db: Remembering 'Papa' at Nation Championship

“Papa, can you hear me…”

Dateline: The empty seat…

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on.”
~Irving Berlin

If we were unable to remember, would death be easier to take.

If we were unable to love, would death even matter.

But there are memories, and we do love, and living is the greatest cause of death.

Death comes.

Death knows we are here.

Death’s wait begins the moment we are born.

“db, he calls me from the water, he’s a total mess, he says, he tells me, I don’t know what to do, don’t know if I can do this without calling my father and telling him about my fish, and I cry, and he cries.” Janie Croteau.

“I’m thrilled to be here, but you know what, know what, without my father here with me it’s like a day late, a dollar short.” Brian Croteau.

We are leaning up against a boat, I think it is a red boat, I’m not real sure. I know Janie, I know Brian and I know Joe Croteau.

Joe Croteau, is Papa.

Joe Croteau passed away the day after Father’s Day in 2014.

I wrote his obit on Bassmaster.com.

Joe Croteau's truck, boat and fishing awards displayed at his wake last year.

I remember, the hand on the shoulder.

I remember, the smile of the son.

I remember, looking through the lens and knowing that one day, we would use this photo again.

But that when we did, that seat would be empty.

“…Papa, can you see me…”

“This is the first time that Brian will fish the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and…”

It takes a moment before Janie can finish that sentence about her husband…

“…and Joe won’t be here to see his son fish it.”

It is the first day of practice and all around us trucks are pulling anglers out of the water and into their assigned parking spot.

Boat #47, with Brian in it, floats in a bay, waiting.

Brian and Janie Croteau pose next to boat #47.

“I was there when Joe died, held his hand at the end, he died at home we were all there, his wife, they were married 42 years, his wife still sits home and cries, misses him so.”

I never knew Joe, Joe the great angler, Joe the great family man, Joe the great Papa to his grandkids.

I just knew the Joe with brain cancer.

The Joe, who every once in a while during the interview I did with him back in 2013, the Joe who would flash a smile, the Joe who would chuckle, the Joe who would pat his son’s hand as they sat at a picnic table and talked with me, the Joe who in those small moments let me know…Joe Croteau was still in here.

“If Joe was still alive db, he would be here, he would be here with Brian, nothing would have kept him away.”

“…I remember everything you taught me…”

Brian is guarded as he talks, guarded where he looks, sometimes his answer to one of my questions, is just a smile.

“I’m not really, you know, overly religious db.”

That is Brian’s answer to this question, “Do you think your dad is still in the boat with you, will be in there at this tournament?”

I’m not “overly religious” myself but I do know that every word I type I do so with my Aunt Irma’s hand on my shoulder.

There are times when you keep writing, times when you stop, times when you just chew on the end of the pen.

I chewed some, as it turns out, so did Brian.

“You know db, I would like to think he was there, like to think he was here with me now.”

“…Papa, how I love you…”

We are the sum of those who love us, those who teach us, those who befriend us, and it is those who we take with us no matter where we go.

Of course, Papa will be in that boat.

Brian, my friend, if Papa is in your heart, he will be in your boat.

Joe has fished with you your entire life, death does not change that.

Every cast you make here, and forever, will be guided by Papa.

Every launch.

Every hookset.

Papa, will be there.

Only the seat, is empty, you carry Joe with you everywhere you go.

It is here at the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship where 59 competitors from all over the world come to fish, come to compete.

When it’s over Brian, I will get a hold of the final scoring sheet, and I will mail it to you and your family.

And on it will be 60 names.

Because for Joe, for your family, I will write in…

…that Papa was here, too.

“…Papa, how I miss you.”
Papa Can You Hear Me

Barbara Streisand

“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss