The Worm by Julie Long

I couldn’t put the worm on. I prided myself on being a tomboy – I hated Barbies and baths, and loved climbing trees and playing with Tonka trucks – but something about sticking a hook through a wiggling worm gave me the heebie-jeebies. Dad had somehow understood, but how could I tell old Mr. Lyons, who never had any kids? I almost hadn’t gone fishing with him because of it, but Mom talked me into it. Then, the closer we got to the river, the more it worried me.It was nice of Mr. Lyons to take me fishing. Since my dad had died the fall before, it was just my mom and us four girls, and I knew we wouldn’t go fishing or camping or canoeing anymore. I missed my dad and had taken to hanging around Mr. Lyons’s yard as he worked on building his houseboat. I loved the smell of sawdust and stain – a scent that was fading from my dad’s unused workshop. I think Mr. Lyons liked my company, too. He’d be hammering a nail or planing wood with his eyes squinting in concentration until his dog Brownie would announce my arrival with a bark. When he’d look up and see it was me, he’d set his tools down and scratch his gray, scruffy chin and say he was glad I came by because he needed a break.Mr. Lyons had finished the houseboat in the spring, and he’d already taken it down to the river. He pulled the truck up next to the houseboat.”Well, how’s she look?””Real nice, Mr. Lyons.””We’ll just fish right off the front bow. It’s nice and shady there. The fish’ll be keeping cool and waiting for a worm to wiggle on by.”We got the fishing poles out of the bed of the Ford. Mine was just the bamboo pole I had dug out from the camping supplies in the basement. Dad had tried to teach me how to cast his rod and reel but I had tangled the line up something awful. Maybe now that I had turned eleven I’d have better luck.Mr. Lyons reached back in the truck bed for the tackle box, then reached in again and handed me the Styrofoam container of worms. I followed him down the bank and onto the boat, keeping an eye that the lid stayed on.Once on the bow, Mr. Lyons started getting everything set up. Any minute now I’d have to admit to him my aversion to worms. Then he’d probably never ask me to go fishing again. He handed me my pole, then set the container between us and fished out a worm for his pole. Then, just when I was ready to confess, Mr. Lyons confessed to me instead.”Always hate this part,” he mumbled as he held the worm in one hand and his hook in the other. “It’s silly, but stickin’ the poor little guy with a hook makes me feel, I dunno what you’d call it. . . .””Like you have the heebie-jeebies?” I offered hopefully.”That’s it exactly. The heebie-jeebies. You get ’em, too?””A little,” I admitted, relief washing over me.”Yeah. I guess sometimes we gotta go through the bad to get to the good. Want me to hook your worm for ya?”There it was. My way out. All I had to say was “yes” and I’d be off the hook and my worm would be on. But I felt bad making Mr. Lyons put the worm on if he hated it as much as me. So I reached into the cool dirt and picked up a fat worm between my fingers. I tried not to think about how slimy it felt as I quickly poked the hook through its middle and wiped my hand on my jeans.I had done it! It definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I had gotten through it. I looked up at Mr. Lyons. He gave me a wink. I grinned with pride and tossed my line in the water. The bad part was over.Today, of course, I realize my mom must have shared my problem with Mr. Lyons; I’m fairly certain he didn’t have a case of the heebie-jeebies at all. But I also know that he helped me grasp, on a child’s level, the principle of persevering through the bad to get to the good. My mom and sisters and I never did fish together again; the days of camping and canoeing died with my father. But we struggled through the grief and, when we got through the bad, we eventually found other good times to enjoy as a family. And I continued to fish with Mr. Lyons . . . And bait my own hook.

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