Christmas Notes: Checking the Depth with Aunt Liz

Aunt Liz would have turned 85 on Christmas Eve. She was born during the waning months of the Calvin Coolidge administration on what was likely a cold winter day in the flatlands of Missouri not far from the Mississippi River. She lived to see the White House change occupants 13 times but never strayed far from the Mississippi.

Aunt Liz was a middle aged woman by the time I married her niece and joined the family. I liked Aunt Liz immediately and grew even more fond of her upon learning that she like to crappie fish and that she was good at it. Her husband, Uncle Mike (another favorite relative) was also a superb crappie fisherman and for many years they spent countless weekends prowling Kentucky Lake for crappie and catching more than their fair share.

Aunt Liz played a critical role in she and her husband’s angling successes. Kentucky Lake is a lowland reservoir rife with creeks and is primarily a ledge fishery. Early during she and Uncle Mike’s fishing career Aunt Liz served as something of a human sonar, a chore that demanded considerable concentration, strength and skill. While Mike maneuvered the boat Liz would kneel at the bow and using an anchor and a knotted rope (knots about 1 foot apart) she would  locate drop offs and creek channels with the anchor then measure the depth by counting knots in the rope. Fish typically hang along the drops. Liz and Mike soon learned the lay of the lake – at least the section they liked to fish – then exploited it for years. They always caught fish. After health and other issues forced an end to their fishing and even following Uncle Mike’s death in 2009, Aunt Liz rarely failed to inquire as to the crappie fishing on Kentucky Lake.

Aunt Liz died in October following a short illness. The last time my wife and I saw her she was spending time with her daughter and son-in-law at their home near Kansas City. This was about six weeks before her death. We laughed and talked and played with the dogs had morning coffee on the patio and more wine than was necessary with dinner and shopped and toured a few of the city’s sights and generally had a grand time. Then, just before leaving, we told each other a tiny, harmless fib. We agreed we’d see one another again at Christmas, hugged, and said goodbye. But I feared the Christmas rendezvous wouldn’t happen and I suspected she had the same doubts.

At the memorial service, while I should have been listening to the preacher talking about Aunt Liz’s stellar character, love for Christ, wealth of friends, devotion to her church, love for her family and other outstanding qualities, I was thinking about her at the bow of the boat under a brilliant April sun, checking the depth, then picking up her rod and laughing each time she hauled in a big crappie. I think she would have been good with that.

The boat, anchor and knotted rope eventually came into my keeping. I no longer own the boat but still have the rope and anchor.

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My family will open a raft of gifts on Christmas morning, as will many other families. There is a reason for this and it’s important to remember.

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11., KJV.

Merry Christmas, everyone.