Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
Summer is a time of tradition. Families stream coastward for the annual beach trip. Anglers seek quiet refuge from the heat in the shade of a mountain stream. As we have for sixty-eight years, my family converges on our cemetery for three days of hugging cousins while balancing plates of BBQ. These things seem all the more important given the unpredictability of the last year and the disposability of so much of our modern lives.
I admit to an unrepentant nostalgia. I increasingly value things held by hands long before my own; things for which people felt enough regard to consider how to pass them down. I imagine it explains how I came to join the same Marine Corps as my father, grandfather, and a currently growing list of uncles and cousins. In May, after twenty-seven years, I took off the cloth of the nation for the final time. I’ve since watched three other friends end decades of service. As in all things military, there are rituals to retirement. Some belong to the institution: letters of thanks from the President and the Commandant; an award of some last bit of colored ribbon and brass; a line of handshakes and hugs. Within the Corps, discrete communities have their own rituals. Amongst mine, there is the gift of a paddle carved from exotic wood; sanded, stained, and polished by hand; wrapped in ornately braided line; and decorated with contributed items representing moments spanning years of service. Fueled by no small amount of libation, friends pass the paddle to one another, each holding it while offering stories and testimonies about the departing Marine, before finally passing it to the recipient, a ritual symbolizing the end of service. It is a deeply meaningful moment amongst people generally sparing with praise.
With that conditioning, I recognize and profoundly appreciate the traditions inherent to the time I’ve spent recently with Captain Seth Vernon of Doublehaul Guide Service. Having spent as long mastering his profession as I did my own now-concluded career, his willingness to calmly teach me the fundamentals of saltwater fly casting in pursuit of red drum, the fish Robert Ruark called “channel bass” one hundred years ago, is an induction into another rich heritage. Through hours atop a stump in a friend’s yard, he coached me through the mysteries of sending artful loops of line through the air, my own attempts more akin to a cartoon lion tamer’s whip. As a dark line of clouds glowered at us and the first jagged tendrils of lightning slashed in the distance, Seth took the end of my line in his hand and traversed the lawn to teach me how to respond to a fish’s evasive maneuvers. A few days later, Seth poled his boat as I stood atop a platform in the bow. I casted top water bait and flies as he kept up a gentle stream of guidance, never losing faith we would find a fish despite all signs to the contrary. And at the eleventh hour, we connected.
New or old, few things worth having come easily. Marking them with traditions honors the effort. May you find yours and pass them on.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe