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23 Jul

My First Fishing Reel….An Angler’s Christmas Memory

December 24, 2019

Every year for as along as I can remember, my grandmother always did the Christmas shopping as well as the shopping for the birthdays and anniversaries for the family. She did this while my grandfather would get a cup of hot black coffee and find a bench to sit on near the entrance of the store. His wasn’t about shopping, but he loved watching the people pass while he enjoyed his coffee and a Winston cigarette. However, there were 2 people that he did shop for and that was my grandmother and especially me. From my earliest memories, he and I were best friends. We spent hours together chatting on his patio that faced a golf course, watching the golfers play, including listening to their cursing.  An event that we would never told tell my mom of grandmother about. Many times we would enjoy a slightly cold Coca Cola from a glass bottle that was filled with salted peanuts. It was a sweet, salty memory that still hangs with me today.  Those times were special.

Years later I found out that he always went shopping by himself. He didn’t want to be influenced by my grandmother. Believe me, she could influence you! Each year since I was an infant, he would get in his Pontiac Tempest and head out to find the perfect gift for his only grandson. As the story goes, on the Saturday before Christmas in 1964, he went out as a man on a mission. He got in his Pontiac Tempest and went to find the perfect gift for his then 8 year grandson.  He strolled into the local K-Mart store in Charlotte NC, were he went straight to the back of the store where he found what he came for. This year, there would be no plastic guns or wood burning sets under the Christmas tree. It was a special gift that would be practical and have a long lasting meaning. It was a gift that would guarantee that he and I would continue to share our time together.

As tradition would have it, every Christmas eve my grandparents would make the one hour drive from Charlotte up into the foot hills to my home in Shelby, NC . We would enjoy a Christmas eve together with a lot of great food and laughter. I would sleep on the sofa in the den with a fire burning in the nearby fireplace. Every Christmas morning I would wake to the smell of country ham cooking as my grandfather made breakfast. But before we would eat, the gifts had to be opened. The chill of the morning combined with the excitement of Christmas gave me the shivers. As I opened my gifts, there were the usual socks and shirts mixed in with the toys of the day. I soon realized, there was nothing from Paw Paw. I looked over at him and couldn’t help but notice the big grin on his face. That’s when he pointed to the corner behind the Christmas tree. It was a fishing rod and reel. It was a Zebco 404 just like the ones I saw in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Sitting beside was a green metal tackle box complete with hooks and floats inside. Also, inside was a Case pocket knife with a bone handle. It was great until my mother took it away until I was little older. She finally agreed that I was old enough to have it when my youngest son went in the Marine Corps, but it was still in good shape.

Waiting for the warmer weather was the biggest challenge of my young life. When the foothill fishing season finally came, Paw Paw  and I trudged across the golf course to a

large pond filled with Bream. We fished all day. The warm breeze kept us cool while we fished and ate bologna sandwiches wrapped in wax paper pinned closed with a toothpick, while sipping on luke warm cokes out of the bottle. All of which was delivered across the golf course by my grandmother. He patiently sat there smoking his Winston cigarettes sipping on his coke chatting with me. At the end of the day I carefully removed the hook and red and white bobber from the new rod and reel placing  them in the tackle box before heading home. That night lying in bed, I continued to think about the fish I caught and the special time I had with my best friend, Paw Paw. I also couldn’t stop thinking about that new Zebco 404 rod and reel that replaced my old cane pole and how cool it was.

He and I fished many days with that Zebco always being there. Then life happened. I grew up and started a family. My Paw Paw moved into his senior years, but there were many times that we still sat on his patio talking about those days beside the lake fishing with that old Zebco and laughing about our stories. Today, I take my grandson fishing as often as I can. He fishes with a nice rod and reel and has a tackle box that has more lures than I had as a fishing guide years ago. At 7 years old, he’s already caught several fish, with 1 being a 5 pound bass that was released of course. My time with him is special and I hope it means as much to him as it did with my grandfather. We sit there on the bank of the lake near his house sipping on diet cokes while I smoke a cigar. Later we’ll sit on my back porch and reflect on it. Talk about circle of life.

This Christmas morning my wife and I will drive the short distance to our son’s house for our traditional Christmas breakfast. I’ll cook a single piece of country ham just like Paw Paw did every Christmas morning. The smell of the cooking ham brings back memories of that Christmas in 1964 and that old Zebco 404. Mostly, it brings such pleasant memories of my Grandfather. I hope that cooking the ham on Christmas morning will also remind my grandson of me in the years to come.

I’m not sure where that old Zebco and that tackle box is today. I saw it last in the back of my parent’s storage room beside some old golf clubs. It’s since been replace with a garage filled with Penn light tackle spinning rod and reels. However, that Zebco holds more stories than that Penn ever will.

So, if your looking for a last minute gift for that grandson or granddaughter, K-mart closed their doors years ago, but Zebcos are still sold today. Go get them one and start your own Christmas tradition. Also, stop by the Food Lion and get you a pack of country ham like I still do today for Christmas morning with my wife and our grandchildren. And remember….a tackle box is a lot better than an X-Box.

By the way….today I’m also better known as “Paw Paw”.  It’s the greatest honor I will ever receive.

Skyler Wilson, My Grandson








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