This post continues a series on “objects”, inspired by Martie McNabb’s Show & Tales events. In writing, the concrete will always have more power than the abstract, because with concrete words come images. Let John’s words bring images to your mind… and consider this an invitation to write your own “object lessons”–stories inspired by and focused on the things that have meaning for us, because we know their story.

By John Pfender

It’s surprising how it can be the little things that make such strong memories. I remember my brother and I, as small kids, running across the wide open lawn at our summer cottage and out onto the long pier that stretched out into the wide, turquoise blue water of the St. Clair River.  At this moment it was not the passing proud freighters or endless pleasure craft that attracted our attention, but the hope of river minnows. Our running steps slapped against the deck boards and stopped abruptly as we knelt and pulled the rope tied to the railing.

Up came the minnow net through the crystal clear water, towards our expectant faces and excited voices. The net was teeming with many small silvery minnows gathered to nibble the flour paste off the cotton netting.  We pulled the net clear of the water and brought it to rest upon the catwalk. We also hauled up the old steel minnow bucket, peppered with holes to let the river water in, and opened its creaky lid to accept its new prisoners.  The minnows in the net flashed the colors of the rainbow: patches of red, green, blue and orange against shiny silver sides and white bellies. Excited voices went silent as we stared at the beauty.

Our concentration broke as the minnows started to gasp for air, their almost-transparent lips and liquid eyes seemingly staring up at us. Dad came out in his white shirt and khaki pants, preceded by the smell of his cigar. We all looked together, then quickly dumped the minnows back into the river–bypassing the waiting pail. The minnows regained themselves then in small groups darted back into the deep river.

As a parent, I think part of the reason the memory of those brilliantly-colored minnows is so strong is that such minnows no longer live in our river. They have been replaced by newcomers from other continents. My children are entranced nonetheless by the large, ugly imposters that make their way these days into the old minnow net.  It is bittersweet to hear them exclaim with wonder: “Look Dad, aren’t they great?”

© 2020 John Pfender

John Pfender lives in Madison, Wisconsin where he likes to putter around the garden and old house, read, play the accordion and write the occasional memoir for his children and grand kids. He spends time each summer at the family’s ancestral cottage in the St. Clair Flats on the Michigan-Ontario border.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to Minnows

  1. suzy beal says:

    Mr. Pfender – I love the memories and the way you tie it into your grandchildren. It is why we write.


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