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Childhood Memory: Jud & The Fish

published Mar 7, 2022
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Credit: Maxwell Ryan
With my mother on the beach, but a little younger than this story!

NOTE: These short memory stories, dropped in as they are to my Ask Maxwell column, do serve a purpose. While definitely different, my aim is to provide context for what we were thinking when we were children, which will help us to understand our own children. I find that in going back into my own childhood and sharing stories of my own struggles and what I was thinking at the time has been very helpful in connecting with my own daughter as she has grown. I would urge you to take these a little bits of inspiration to share your own childhood stories with your kids at bedtime. I guarantee you will receive rapt attention. 🙂

There are things that happen when you’re a child that are so magical that you remember them forever. Sometimes you can’t even believe they were true. One that was just like that happened one summer day walking down the beach with my mother and Jud. 

First of all, it was very strange that I was walking down the beach with my mother, because we weren’t a “let’s walk down the beach” kind of family. I mainly hung out with other kids on the beach after our summer day camp, Junior Activities, but — for some reason — I was on a walk with my mother that day. It was a very sunny, hot day so I walked right at the water’s edge, letting my feet get wet, when we ran into my friend, Jud, who also seemed to be walking by himself. Jud was a very funny friend. He talked really fast and was very serious. I liked him and introduced him to my mother. My mother knew his mother and said so, and the three of us continued up the beach — Jud talking the whole way. 

When you’re a kid, it’s very important that your parents like your friends, and I remember being pleased that Jud was making such a good impression on my mother. I didn’t really think my parents knew my friends much because we kids traveled in a pack during the summer and avoided parents as much as possible. Parents made me anxious because I couldn’t really relax around them. I would just clam up. So I avoided them. Even my own parents sort of did that to me. It was always more fun to be away on our own where we could do what we wanted and live in our own world. 

But that day my mother was there and Jud was talking away at her. He was good with adults. All of a sudden, he stepped into the water, which was very calm without any waves and said, “I think I see a fish.” 

Now, I’d never seen a fish in that ocean, especially not close to shore like that and I didn’t believe it. Back then we never saw anything except once there was a sunfish sighting that scared everyone because they thought it was a shark. I told Jud it couldn’t be true, but he said nothing. 

Instead, with the water up to the edge of his bathing suit, he crouched low over the water and held out his hands. Silently he walked forward and then, in one quick motion, his hands disappeared into the water and returned with a bright yellow and black striped fish in his hands. 

“See! I told you. A fish!” he said. 

Not only was it a small fish that he’d caught with his hands, it was the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen — as if it had popped out of a tropical aquarium. Holding it up in the sun so we could both see it, Jud smiled and then released it back into the water. 

As the fish scampered away under the water, he started talking again and came up on the beach. He and my mother started walking again, Jud chattering on as if what had just happened was the most normal thing in the world. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone catch a fish in their hands and I’ve never seen such a beautiful fish in the waters off Long Island. 

And Jud? 

We recently bumped into one another and had lunch near his office on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He’s married with three children under the age of 10. He was tired, worried about his youngest getting into pre-school and finding a bigger home for his growing family. He spoke quickly and seriously. We talked for almost two hours, even though he said he only had one. As he spoke his hands moved more and more, and I remembered that day on the beach. All of a sudden, I wasn’t worried about him figuring it all out. 

I know he can catch a fish. 

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: askmaxwell@cubbyathome.com. This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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