My Dad grew up in the inner-city of Youngstown, Ohio. The youngest of five brothers, he didn't have much time for outside activities or sports. Dad's father died when he was three, so any time outside of school was dedicated to supporting the family. He was a standout in Basketball. I found that out by accident when going through his jewelry box one day and finding a Bronze Basketball charm he was awarded as League MVP. Dad was never one to brag about his exploits.
I gave a little background to this story to explain why my father didn't have much influence into my endeavors in sports and the great outdoors. He never had much experience himself, let alone teach me the proper ways to do things. Enter my Uncle Jack. Jack was my Mom's youngest brother, by a lot of years and only twelve or so years older than me. I can't confirm it, but I do believe Jack was born with a fishing pole in his hand.
Jack grew up in Struthers, practically a stone's throw away from Lake Hamilton. Jack became an accomplished Fisherman and Hunter very early in life and spent every extra minute he had perfecting his craft. I was the first nephew Jack had, so by the time I was old enough to walk and feed myself, I became one of Jack's Fishin' Buddies.
Jack would frequently have me stay overnight at my grandparent's house on Omar Street. We spent hours hunting Night Crawlers by flashlight and he would wake me up before the crack of dawn to go fishing. Jack would often have to wake up Slim, the care-taker of the lake if he needed to rent a row boat or buy some bait. We would usually be the first ones on the lake for the day. I still remember the fog-shrouded water that was as smooth as glass and the sounds of the oars rhythmically plunging softly into the water for another stroke.
After Jack got his Driver's License, we often went to The Mahoning Valley Sportmen's Club at Crystal Lake. This small lake was stocked with tons of fish and I have fond memories of getting into Blue Gill Catchin' Contests with Jack off a small porch of a cabin that overhung the water. Jack let me win, of course, and I beamed with pride. As a young boy, Jack had me use a Bamboo Pole with about 10 feet of line and a round Bobber. Much to his surprise, I caught a huge Rainbow Trout with that Bamboo pole that Jack and his friend thought was a club record. I never enjoyed a fish dinner as much as that one. Jack was an expert at filleting and preparing fish, too.
On another occasion, I was fishing with Jack and his buddy, when I accidentally bumped a Fishing Pole and Reel that sat on the rail of the boat. Over the side and into 60 feet of water went a brand-new Garcia Rod and Reel! Jack could see the fear in my eyes and just told me to be more careful. A hard thing for fidgety five-year-old to do. Jack mentally marked the spot and he and his buddy Scuba-Dived for the fishing gear, retrieving it the next day.
As I got older and Hunting Season rolled around, Jack would pick me up to go hunting. He frequently took me to a Trap Shooting Range to hone my skills with a Shotgun. Carefully standing behind me, he'd coach me in the finer points of shooting. Slowly squeeze the trigger and line up your sights on the target. I had several perfect scores, thanks to Uncle Jack's guidance. What a thrill for a twelve year old!
Jack bought his first motorcycle when I was about fourteen. A Honda 750, that I spent many a Sunday riding on the back of, all over Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
Again, there was Jack at the crack of dawn, tooting his horn in the driveway to wake me up to head out on another adventure. Riding in the early Spring in Ohio on a Motorcycle isn't the warmest. I recalling my hands aching from the cold and Jack stopping at a General Store ninety five miles from nowhere to buy me some gloves.
On another excursion, we stopped at Back Woods Bar far from home to warm up and catch a bite to eat. We played pool with a few locals for a pitcher of Beer to the winners. Naturally, Jack being good at everything, easily won. I drank my first Beer that day(and then some!), and only Jack and I ever knew. I figure the Statute of Limitations is up on that caper. I think Jack kept me at his house for several hours before taking me home.
About the time I graduated from high School, Jack moved to Georgia. I felt like Little Jackie Paper of Puff, The Magic Dragon fame, when the dragon left and Jackie lost his playmate. I was on my own, so to speak. Things would never be the same again. The guy that showed me so much and was my mentor, now had a wife and children of his own. I found out that it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. I now knew enough to function by myself and even show others.
Admittedly, Jack gave me opportunities I never would have had and he taught me many skills I would use all my life. I got the Motorcycle Bug from him and have traveled most of the country on one, just about every year since. I've even taken my Grandchildren fishing, which any Grandfather would cherish those memories. Thanks, Jack for showing me the ropes. I treasure those days.