The Old Fisherman

by Margaux Geofferys
Lewes, Delaware, USA

Our house was directly across the street from the clinic entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to outpatients at the clinic. One summer evening as I was fixing supper, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see a truly awful looking man. “Why, he’s hardly taller than my eight-year-old,” I thought as I stared at the stooped, shriveled body. But the appalling thing was his face — lopsided from swelling and scarred, red and raw. Yet his voice was pleasant as he said, “Good evening. I’ve come to see if you’ve a room for just one night. I came for a treatment this morning from the eastern shore, and there’s no bus ’til morning.”

He told me he’d been hunting for a room since noon but with no success, no one seemed to have a room. “I guess it’s my face… I know it looks terrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments….”

For a moment I hesitated, but his next words convinced me: “I could sleep in this rocking chair on the porch. My bus leaves early in the morning.” I told him we would find him a bed, but to rest on the porch. I went inside and finished getting supper. When we were ready, I asked the old man if he would join us. “No thank you. I have plenty.”

The Old Fisherman And he held up a brown paper bag. When I had finished the dishes, I went out on the porch to talk with him a few minutes. It didn’t take a long time to see that this old man had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told me he fished for a living to support his daughter, her five children, and her husband, who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury. He didn’t tell it by way of complaint; in fact, every other sentence was preface with a thanks to God for the blessing. He was grateful that no pain accompanied his disease, which was apparently a form of skin cancer. He thanked God for giving him the strength to keep going.

At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children’s room for him. When I got up in the morning, the bed linens were neatly folded and the little man was out on the porch.

He refused breakfast, but just before he left for his bus, haltingly, as if asking a great favor, he said, “Could I please come back and stay the next time I have a treatment? I won’t put you out a bit. I can sleep fine in a chair.” I told him he was welcome to come again. On his next trip he arrived a little after seven in the morning. As a gift, he brought a big fish and a quart of the largest oysters I had ever seen. He said he had shucked them that morning before he left so that they’d be nice and fresh. I knew his bus left at 4:00 a.m. and I wondered what time he had to get up in order to do this for us.

In the years he came to stay overnight with us there was never a time that he did not bring us fish or oysters or vegetables from his garden. Other times we received packages in the mail, always by special delivery — fish and oysters packed in a box of fresh young spinach or kale, every leaf carefully washed.

Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me all of her flowers, I spotted the most beautiful one of all – a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I said to her, “If this were my plant, I’d put it in the loveliest container I had!”

“I ran short of pots,” she explained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”

She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly, but I was imagining just such a scene in Heaven when the old fisherman was born. “Here’s an especially beautiful one,” God might have said when he came to the soul of the sweet old fisherman. “He won’t mind starting in this small body….” This happened long ago — and now, in God’s garden, how tall this lovely soul must stand.

Originally published as HeroicStories #3 on May 6, 1999

11 thoughts on “The Old Fisherman”

  1. At times it does seem that the most beautiful souls are placed in not so beautiful containers. Maybe there is so much light emanating from the souls the container does not matter at all. Thank you for resharing this lovely story.

    Reply
  2. Leo, 1> Thanks for taking the lead on Heroic Stories. Thus bringing it back to life. We here had forgotten this was Randy’s baby some years back. We continue to read him to this day.
    Was just reading about the Old Fisherman from The Eastern shore in Baltimore @ J/H for treatment, and the family that fixed a place for him to to spend the night. What you do in itself is also MORE than acts of kindness. Wishing many more could read stories such as theses.. Al

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  3. This is just a beautiful story, full stop. It is a perfect reminder that beauty on the outside does not determine inner beauty, the beauty of the soul.

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  4. I have my doubts about the validity of this story… found this source as well. “The Old Fisherman
    A True Story by Mary Bartels Bray

    Our house was directly across the street from the clinic entrance of John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to out-patients at the clinic.”

    Reply
    • When the story was accepted for publication in 1999 the author stated that it was original and authentic. It’s very likely that some of the re-posts you find are, in fact, (rather illegal, I would think) copies of the original HeroicStories publication of the tale.

      Reply
  5. What a blessing for the author to meet such a beautiful soul and learn such a valuable lesson. I appreciate the reminder myself!

    Reply

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