by Reid Matthias
I went fishing with Santa.
During my first week at Para Vista Lutheran Church in suburban Adelaide, Verne approached me and stuck out his hand. I shook it and enjoyed the eerie visage that greeted me. Verne peered at me from behind bifocals that made his eyes look bigger than they really were.
As he spoke, the hairs of his moustache blew out in little puffs, like cotton balls tossed in a light, spring breeze, and his beard hung raggedly white on the chest of his shirt.
‘Do you like to fish?’, he asked, his voice gravelly but mirthful.
I stared up at him, to the top of his head, which looked like the snow-encrusted peak El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. Verne is about six feet four inches tall (193cm) and I would have guessed from his appearance that he would more likely fit in handing out presents with elves than holding a fishing rod.
‘Do I like to fish?’, I repeated as if this was a silly question. ‘Don’t all disciples like to fish?’ Weird Christian jokes fail sometimes and I think Verne was wanting to take back his question.
‘I’ll take that as a “yes”.’ He was still smiling. ‘How about we go out fishing and I’ll show you how to catch blueys’, he responded, using the local lingo for blue swimmer crabs.
I rolled out of bed at 5.00am after a restless night. Because I was excited to get out on the water for the first time, I woke up before my alarm, dressed in my fishing clothes, grabbed my hat, a few morsels for lunch and headed off. When I arrived at Verne’s house, he was outside waiting for me. He was looking at his watch. He looked like St Nicholas stamping his foot for the last of the toys to be loaded into the sleigh.
I got into his truck and we headed off. After some small talk, he told me about some of his fishing adventures and what made him tick.
‘So, you see’, he started, his voice echoing above the classical music in the background (I had expected Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash), ‘I don’t wear my teeth when I go fishing anymore. One time I got seasick, and I berleyed the water and my choppers ended up with some shark, I’m sure.’ In other words, he puked his teeth out. I bet that was an amazing visual experience for the others in the boat.
‘Wait, so you get seasick?’
‘Yup’, he responded proudly, ‘but I take the tablets and I wear a little wrist thing.’ I thought this was one of those jokes Australians play on me as an expat American.
‘And, here’s the other funny thing – I’m allergic to shellfish. Can’t eat them. Makes me sick. Allergies and things.’ I looked over to see if he was serious, but his eyes were staring straight ahead into the road.
I had to formulate my thoughts: I’m going fishing with a toothless, shellfish–intolerant, seasick fisherman. This is awesome!
‘What do you do with the crabs when you catch them?’, I asked.
‘I give them away. They’re worth about $35 a kilogram. There are always people who are willing to take them and eat them. Giving them away makes me very happy.’
Pastor Reid Matthias is Parish Team Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Para Vista SA.