I told them I will send it to them after the story runs.
Nine people out of a hundred or so.
All random except for Don the firefighter.
Believe, if you believe.
Wonder, if you wonder.
About the fish.
And what it is about the fish, that brings people together, that makes them feel better,
that brings peace to those who chase it.
Listen to the string section of earth, to the whispers in your soul.
Find the random people in your life, and listen to them.
Talk to the man who picks up your garbage, plows your street, fixes your car, teaches your children, comes through the smoke for you.
You are the chorus of earth, it is your symphony to conduct.
I believe we are more alike than we are different,
looking for answers,
that may in fact,
in the end,
through a fish.
“…let's drink to the salt of the earth.”
Salt of the Earth
The Rolling Stones
Editor's note: You can find the other parts of Pick 9! and other wonderful stories by db here.