"Where ya going, Streit? It's Christmas! Don't tell me you'll be spending it fishing? You can do that any ol' day of the year. You should be in church, my friend."
"Bah! Halibut!" Streit answered. "Fishing is my church," and he went on his way, the whole exchange reminding him of a similar conversation he had decades earlier when he was but a wee laddie. The widow Kravitz, busybody that she was, had spied him walking jauntily one Sunday with a fishing rod in one hand and a jar of tadpoles in the other.
"Streit!" she chastised. "Don't you know better than to go fishing on the Lord's day?"
"I'm not going fishing," he answered back politely. "I'm going home."
Meanwhile, when the grown Streit got to his favorite fishing spot, he was shocked to find his uncle there waiting for him.
Because his uncle had died YEARS ago!
"Uncle Jack!" Streit cried out happily. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to warn you."
"Warn me about what?"
"After I leave, you'll receive three visitors."
"Who? Bill collectors?"
"You'll find out," his uncle teased mysteriously as he faded away. "You'll find out."
Streit wasn't worried.
He lived through the sixties.
He was used to such hallucinations.
"But it wasn'ta hallucination," a voice said.
"What the fudge?" Streit yelped, only he didn't use the word 'fudge.'
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," a little imp of an apparition announced itself. More a playful spirit than a ghost.
"You're a… a… a… ghost?" Streit sputtered.
"Not just 'a' ghost, but 'the' ghost. The Ghost of Christmas Past."
"The past?" Streit wondered out loud.
"Your past," the spirit clarified. "Take my hand and you'll see."
The spirit reached out.
Streit looked longingly toward the lake.
"Take it," the spirit insisted.
So Streit did.
And immediately he found himself in the past. His past.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"Why, that's you as a child," the spirit explained. "The very first time you went fishing."
"I remember," Streit said, wistfully. "My Uncle Jack took me."
"Watch," the spirit told him.
Streit watched, and he saw himself as a young child, barely past being a toddler. The boy and his uncle stood together, not saying anything. Both enjoying the serenity of the moment.
Then, in the distance, a funeral procession drove over the bridge they were fishing by. Respectfully, the uncle took off his hat, held it over his heart, and bowed his head. The boy did the same.
After the procession passed, the boy looked at his uncle.
"It was the least I could do," the uncle said. "After all, I was married to her for thirty years."
"I had forgotten all about that," Streit told the spirit, but the playful apparition was gone, replaced by an immense figure glorious to behold.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," the new specter thundered.
"You know, you're a pretty big guy," Streit observed.
The specter had never considered that before.
"Man, it would take me two buses and a train to get on your good side!"
"Nevertheless," the specter said, holding out his hand, "we must go."
Streit grabbed that baseball glove of a mitt, and he was transported once again.
"Remember this?" the specter asked.
"No," Streit said.
"It happened just yesterday."
"The sixties..." Streit offered in lieu of an explanation.
Streit saw himself lifting a bucket with two fishes swimming inside.
"Yikes!" Streit cried out in surprise when a game warden showed up out of nowhere.
"Can I see your fishing license?" the game warden asked. It was more a statement than a question.
"Your fishing license."
"Oh, that," Streit dismissed, waving the request away as if it were too silly to consider. "I don't need one."
"You do know it's illegal to fish without a license, right?"
"But I wasn't fishing, officer. These fish are my pets."
"Yes, sir," Streit confirmed. "Every day, when the weather's good, I like to bring them to the lake so they can play with their friends. When they're done visiting, I just hold out the bucket, give them a whistle, and they jump right back in. Then we go home."
Streit could see that the game warden was skeptical.
"Let me prove it to you," Streit said, and emptied the contents of the bucket out into the lake.
The game warden waited. Nothing happened. Then, when nothing happened some more, he said, "Well?"
"Aren't you going to whistle the fish back?"
Streit smiled slyly.
"What fish are you talking about, officer?"
Streit—the real Streit—chuckled proudly.
"You should have seen the time I told him I was simply teaching my worms to swim," he laughed.
Only there was no one there to hear him. He was still by the lake, but he was alone. The Ghost of Christmas Present was gone. It was completely still. Even the birds were silent. Not a leaf fell.
A black mist started to dance in front of him. Swirling, swirling, until it swirled into the form of a dark figure shrouded in a heavy black garment which concealed its head.
"And you?" Streit asked the deathly wraith. "I suppose you're the Ghost of Christmas Future. What are you here to show me? How I wasted my life fishing?"
The wraith, saying nothing, lifted a withered hand and pointed toward the lake.
"What are you trying to tell me?" Streit asked, trepidatiously.
The wraith pointed again.
"Is that where I..." Streit started, but stopped, too fearful to go on.
The wraith neither spoke nor moved, it only continued pointing in the direction of the lake.
Streit understood, and began walking toward the water, afraid of what he was going to find. When he got to his favorite spot, he turned around, half expecting the Ghost of Christmas Future to have disappeared like the others. Instead, he saw the wraith reaching into the darkness of its garment and pulling out a fishing rod.
Then, like two old friends, they sat at the water's edge and fished.