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Extraordinary Joe

One afternoon of fishing leaves a lasting impression

I was young, I think about 7 or 8. At the time, we lived in Billings way out on the west end of town, there are some houses out there now but at the time literally sagebrush, cow dung, antelope, and white-crusted sulphur ponds. I remember we did have a neighbor down the road, Joe. We were quite honestly short a supportive father figure. I believe at this point he may have still lived in our house, but shortly thereafter he was literally gone.

I didn’t hate living out there. There was always a place to shoot my bb gun, dig around in sandstone caves, and chase rabbits around. There was a ditch that ran right by our house, it ran past Joe’s down the way as well. I had an old fishing pole and could dig worms right there in the pasture. I knew there were fish in there. I used to catch the minnows along the shallow edges. I spent my summer afternoons casting upstream, shooing off giant horseflies and watching my bobber float past. I am sure the hours spent sitting next to that muddy old ditch would equate to weeks if you bundled them up. If there were real fish in that old ditch they never found their way to my hook. Every once in a while, Joe would come out, maybe mow his grass or work on something in his garage and wave at me sitting up there on the bank. My brothers, sisters and I had been over to their house a few times, harassing Joe and his family, but we didn’t really know them well.

At the time, Joe was probably in his late 20's. I remember he had a wife and I think at least one young child at the time. One day I was drowning worms in that ditch, and Joe came walking over that piling wood bridge my dad had built and came up for a talk. He said, “If it is alright with your parents, do you and your brother want to go hiking and fishing with me on Saturday?” Thinking back, I am certain it was too painful for him to continue to watch me toss that worm back and forth in that sterile old irrigation ditch any longer.

I remember that Friday night and vividly staring through that old wind-up alarm clock, just waiting for it to ring. I did not sleep for even one second. Joe promised we would catch fish and all my thoughts turned to finally getting a chance to reel one in with that old rod. No way I was taking a chance on sleeping past 5 a.m. and having Joe leave us either.

I don’t remember a lot about Joe. I remember he was a meat cutter, he was a hard-working guy, he was a family guy, and an outdoors guy. He was a kind guy, kind enough to take a precious Saturday away from his own family to take the two neighbor scrubs out fishing. I am sure to him it was just a kind gesture, but I’ve carried it for 40 years.

I remember getting up really early, watching the Eastern Montana sunrise from Joe’s old truck and listening to him tell us about all the fish we would catch and how. We hiked probably an hour up a steep trail and came into this beautiful lake. We had the entire thing to ourselves. To this day I still have no idea where we were. The one thing I do remember is within seconds of having casted out my line, I finally got to see that old bobber take a dive with a fish on the other end. It went on all morning, all morning, dozens of them to shore.

I fell asleep as soon as Joe started up the truck for the ride home, happy and safe. I remember Joe waking me up with a kind smile and pat on the head when he pulled into the drive, thanking us for going fishing with him. His kindness that day set into motion my lifelong love to fish and instilling in me the importance of sharing it with others.

It does not take a lot to have an impact. I never really spent much time with Joe after that one day. It’s a sandwich, $20 for gas, a few hours of time and a caring heart. The story of our extraordinary neighbor Joe. I appreciate and am thankful to him for that day. One of the kindest men I ever met. He truly was an extraordinary Joe.

SIDEBAR:

Gary Schild founded Casting Shadows Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that has a goal of promoting the importance of fatherhood and mentorship, with Ben Sharbono. These two men were looking for a chance to give back all the wonderful experiences they had growing up in Montana. The foundation focuses on providing experiences that allow time to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other's company, free from other stressors. They provide professionally guided full day floating and fly fishing trips. Visit CastingShadowsFoundation.com to learn more or donate. 

If you know a man in his mid-60s by the name of Joe Butkay, please email Chelsea.Agro@CityLifestyle.com. Gary would love to thank him for his time that Saturday, many moons ago.