On most days in his first seven decades of life, Emory Solomon could only daydream about fishing.
There was always too much work to do.
When he was 7, he hoed the grass on the Georgia farm his parents worked as sharecroppers. He learned to plow with a mule, to harvest, to grow peanuts and okra. Never to read or write.
He moved to Tampa when he was 18, with a wife and two babies, because others said there was good work here.
He started at 80 cents an hour, watching experienced men build things. He painted houses, ground cement, laid blocks.
"You'd see a hole outside," Solomon said. "I'd fix that hole.
"I worked, I worked, I worked, I worked. Until I became better."
He worked until he was the masonry contractor, driving his own truck along West Tampa as men asked him for work.
He worked long hours, sometimes nights. He sacrificed time with his four daughters, but they got an education.
And he got to build.
"I miss that more than I do anything," Solomon said. "That's what I was, a builder, all types, stucco, stone. That's my life."
Then, about seven years ago, his lungs began to fail him. He could work no more.
Now at 76, he's a patient of LifePath Hospice, with cancer and less than a year to live. He still smokes.
"I still can't seem to get into my mind I cannot do the things that I used to do," Solomon said.
His niece, Jackie Jackson, sees it every day, when he wakes up at 6 a.m., as if he had a job, and looks out his front door. If he sees a work truck, he reminisces.
Then, he fixes his mind on his other passion:
It's a skill he learned like all the others, through observation, experience and patience. Every time he catches his favorite freshwater fish, the crappie, he feels like he's still earning something.
"Everybody can't catch a crappie," Solomon said. "He's got a big, hard rim right around the edge of the lip, and if you pull him too tight, he gone, cause he done tore his mouth up. You snatch him, he gone.
"Me, I just pull, easy."
He thinks about catching crappies every morning, as he sits on his bed and catalogs the dozens of fishing poles collected through the years. He'll take one down and tinker with it, and imagine sitting on the water, wondering what's below.
When he feels well enough, his niece takes him to a nearby river bank and watches him dip his hook. He does it for hours. He wants to, every day.
Solomon is proud of the life he has led. His greatest accomplishment, he said, is that he worked hard and never got into any trouble. His wife, who later divorced him, died last week.
His own thoughts on death:
"It don't bother me. Why should I worry about something I can't control?"
A hospice chaplain, in assessing his spiritual needs, asked Solomon if he had any unfinished business. Solomon's response:
There are still fish to catch.
He wishes for one last, great fishing trip on a beautiful day on Lake Tarpon, where he awaits the bite not on the banks, but on a boat, right over the water.
And the fish below are hungry.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected].com or (813) 226-3354.