There’s still a box of fancy heels and short, summer dresses wasting away in my parents’ basement right where I dumped them over four years ago saying, “It’ll just be a year, I’ll need these when I move back.”
I was moving to Alaska the next day, hopping on a flight with as many sweaters crammed into two suitcases as I could. I didn’t have time to neatly pack away my Jersey Shore summer clothes because I was busy having a few too many going-away parties. Plus, I figured I would want those palm tree wedge shoes when I left Alaska and found my way back to the sandy, East Coast beaches I grew up on.
Yesterday, I ran along the rocky beaches out at Lowell Point near Seward and wondered if I would be able to wash the dank basement smell off the shoes when I went back to New Jersey for a quick trip this week. And then I remembered, I need to write a column before my plane leaves and scorned myself for always waiting until the last minute.
I quickly decided that instead of writing a full-fledged column, I’d wash some of the dank smell off of the first column I ever wrote, back when I was new to the state and still had daydreams of being back in New Jersey by my next birthday.
My mother is a thrifter and my father is a fisherman. She visits the local flea market every Sunday morning, bringing back boxes of tackle and reels for my father to look through while muttering “junk” under his breath.
She picks through the big piles looking for gear for him and he saves anything worthwhile, turning our back shed into Frankenstein’s lab — a quiver made of rods and reels that, under normal circumstances, would never have met.
I remember dropping a handful of them into the Atlantic Ocean because I couldn’t keep my hands on them. I remember admiring a PENN Tuna Stick and wanting to bring it bottom fishing, because it only came up to my 7-year-old shoulders. I remember being amazed at how quickly a bird’s nest of line would grow when I let the reel run wild. I was not my father’s daughter.
I remember shouting my mother’s name at the flea market, looking for her up and down aisles, as she darted between the “good spots.” I remember my heart racing while she haggled on prices, scared that we’d be walking away empty-handed, even though we never did. I remember paying $40 for a record player that didn’t work, and never would, just like she warned me. I was not my mother’s daughter.
One warm New Jersey afternoon, my father and I washed the winter off of his boat. I had just moved back into my childhood home, into a bedroom that had been taken over by my mother’s flea market finds and back to driving a car that had a perpetual fishy smell, but there was nothing suspicious about it.
I asked him why I didn’t have my own rod — he got my brother one for his birthday and my mom one for hers, hand-wrapped Bogan rods with their names emblazoned on the side. I didn’t want my February birthday to limit me to a lifetime of gifted warm weather gear, I wanted a brand-new rod of my own, no Frankenstein’s monster.
“If you’re here for your next birthday, I’ll get you one,” he said.
On my 25th birthday, I opened a small package with four pairs of wool socks and a one-way ticket to Kenai, Alaska.
In my first weeks on the Kenai Peninsula, everything was new. I spent my morning drive to work admiring mountain ranges and slowing down to see a moose. I couldn’t make the length of Bridge Access Road without stepping out of my comfort zone and seeing something for the first time. It was exhausting.
I found comfort in the thrift stores, found my calm in the used. I pilfered through each shelf of chipped china, searching for the familiar feel of secondhand dust on my hands as I scanned a plate or a bowl for an identifying label, just like my mother taught me.
Floating down the aisles, I found myself gravitating to the inevitable bucket of used poles, dilapidated reels and the occasional dipnet. I imagined all the fish the equipment had caught before landing in this bucket, species for which I had never thrown a cast. I untangled their lines, breaking through strong knots, just like the ones my father had practiced with me.
As the days warm, I grow antsier and antsier at the thought of my first Alaska fishing experience. I bought my license, I learned the rules. I’ve gone back to the thrift stores.
I don’t have my parents’ knowledge to walk me through the thrift store aisles or the tide book but my expertise is brackish. My mother is the river, my father is the sea and I am the estuary between them, feeling the influences of each daily as I make Alaska my home.
So, I’ve spent this spring filling my quiver the way they taught me, with secondhand gear that has seen what the peninsula has to offer.
Each reel knows what my first summer fishing Alaska’s waters has in store and I can’t wait to add another fish to its story.
By KAT SORENSEN
For the Clarion