By: John R. Keller
For my 50th birthday a couple of years ago, my brother Bobby gave me our grandfather’s tackle box. He doesn’t fish these days and I guess he was holding on to it for posterity’s sake. Well, I’m the only one in the family that actively fishes, so after 50 years on this earth, I guess my big brother felt I was finally worthy of this honor. My grandfather, Robert J. Keller, or Popoo as I called him, was born to German immigrant parents in Brooklyn in the late 1800’s (I think in 1896). He was a printer by trade and he loved the sea; boating, sailing, clamming, crabbing etc. But his true love was fishing. He spent as much time as possible fishing in the waters around Brooklyn and Long Island and kept a boat in Great River for many years. I recall many happy times on Great South Bay with my father and Popoo on my father’s Old Town boat fishing. We always caught something for dinner and Popoo taught me to love fishing at the early age of 4 years old. The excitement of seeing who would catch the first fish, the biggest fish and the most fish made things lots of fun. Somehow I remember managing a number of these prizes on each trip, even if I didn’t really. Popoo’s kindness and love for me was always certain and evident. He was everything one could ask for in a grandfather and more. He died in 1973 when I was in eighth grade and the fishing stopped for a long time. Now I fish with my girls Christina (9) and Clara (7) and they are winning the prizes these days. When I ask them, “What do you want to do today?”, and they say, “Let’s go fishing!” you can just imagine what that means to me.
I’ve learned over the years to not attach much meaning to “things”. Most of what life has to offer is inherent in the joy of our relationships with friends and family, and our Maker. But “things” can really jog our memory in the recall department and bring us back to the simpler times of our childhood, and perhaps even help us catch fish. Anyway, aside from the flood of memories that came to me from just seeing the outside of Popoo’s tackle box, inside were many items that really brought me back; the carefully glued pieces of thin cork cut to size and laid on each bottom surface to cushion his tackle, his lures and diamond shaped lead sinkers, an old jar of pork rinds, diamond jigs and pill containers of hooks with non-childproof caps. In the top cover is a piece of paper, probably clipped from a newspaper or magazine, with the inscription: “Allah, it has been said, does not deduct from the allotted time of a man those hours spent in fishing”. As a child I was never quite sure what this meant, but I am acutely aware now. And then there was Popoo’s reel.
After my birthday party a few years ago, I put the tackle box in the garage and didn’t think much of it, until late this Spring. I opened it up and looked over his reel, a large Penn Long Beach with a green handle. It was spotless and shiny with no line on it. Upon careful examination I noticed the cover was cracked and a piece missing at one of the oiling ball valves near the main winding shaft. I wondered if it could be fixed. After all, it was over 40 years since Popoo, or anyone else, had used this reel.
My father, Robert O. Keller, Popoo’s only child, is now 87 years old and having a bit of a tough time due to conditions resulting from a stroke over 9 years ago. My brother Bobby and I decided to take him to Greenport for some fresh air. It was a beautiful clear morning in late May and the sun shined warm on our faces. We walked on and rode round trip on the Shelter Island Ferry. We were given our own lane on the ferry for my father and his wheelchair. There was a lot of goodwill from the crew and the ride was free. It was the first time my father had been on a boat in a long time and he smiled the whole trip. Before we left my house in Cutchogue, I grabbed Popoo’s reel and told my brother we needed to stop by Wego Bait and Tackle in Southold.