The anticipation of being with my brothers for the first time in six years exploded into panic when I reached the Atlanta airport main security checkpoint. I couldn’t find my driver’s license.
Somewhere between my car when I retrieved it from my wallet and slid it and my phone into the front pocket of my insulated vest, and the security checkpoint, it disappeared. I made an effort to remain calm as I retraced my steps back to the far reaches of the North Terminal parking lot, eating up the extra time I had allotted for pandemic protocols. I asked a custodian sweeping the parking deck and a security officer outside the lower entrance. Nothing seen, nothing turned in. I paused and took a deep breath. I decided to take my chances with my debit and library cards.
The TSA officer didn’t even blink when I told him I had lost my photo ID. I probably wasn’t even the first incompetent person with this problem he had encountered that day. They had procedures in place for idiots like me. They performed a few additional searches and screenings of my carry-on bags, but otherwise, it was smooth sailing from then on. I breathed easier when I sank into my redeemed SkyMiles seat.
I stepped out of the terminal at Love Field in Dallas and found April chillier in Texas than I had remembered. Not even two minutes later, I was enveloped in the warmth of good conversation when my youngest brother, Lyle, picked me up in his Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t help but notice the driver’s side windshield sported an impressive web of cracked glass.
“You get in an accident?”
“Don’t ask,” he replied. “The basketball goal fell on it.”
I understood and let it drop. It’s the sort of thing that happens when you have four kids.
“What do you want for lunch?” he asked while navigating the crisscrossing highways of downtown Dallas.
“When I’m in Texas, I try to eat Mexican or barbecue,” I answered. “It’s just different out here.”
“Better, you mean.”
Lyle was six when I went off to college, and we have had precious few opportunities as adults to spend one-on-one time together. A pastor of a growing congregation southeast of Dallas and a Ph.D. student firmly entrenched in his dissertation, Lyle leads a busy life and our schedules rarely sync.
When COVID prevented our families from getting together at Christmas at my parents’ house in Florida, Lyle suggested the brothers make time for a retreat… just the three of us. Surprisingly, we found the time in April, and my middle brother, Lee, booked us a place on Lake Palestine in East Texas. Vaccinations and easing of travel restrictions fell into place perfectly for me to follow through on the trip.
The two hours passed quickly. We ate tacos and shifted easily from reminiscence to ethics to current family updates to theology to jokes to church growth strategies. The conversation never lulled, and in what seemed like only a few minutes, we pulled up to the condo, the parking lot still wet from a fresh rain. Lee greeted us dryly but with undeniable excitement as we pulled our luggage, board games and other essential supplies inside. We paused for a selfie.
“Mom will want this pretty quick,” Lyle said.
We didn’t have to force smiles. It felt good to be together. Natural. Easy. Right.
Seconds after the impromptu photo shoot, Lee’s passion kicked in.
“Want to go fishing?” he said, his eyes twinkling with excitement in the same way I had seen in my dad’s eyes hundreds of times when the subject of fishing arose. “You know, we can talk and fish at the same time.”
“I need a fishing license,” I said. “And that’s going to be a little harder because I lost my driver’s license at the airport.”
I was out of practice being around my brothers. Otherwise, I would have known not to give them such good ammunition right off the bat. Being the oldest may have had its privileges when we were growing up. Now, though, I’m just old.
The inexperienced intern and his only slightly more experienced coworker managed to figure out how to sell me a temporary Texas license even without a driver’s license. My attempts at humor to help the transaction go smoothly elicited more than a few eye rolls from my brothers.
“Your dad jokes aren’t helping,” Lyle said. Lee was too engrossed in the fishing tackle to acknowledge my attempts at humor.
It didn’t take long before we had plastic worms rigged and were working the shoreline and the edges of the marina boathouses. Lee showed his prowess, catching three small bass before either of us barely wet our hooks. I instinctively kept score, but after our first day together, I questioned if scorekeeping was a good idea. Lee 3, Lyle 1, Lance 0.
As an associate pastor with lengthy experience working with youth and senior adults, Lee has always been a good planner. He filled in the important logistical gaps in our loose agenda with restaurants and meals to cook back at the condo. He also planned plenty of options to fill the hours around our fishing excursions. He found the perfect place for our first night of feasting — an appropriately named all-you-could-eat catfish joint in Tyler called “Happy’s.”
