Sometimes, you get your wish. Saturday was that day for the Barnes family of Upper Marlboro.
Like hundreds of families before them, they learned about the magic of the Wish-A-Fish Foundation, which brings together recreational anglers and special needs children, or those fighting a cruel illness, for a free day of fishing on theChesapeake Bay.
Saturday couldn't have been prettier, a rare break in the steam bath of July.
The fish? They cooperated for the nearly two dozen families at this year's event. White perch, spot and stripers bent rods and caused squeals of delight on the waters south of the Bay Bridge around Hacketts Bar.
Each member of the Barnes family landed a legal striper, fat and glistening, including 12-year-old Marcus, a special needs child whose parents learned of the Foundation while he was taking therapeutic horseback riding. Six passengers, six fish.
"That was the best time, ever," mother Sheri Barnes said. "We went out with two experts, they told us what to expect, and guess what? It happened."
The two experts — Greg Shute and Paul Buckmaster — wore huge grins, happy for the family and relieved that they had delivered.
"It's a little pressure with all of your buddies out there fishing, too," said Shute, who scouted his secret spot Wednesday while chaperoning five 11-year-old boys on a birthday fishing trip.
The event at Sandy Point State Park has grown and become more organized since the first outing in 2000. Each family is assigned a boat and volunteer crew, and all kids in the family get a free T-shirt and hat and are fitted with a life jacket. Once they step aboard, everyone gets bait and tackle and a refreshing boat ride, the first for many families.
When they return, each child gets a certificate and a photo, and the families are treated to a catered lunch by Windows, a Virginia firm that has donated its services for years. Goodies bags and prizes complete the day.
The volunteers make out OK, too, but the payoff is a little different.
"It's such a satisfying way to help these kids and give their parents and siblings a break," said Jason Barry of Columbia. "To see their faces when they catch their first fish is priceless. I put pictures from this on my office wall."
Sheri Barnes couldn't stop thanking people.
"We're so grateful to all the volunteers. It was an adventure for Marcus and the rest of us," she said. "We wished and we got."
License for life
Last year, the General Assembly approved a measure that created as many as 20 lifetime hunting licenses to be auctioned off by the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Foundation with proceeds going to help understaffed, underfunded Natural Resources Police pay the bills.
License No. 4 is now being auctioned on eBay. The starting bid is $1,000, and action ends July 25.
The first one sold last fall for $5,000.
The winning bidder can assign the lifetime license to anyone who can legally hunt in the state, resident or nonresident. Once assigned, the license is nontransferrable. The winning bidder also will receive a framed copy of the certificate.
Sam was the man
The Finksburg deer processor had the keen eye of Ted Williams, the steady hand of Dr. Christiaan Barnard and the affability of a Rotary Club president. He had to muster all three qualities each fall when hunters dropped off thousands of deer at Sam's Deer Processing to be turned into steaks, sausage and pastrami venison.
He gave generously to the statewide program, Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, turning donated deer into heart-healthy helpings of ground meat for food pantries and charitable institutions. He helped arrange hunts for the disabled and fussed over kids who brought in their first deer.
Funny thing: Sam wasn't a hunter.
Sam was always quick with a wave when I'd pull up the long driveway, weave my way between waiting cars and into the backyard on my fall rounds. "Can't talk long," he'd say. "The herd will take over."
But there is one story I can add. A bunch of years ago, a young photographer pestered to come with me on the opening day of deer season. It was the first year of the state's testing of deer brain stems to check for chronic wasting disease, a fatal illness that has spread across the country.
Sam's driveway looked like a deer junkyard as state biologists moved among the does being checked in to take their samples. Not even Ansel Adams could gussy it up.
The young photographer's reaction to the M*A*S*H-like setting was predictable, debilitating and assignment-ending. Sam saw it first. He dropped his paperwork and made a beeline in her direction. He told a self-deprecating story to ease her embarrassment, got her a ginger ale and walked her to her car.
"She's OK," he reported and paused as a smile grew on his face. "And she's promised to visit again."
Like thousands of others, she did, too, drawn by the kindness of the big, gentle man.
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