(As it ran with minor corrections in the Mandan News)
It wasn’t meant to be permanent because it came from a newspaper office. You know, where something is news one week and history the next.
The vanilla whites were the result of the chemicals breaking down. That meant the photo would soon disappear.
The newsprint clipping wasn’t much better. The acid in the recycled paper had turned on itself and the picture looked as if it was burning up from the inside out.
If the photo wasn’t rescued soon, Grandpa K’s fish would get away forever.
As a young child, you never really know how your grandfathers are before they became grandfathers. Faces pale, and dark hair fades from passing days until you can’t really see the young man that was once there.
All you really know is what you hear from your father and your uncles. In Grandpa K’s case, the older sons spoke of a ruff and gruff man, while the youngest brother spoke quite fondly of him.
Not nearly as tall as his sons, Grandpa K almost always dressed in bib overalls, with only one buckle fastened, he could still fill an entire door frame easily with his presence.
On his head, the signature blue striped railroad cap, faded from the elements, was always a part of his silhouette.
Grandpa K was born in North Dakota, raised eight children, and helped his daughter raise her five children. Once he gave up farming, he took care of the city park conveniently located across the street from his house. He also gardened. (His wife made the very best dill pickles in the Midwest.)
Mostly, Grandpa K loved to fish.
He passed that on to at least three of the six sons who in turn passed it on to their sons and a nephew or two. Along with learning to fish, backing up a boat trailer, cutting a hole in the ice during the coldest of winter days, cutting a boneless filet, all the young boys learned to pee outdoors and swear in German.
There were plenty of lakes around the county filled with perch and Northern pike.
What the old man didn’t eat, or pickle, he gave away.
Grandpa K’s brother once caught a very large Northern. It was so big they put a picture of it in the paper.
Not too be outdone, Grandpa K’s last goal in life was to catch a bigger fish. He prayed for that fish. He fished for that fish. Even after his daily routine included visiting his wife of 65-plus years in the nursing home every day, he went after his “pike dream.”
Not nearly as strong as when he was a young man, Grandpa K was quite active until the day he died. If he had aches and pains, no one outside the very inner circle of family heard about them. It could be because he spoke mostly German, his first language.
Even the blessing at every meal in his house was in German, never varied, it was spoken fast and not too loudly. It isn’t spoken anymore.
But, God answers prayers, even in German. Before Grandpa K died, his pray for a bigger fish was answered.
He brought it to town, and someone called the paper to permanently record this extraordinary fish.
The nursing home placed Grandpa K’s bride in a wheel chair and rolled her out to in the picture. He stood next to her, with fish in hand. He held that fish about waist high and the tail still touched the ground.
After the photo, he cleaned it and gave it to the cooks at the home to prepare for all the residents.
Grandpa K’s youngest son tells the story better than anyone. It may have been the happiest day in his father’s life. To this day he doesn’t know how that old man dragged that enormous fish out of the water and into his boat by himself.
Perhaps God likes the fishing in North Dakota also.