Written by B. Jan Montana

We called him Brother Crawford because that was the protocol in the evangelical church in which I was raised. He was well into his eighties and moved very slowly, so I knew he must have been hurting as he walked. Nevertheless, he smiled all the time and expressed nothing but gratitude. He’d spent his life in the Merchant Marine and I was told he had many regrets for the things he’d done, but somehow, he was able to accept that – and himself. Perhaps that was the function of the religion for him. If it was, it served a useful purpose.

Brother Crawford lived in a senior care facility where, I’m told, he was a beacon of light to the other residents. In return, they treated him like a saint.

My best friend, Darwin, commented one day that Brother Crawford must have been bored in the home. I was surprised to hear that from him. He was an overstrung high school athlete who didn’t seem particularly sensitive to others. “We should take him fishing with us,” he suggested. The idea of two scrappy kids with fresh drivers’ licenses spending a Saturday fishing with a fragile old man seemed incongruous to me. “I’ll borrow my neighbor’s aluminum rowboat and we’ll go pick him up.”

The next Saturday at 10 am, Brother Crawford was standing outside the senior care facility, cane in hand, beaming like a lighthouse. We drove several miles to a shallow, rocky river, loaded Brother Crawford and our poles into the boat, and pushed into the water. Darwin rowed towards an eddy he knew, surrounded by mature trees where trout tended to congregate. We could see them swimming below us in the cold, clear water. It was an idyllic spot.

Despite his Marine background, Brother Crawford didn’t have a clue how to fish. Darwin patiently tried to show him and he listened intently, but it soon became apparent that fishing was not Brother Crawford’s priority. While Darwin and I focused on catching something, he marveled at the beauty of the scene, the warmth of the sun, and how much he appreciated the opportunity to enjoy them with us.

“It’s important to stay quiet when fly fishing,” Darwin eventually commented, but silence was not in Brother Crawford’s repertoire. He continued to relate stories of his past as they popped into his head. Sometimes, he repeated himself. I wondered how long Darwin would tolerate this.

After an hour, Darwin exclaimed, “Screw this!” and jumped out of the boat, boots, and all. He high-stepped his lanky legs upstream as fast as the knee-deep water would allow, his long arms flailing for balance. I cringed, thinking he’d cracked.

Then he plunged down, and to our astonishment, pulled out a large trout. With the fish flopping between his hands, he smiled and hollered, “I got the bastard!”

Brother Crawford laughed so hard, streams of tears were running down his face. He had to brace himself to stay in his seat. Darwin threw the thrashing trout into the boat, laughing equally hard. We were apoplectic for at least 10 minutes. All wildlife for a mile around must have fled in fear of these crazy interlopers. It was a transcendent moment which, 56 years later, still brings a glow to my heart.

For months until his death, Brother Crawford repeatedly and gleefully related this story in church. It must have been the highlight of his senior years.

As I matured, I couldn’t rationalize the theology of the church and dropped out. That was a mistake.

It wasn’t the ideology that mattered, it was the camaraderie.

Would any loving Father disagree?

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