A Man, His Wife, and a Fish: A Love Story

When I was nine, I remember sitting with an elderly man at the edge of a pond, quietly fishing with him. There were about ten other residents of Castle Rest Nursing Home scattered along the grassy edge with a few nurses aides flitting about maintaining order.


My mother, then director of nursing at Castle Rest, volunteered me for this field trip and I was happy to go. What I remember most about that day was the hubbub that ensued when, after about an hour of casting and reeling in nothing but limp bait in silence, this man started telling me the story of his wife and their life together.

I listened respectfully without interrupting as he gazed into the pond reflecting, smiling as he spoke of their first meeting, their courtship, and a lifetime filled with life and love. Slowly, his smile faded into a deep, quiet, and tearless sadness. He told me of the day of her stroke and the hope he had of her recovery and return home, “three years ago today,” he said. She did not recover, and soon Castle Rest became her home for the rest of her life. He was so distraught that he stopped caring for himself and soon joined her in the nursing home. My fisherman brightened a little when he told how he discovered that after he moved in, he could spend as much time with her as he wanted—even though she’d never be the same and neither would he.


He told me about all the excursions, unnoticed, to the elevator to escape up one floor to his wife’s side to just see her lovely eyes and hold her soft hands. They talked and talked, reminiscing about old times they enjoyed together. “But I would only speak to her if we were alone in her room,” he said, looking straight at me, nearly knocking me off my little plastic chair with the force of the look in his eyes.

This is when I noticed the hubbub building around us.

As I sat listening, I watched his bobber pull under the water, and it seemed urgent that I tell him he caught a fish, but we were both too mesmerized by his story to care. I laughed along with him as he began to reel in that fish that kept tugging on his line.

Then I heard the yelling: “What did you do to Mr. Joe?! Why is he laughing? What’s he saying? What did you do?!” Suddenly, a swarm of aides and some nimble elders tightened the circle around us making all sorts of loud remarks. All I could think of was that they should all get out of the way so he can get his fish off the hook. What was the big deal?

I was shuffled away, confused, and watched from a distance while they tended to Mr. Joe who was trying to get his fish into the bucket and no one would help him. I know how to take a fish off a line, why didn’t they let me help? Soon we were all escorted back to the bus heading back to Castle Rest. Mr. Joe caught my eye across the aisle, and his eyes were silently smiling, glistening, and twinkling with some mystery he kept to himself.

Lakeside-garden-in-Albion-Indiana.-Photo-by-D.-Fran-MorleyThe next day, I went in to find him and ask him what happened at the fishing hole; his room was eerily clean and empty.  I learned that Mr. Joe’s wife had died several days before that trip and that he joined his wife in death just hours after catching that fish. Nurses aides were still asking me what I did to him, and I had no idea what they were talking about until I  also learned that he hadn’t spoken a word to anyone on the staff in the three years he lived there.

Joe had gifted me with the personal history of a beautiful life with his beloved wife. I imagined them laughing together in the garden, tending to the flowers she so loved, followed by a perfect fish dinner.

Joe’s story marked my official entry into the passion called personal history, and I look forward to thanking him and his wife someday as I pass through their garden, tended with love.

~~~ APH: Life, Stories, People ~~~

Photo credits: Man and Young Girl Fishing: ©iStockphoto.com/Akirastock. Used with permission.

Elderly Couple Stroll Down a Tree-Lined Road: Use licensed via Wikimedia Commons. Photo is in public domain and was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the National Archives and Records Administration as part of a cooperation project. Public Domain.

Lakeside Garden in Albion, Indiana © D. Fran Morley, Content Editor for APH.

21 thoughts on “A Man, His Wife, and a Fish: A Love Story

  1. This brings back so many memories. Thanks Joe for igniting my passion for personal history!

  2. Great story, Sam. What a gift he gave you.

  3. What a very special story - and so beautifully told.
    Thank you, Sam!

  4. Sam, your story - and Mr. Joe’s - sent a chill down my spine and a tear to my eye. What incredible power there is in just listening.

  5. Sam, you are a natural storyteller, which is a gift given to few. You have found your professional niche and career as a personal historian and the world will be much richer for hearing the stories you will tell.
    Thank you.

  6. Sam, you are a gifted storyteller. Thank you for sharing such a meaningful story with us!

  7. Sam, Thank you! Thank you! What a beautiful story. Much appreciation for sharing it.

  8. I’m so glad I read this this morning. Your story reads like a movie that I’d love to watch. I especially love the trust and the connection between senior and child. Grandkids can be a powerful aid in seniors opening up. Inviting them along to an interview is my next plan! Thank you for this.

  9. Oh, oh, thank you. Of course he knew it was all right to talk to you-I’m still taking dep breaths after reading this. Wonderful.

  10. You have a beautiful way with words. Thank you for sharing this gem. We in the APH are enriched by having you as a colleague!

  11. What a wonderful story, so beautifully told. I’m a freelance writer and journalist and a friend of APH member Pat McNees. She suggested I check out the organization and the website and I’m SO glad I came across the blog, and this post in particular. You make me want to look into this profession in detail. I have told people’s stories for years in magazine articles, etc., but never like this. I’m so inspired here. Thanks.

  12. What a beautiful story! It’s very inspiring.

    After leaving my career in 1990 to raise and homeschool my kids, I am now in that season of life all stay-at-home moms eventually come to…that time of realizing the kids are grown and I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

    since I love to write and am passionate about family history, I’m trying to figure out the logistics of establishing a personal historian career. However, another huge interest is just what you did in your story…listen! I have a huge burden for the older segment of the population…I think they are being largely thrown away and/or ignored. I would love to simply be a companion to an older person, so I could just sit and listen to the stories of their lives.

    Thanks for sharing such a poignant story.

  13. Hi Sam,
    That is a really well told story.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. What a beautiful story. How perfect for a child to be the audience for this story told one last time.

  15. Stunning story. What a blessing. Thank you for sharing it.

  16. Thanks for sharing your story. What a powerful baptism into the world of personal history.

  17. Thank you for all the kind words everyone! I take very little credit for the positive outcomes I am honored to be a part of in preserving peoples’ life stories. Life is just one blessing after another and I take none of it for granted.

    Happy holidays!

  18. Sam,
    What a timeless and moving bit of history, and how wonderfully you captured it. Isn’t this what it’s all about, really? (I offer the words of E.M. Forster: “Only connect.” You did.)

    Francie King

  19. What a story! What a gift for both of you. As my mother is in that “rehab” purgatory at this moment and we’re all going day by day to see where her next “home” will be I find this very comforting. For me, the experience that brought me to being a personal historian was with my grandfather. Seeing the change in his frantic behavior, repeating his stories over and over until I put them in a “book”, dissipating into a quiet calm demeanor was what moved me to pursue the elderly to get more stories. Your story has helped me better understand a piece of myself.

  20. Wow! I’m humbled by all of your generous expressions of kindness. I would never have thought to write this piece if I hadn’t been asked the question, “What’s the one experience you had that put you on course to becoming a personal historian?” I had to think long and hard. There were many, as I worked as a home health aide for seven years serving mostly the terminally ill, and the stories were many and memorable. But this was my earliest memory of being deeply moved in my soul to spend time, listen, and eventually retell or document the stories of those who touched my life and caused me to live a little differently from that story-point on.

    I’m so proud to be a member of APH! Thanks for all your support!

  21. Sam,
    I just read your post - better late than never! Thanks for a well-written and inspiring story!
    Cheers, Steve Pender