In time, as the other little guys get older, I may come to treasure them as much, but for now, Jeremiah takes the show. Of course, it’s partly because I have seen more of him than I have the other kids. Joe Courage, seven years old, lives so far away that I haven’t had a chance to bond with him, as I have with Jeremiah. The other three male grandkids are just out of the infant stage and can’t compete with a “grownup” young man like Jeremiah.

I took Jeremiah and his daddy fishing in the boat out on the Tennessee River the other day. It was the first time for this three-year-old. His daddy gave him a rod and reel about six weeks ago and taught him how to cast and retrieve. He has stood out in the yard for hours practicing. All he has talked about is going fishing with Big Papa, so the time had come.

Since it was the first time to go out this year, we had intended to slip off without him and wait for better weather and better fishing conditions to take this would-be fisherman. But when James came over to go fishing with me, Shoshanna and Jeremiah came to drop him off, Jeremiah immediately guessed that James and I were going fishing, and of course, he assumed he was going too. He got really excited. What could I do? The day had now turned from a guys’ time out catching a lot of fish to a three-year-old-centered outing. The girls packed lunch and prepared the ice chest. We three “guys” readied the boat and gear. With everything packed, we rolled out of the driveway while the girls waved us off.

I had an extra hat in the truck that could be fitted for small heads, so I told Jeremiah that it was a special fishing hat that must be worn by a fisherman. He donned it with pride, knowing he was now officially inducted into the clan.

We anchored the boat at the mouth of a creek running into the river. James and I were going to fish with spinner bait, which requires constant casting and retrieving, so we decided to equip Jeremiah’s rod with a weighted cork and hook. His father would cast for him, so he would not hook one of us in his clumsy attempts. That would keep him still and occupied watching the cork while James and I did the more serious fishing.

I began casting right away, while James baited Jeremiah’s hook. James explained to him about watching the cork and keeping his rod’s tip up. “Hold on tightly, or the fish will jerk it out of your hand.” He was trembling with excitement as the boat rocked in the waves. The wind blowing hard against the boat was straining the anchor line, and other larger boats rumbled past, rocking our boat even more.

After I had been fishing for about five minutes, James cast Jeremiah’s rig into a likely spot and handed him the rod, repeating the previous instructions. Jeremiah held the rod at about a 45-degree angle and watched his cork intently. I continued to work the area where the clear water of the creek met the murky water of the river. Then suddenly, James hollered out, “You got a bite, Jeremiah; set the hook!”

“I got one, I got one!” he yelled.” It was a struggle for him to keep his seat and keep the rod tip up, but he sat there like a pro, cranking the reel. I saw the rod tip bending radically and heard his drag release singing as the fish sent a thrill up the monofilament line and into that little three-year-old body. The fish went one way and then the other, drawing closer to the boat each time. Finally, Jeremiah flipped the Yellow Bass over into the boat. I never had so much fun catching a fish.

Before I could catch one fish, this little thirty-five pound fisherman caught another one, and then his daddy caught two. By then we had five fish in the ice chest, and none of them were mine. Jeremiah was talking non-stop—bragging, complimenting himself. Finally, he was silent for a moment, and then he said, “Well, Daddy and I are pretty good fishermen.”

After about three hours of fishing, Jeremiah said, “I’m sleepy.” We had anticipated his nap time and brought along a foam mat and blanket to make him a bed in the boat. So James told him, “Here, you can lie down and take your nap.” He looked at the comfortable spot up under the hood of the boat and then straightened up in his seat and said, “No, fishing is more fun.”

He caught ten fish. His daddy caught ten, and I caught five. When a stranger walked up on the bank and hailed us, Jeremiah started telling him what a good fisherman he was and that he had caught the most fish. Then he pointed to his hat and explained that it was a fisherman’s hat and he was a fisherman. That he is—forever. He earned his seat in the boat that day.

That evening we had a fish bake, and he ate his share. When he had finished off two fish, he threw his hands up in the air and reminded us, “I won.” Everything is competition with him. He wins, all right. He wins hearts. And Big Papa’s heart has been won, for sure!

He called early the next morning, ready to go fishing again.