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As I talk with my wife, Mary, there are times when I can tell her mind has long since left our conversation and returned to its more familiar state of wondering why she married me. That happened again recently after I came home to find a box on the mantle by my chair. Knowing what was inside, I tore through the newspaper packaging to reveal the treasure within.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet and eBay – along with 10 bucks – I am now the proud owner of two vintage black Zebco 202 fishing reels just like the ones I had growing up. I handled each reel carefully, admiring the elegant simplicity of their design. I felt the need to explain why just touching these little gizmos was like traveling back in time.
Mary pretended to be interested as I regaled her with tales from my distant past.
I said that reels like these were an icon of my childhood, and we would get a new one each summer to use at the beach and on the river. The great thing about the Zebco 202s is that they were cheap (as in inexpensive.) The downside is that they were cheap (as in they didn’t last very long.) About one summer was all you could reasonably ask of the 202 – and that was only if you washed it and kept it oiled.
Mary nodded but there was a vacant look in her eyes.
As I held the reels, a flood of memories washed over me. So I shared some stories about fishing with my old Zebcos at Mexico Beach, catching whiting until I ran out of dead shrimp. About catching my first (and last) hybrid bass with one. And about the times when big fish would hit, take off with the bait and never slow down. I’d hold on for dear life, knowing full well that when the line was all gone so was my fish. God only knows how many bull reds, monster trout and big pompano I hooked and never laid eyes on. Even cheap reels come with a price.
More nodding from Mary.
Then I explained how, when the 8-lb. test factory line was gone, it meant I’d have to reload with Daddy’s old standby 20-lb. test. (He was a firm believer in brute force over finesse.) The problem I noted was that the little Zebco wouldn’t hold very much of the thicker line. So if the wind was at my back and I got a good cast, all the heavy monofilament would pay out and I’d watch helplessly as the lead sinker flew to the limit of the line, snapped it and kept sailing in the general direction of Cuba.
Mary was still looking at me, but I’m pretty sure all she could see was a $10 bill flying away on tiny wings.
Then it dawned on me that Mary might not fully appreciate the significance of these pieces of Americana. So I told her about some of the history of Zebco, how it started out as the Zero Hour Bomb Company, manufacturing time bombs for the oil industry. When new technology made the company’s one and only product obsolete, its management took a chance on a fishing reel that was easy to use and wouldn’t backlash. With that decision, history was made and several generations of fishermen would make Zebco the most ubiquitous reel in America.
At this point, I could see a smile returning to Mary’s face and her mood growing noticeably lighter. I’d like to think that she finally understood why these little pieces of metal and plastic mean so much to me.
I’d like to think that, but then I noticed that New Girl had just come on the television behind me.