Another Well-Crafted Story by John McPhee

Robert Hartshorne Jr.

I will be eternally grateful to whoever it is who leaves their old New Yorkers in the sauna at my gym.

I’ve read about forest fires in Australia, brilliant Iraqi architects, Lebanese arms merchants, and lots of other interesting subjects.

And just lately I came upon a story by John McPhee called ‘The Patch.’ McPhee’s father has a stroke and an inconsiderate doctor tells the family that he has lost all brain function and has a very short time to live.

I remember when my grandmother passed away at our house in Dedham many years ago, and I would talk to her and read to her and wonder if she could hear me. I decided it made sense to assume she could hear me.

Before my mom passed away last fall, there was a long interval when we couldn’t quite tell if she could hear us. I used to chatter on about old family memories, just assuming old familier names and stories and songs would give her a comforting feeling.

And a lot of the time it did. She smiled, remembering those Mossieburgers on South Beach. I need to remember to ask Uncle Nat who Mossie was.

So in this story, McPhee doesn’t know if his father can hear him, but he just talks on and on about pickerel, and the patch of lilypads on Lake Winnipesaukee where he has been fishing.

And then he tells his dad that he caught this enormous pickerel in the patch using the his dad’s old bamboo rod.

And then — spoiler alert — he sees a tear in his old man’s eye. Tearing is not definitive proof of brain function, but it’s good enough for me.

Since he passed away last month, I’ve been trying to picture my dad in a happier place. The last twelve years of his life, after his stroke,  were pretty dark.

My dad and I climbed every mountain over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire. Then they remeasured one that they thought was only 3,999 and it turned out to be a foot or two taller than they thought. We never made it up that one — but all the others.

So now I picture him on a mountain top, or better still, fishing in a canoe.