Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 27, 2010

Art Bukowski: Fishing friend leaves lasting impression

By ART BUKOWSKI
abukowski@record-eagle.com

---- — Fishing, like life, is full of constants. A river never stops flowing. The tides always rise and fall. Rain always arrives when you forget your raincoat.

I grew up fishing at a municipal park in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe. It's a wonderful place to fish, with plenty of bass, walleye and pike swarming around a pier that juts out into Lake St. Clair.

And nearly every day I fished there during the past 17 years, Ed Kujawa was there too.

Ed, 50 years my elder, was one of those near-stereotypical fishermen, the grizzled old man who wheeled his wagon to the end of the pier on a daily basis in hopes of landing the big one.

But Ed, a tall man with an honest-to-God twinkle in his eye and ever-present baseball cap, didn't much mind if he came up empty handed. His neighbors ate well when he had a good day, and he'd have something to grouse about when he didn't.

He was very much the park's guardian, chief historian and all-knowing oracle, at least among us fishermen. He wisely dispensed knowledge, and hungrily absorbed all fish stories for re-telling to less lucky individuals.

I received a text message from my dad last week: "Ed died yesterday." I had to sit down.

Truth is, I realize now, I didn't know all that much about Ed. Though I'd spoken with him hundreds of times, pretty much all I know of his personal life is that he lived in the famed Polish enclave of Hamtramck, had a grown daughter somewhere and was once in the military.

But I don't feel too bad about it. After all, we had more important things to talk about. "Where are the fish biting, Ed? Do you think this wind will bother them? You doing any good yet today?"

His face would light up with a grin as he told the latest story, hands outstretched like the consummate fisherman. And he'd be quick with advice. "Smallmouth are biting off the flag pole," he'd say, in a casual but authoritative tone. "But the silver bass won't be in for another two weeks or so."

I fished with him in my formative years, then saw him less and less as I left for college and eventually moved away. In recent times, I saw him at least twice a year when I visited my parents.

As years went by, the park changed. They built new facilities and the guard staff turned over.

But Ed was the constant. Ed never changed. Sure as the sun rises, he and his wagon would be firmly parked along the pier. His presence each time I returned home was oddly comforting, a living link to the summer days of my youth when all I had to worry about was making it home in time for dinner.

I always knew Ed wouldn't be there forever, and his absence will weigh heavily on me when I return to the park for prime fishing in a few weeks. Like the removal of a familiar old tree from a childhood home, his death irreversibly changed the park's landscape.

I hope there's fishing in heaven, Ed. If I behave and see you again, I'll be ready for your scouting report.