In our second issue of TEN & TWO, the Portraits section profiled several Catskills fly fishermen. One of the guys was named Sy Rosenthal. He was 92 years old and still fly fishing the West Branch of the Delaware. He was a powerhouse who had lived an incredible life fly fishing on rivers around the world. He had countless bigger-than-life adventures and more stories than time to tell them all. A lifelong dedicated angler and a good guy.
I recently learned that since our story Sy turned 93 and has had three heart attacks. Today, it’s just about impossible for him to get around, and his friends are driving him to the river, just so he can sit and watch the water and the fishermen. After all the adventures, he sits, watches and remembers. Apparently, he reminisces a lot. Maybe he tells some of the same stories more than once, but there are so many stories, it never gets old, and he’s always young again. He’s always off on another fly fishing journey.
This morning I was eating my breakfast oatmeal and the phone rang. A call from New Jersey. It was Sy’s friend, Bill Panella. Bill said Sy wanted to talk to me and he was sitting right there. We said “Hello.” Sy’s voice was strong, but a little brittle and tired. Sy told me he was very proud of the story we had done, and he wanted to be sure to tell us how happy he was to have been included in the Portrait story. He was showing it to all his friends. He said the story reminded him of his life on the river, and it brought back many great memories of fish and friends from around the world. He said “I don’t get around so good any more, and my heart’s not so good, but I sure remember those days. It was wonderful. The West Branch is still the best river I’ve ever fished. Thanks so much for doing that story.” Such an incredible life. We talked a bit more and he closed by saying “My heart’s not so good, and they tell me I can’t fish any more Walter, but you know, I don’t care. I have aspirations! I mean, what’s life if you can’t aspire to do more? You can’t just sit there dreaming about doing something. You have to try. You just simply have to try.”
We said goodbye with a promise to try to go fishing together in the Catskills in the spring. I put my elbow on the table and before I took another single breath, with tears in my eyes, I put my hand over my mouth, and I sat silently in front of a bowl of cold oatmeal for another fifteen minutes. I started thinking about all my problems with business and life in general. No more or less than the problems everyone has in living as long as we live. Then I laughed out loud. I went downstairs to my home office, and scratched a note on a piece of paper. About eye level on my computer monitor there is now one of those little yellow sticky notepapers that says “I have aspirations! You can’t just sit there dreaming. You simply have to try. Sy Rosenthal February 17, 2011.” Every time I look at that monitor, I look at that note. Sy Rosenthal is my reason for believing that anything is possible, and we will all live forever.
My friend, I will see you on the river in the spring. If by chance you find yourself delayed a bit, I will wait for you.
Hi Walter...we go through life and every so often a word, a chance meeting, grounds us again. My grandfather hit me with a story when I was 20 and he was 80, about jumping on a ship to Australia in the 1920's (on a whim) and working his passage (no passport mind). He stayed there four years working on a sheep ranch in Queensland, even went walk about with a tribe of Aborigines (great stories) for three months. People at home in Ireland thought Jim Hayden was dead until he sent a letter home. I saw my grandfather, and the world, in a new light after that. To this day I do not know what prompted the story, he was such a quite, unassuming man.