You know those guys who sport the bumper sticker, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working?” That was my dad. During his varied career — landscaper, salesman, roofing contractor — he would always pair a day’s work with an hour or so of fishing at the beginning, middle, or end of the day.
As he got older he’d still frequent his favorite fishing spots — like Palmer River in Rehoboth, Massachusetts — a river he’d fished for more than 50 years. Palmer was more of a stream than a river. It varied in width from five feet to about 20 feet as it meandered across lonely farmland and forest in rural Massachusetts.
My dad had a reputation of getting himself into trouble from time to time. Not the criminal sort, mind you, but the kind of trouble that makes you wonder how he lived nearly 82 years.
In May 2004, my 78-year-old father visited Palmer River once again. As the river was not very deep, he would wear hip waders walking down river, fishing along the way. He came upon a recent “blow down” where a huge maple tree had fallen across the river. Rather than try to get through the branches, he walked around the torn up root system and reentered the river just past the fallen the tree.
As he waded into the river, he found it difficult getting across the silty bottom — sinking in the mud with each step. Should he go back? Keep going? He could see the solid gravel bed a few feet ahead and struggled to make another step. But he couldn’t get his left foot free. The water was just above his waist; another foot deeper and his waders would fill up with water. He struggled to free his left foot until he reached the point of exhaustion. He couldn’t go forward or backward.
He was stuck in the middle of the river — half a mile from the nearest road. Again, I remind you, he was 78 years old when this happened.
He stopped for a long moment to think things over: He could try getting out of his waders and swimming to shore, but the water was mighty cold, and he had a thirty-minute-or-so walk to his truck. It also meant getting his wallet and cell phone wet. Then it dawned on him: “I have a cell phone!” So, with cell phone in hand, he quickly called my mother.
“Marilyn, I’m at Palmer River, and I’m stuck in the mud.”
“Should I call a tow truck?” she asked.
“No, Marilyn, I’m stuck in the mud — in the middle of the river!”
Like I said earlier, if you knew my Dad, none of this would surprise you.
My mother tried calling my brothers Steve and Paul, but they were both too far away to help. It looked like Dad was going to have to wait a while.
He waited for about an hour — casting an occasional line while he stood there. Heck! Might as well fish to pass the time!
All of a sudden, he heard sirens in the distance. Then, his cell phone rang. It was the Rehoboth Fire Department. “Hold on, Mr. Flynn,” she said. “Someone will be there shortly to help you.”
Within minutes, people were calling his name on both sides of the river.
“Jack Flynn! Are you OK?”
He answered reluctantly, “I’m over here.”
Five eager men pushed through the brambles and pulled him to shore.
When they made it to the road, my father couldn’t believe his eyes. There was not one ambulance, but two. There were also two police cars, a rescue truck, numerous cars with state plates, and 20-30 people. Talk about embarrassing.
“Drowning would have been less painful,” he muttered to himself.
What’s more, the EMTs insisted he go to the hospital.
“I’m fine!” he told them. “Humiliated, yes, but fine! If I sign a waiver can I go home and end the embarrassment?”
Which is exactly what he did.
As he drove home, another sickening thought entered his mind: His friends would never let him live all this down. And he was right.
Shortly after his adventure at Palmer River, my father submitted his own version of this story to “Field and Stream” magazine. It was never published. My brother, Mike, included a more complete version of this story in his forthcoming book, “Come Back When You Can’t Stay So Long,” a chronicle of the many misadventures of my father’s life.