The rest of the night’s adventures included stops at Academy sporting goods and the requisite Wallace family visit to Walmart. We needed an ice chest to transport the bounty from the next day’s guided fishing trip, and Lyle needed a hat and sunglasses. I hate shopping as a general rule, but harassing my brothers while they tried to make purchases helped me tolerate it.
I introduced Lee and Lyle to the comedic stylings of Nate Bargatze on Netflix, and we hit the hay relatively early. Our guided fishing trip the next day was on Cedar Creek Reservoir, an hour away. The trip was a gift to Lyle from his church on the occasion of his seventh anniversary as pastor, and our excitement made rising early easier.
We were out the door by six the next morning, coffee and muffins in hand. With this half-day guided trip, we didn’t have to provide any equipment or bait. Jason of King’s Creek Adventures had grown up on Cedar Creek Reservoir and knew just the spot to put us on schooling sand bass. We laughed and reminisced, itching to get out on the water while Jason used his cast net to round up bait shad to last long enough for each of us to catch our 25-fish limit.
The skies were gray, and I was glad to have my good winter coat and long underwear. Cold natured in my advanced age, I miraculously didn’t feel the weather when we arrived at our spot on the lake and Jason handed me a baited rod and reel. I had a bite on the first cast and caught my first white bass with my second cast. Lyle caught the first fish, but a backlash on his reel slowed him down. Lee was about to come unglued waiting for Jason to hand him his rod.
The excitement of catching fish must be experienced to be understood. The tug on the line and the struggle to get the fish in the boat never fails to get my adrenaline pumping. Jason did all the work. He took the fish off the hook, measured them, threw the keepers in the cooler, sent the smaller ones back into the water to grow up and re-baited our hooks. I felt spoiled.
Between fish, we swapped stories about successful and not-so-successful fishing trips we had taken as boys with Dad. We caught one fish after the other for nearly three hours. It was glorious. I now have a new standard for the phrase “time well spent.”
In the end, we met our limit of 75 sand bass with five yellow bass and one hybrid for a total of 81 keepers. Lee caught the most fish, of course, with 74, including the little ones we threw back. Lyle caught 42. I caught only 30, but I won the prize for the biggest fish of the day, a 3-pound hybrid striped bass.
We celebrated with a Mexican food lunch in Gun Barrel City before heading back to the condo on Lake Palestine for a siesta. We succeeded in not only catching enough fish to feed an Alabama family reunion, we did something we enjoyed together making fresh memories to relish for years to come.
The rest of the night was uneventful. We watched more comedy and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.” We couldn’t stay up too late despite our naps.
The next day, rain was in the forecast for the afternoon. Any fishing we could accomplish would have to be done in the morning. We went back to the marina on Lake Palestine and fished around the boathouses with success. We fixed a big breakfast back at the condo when the rain started, and settled in for an epic showdown of the World War II strategy game “Axis and Allies” while watching the extended editions of the three Hobbit films. It’s the way we would have spent a rainy Saturday growing up, minus Dad interrupting every few hours with “Is that all you’ve got to do?” and “You guys should be out there chasing all those pretty girls.”
Lee treated us to dinner that night at Texas de Brazil, a belated 40th birthday present for Lyle and 50th for me. It was glutinous and not animal-friendly. We did stay up pretty late that night, but we didn’t have to worry about keeping Mom and Dad up with our laughter. For the record, I won “Axis and Allies.”
The next morning before we headed our separate directions, Lee hit the marina one more time to squeeze in a few hours of fishing. As dozens of boats launched to scour Lake Palestine for big bass as a part of a tournament held there, Lee pulled in a six-pound bass, the biggest fish of his life and of the weekend. I arrived on the scene on my morning walk just after he released it. He was still shaking with excitement. His fishing supremacy could not be denied. He not only caught the most fish of the three of us, he capped off his performance with the biggest.
The three days of togetherness ended all too quickly. We decided it would be too ambitious to try this every year, and our wives and families couldn’t spare us that often. If we can find the time and place to get together every two to three years, that will be enough to keep our bonds tight and remind us of the blessings of brotherhood.
Carla had overnighted my passport, so getting through security at Love Field was a breeze. I slept most of the flight back to Atlanta.
When I walked out of the airport to my car, I still didn’t have my ID. But thanks to my brothers, I did have a renewed sense of my identity, grateful for the chance to make up for lost time.