And the Winner is... "Zebco 33"

Congratulations to Matt Baxter! Matt's story titled, "Zebco 33," is the official winner of the 2014 Project Keepsake Story contest.

Matt Baxter shared a story about a fishing reel (Zebco 33) that his grandfather gave to him after a fishing trip when Matt was about five years old.

Matt Baxter shared a story about a fishing reel (Zebco 33) that his grandfather gave to him after a fishing trip when Matt was about five years old.

Matt is a photographer (justshootmephotography.net) from Carrollton, Georgia who lives and works in Chattanooga. In fact, he submitted beautiful photographs of his beloved keepsake (a shiny Zebco 33 reel) to complement his story.

One of the judges commented, "I just love this story.  I think I'm drawn to it because it is so straightforward and direct, and because it is something that I can relate to from my childhood.  It just seems very honest and heartfelt."

I agree.

Then again, all of the keepsake stories I have read in the past few years exude an honest, genuine quality that is rare in today's storytelling.

I had planned to post the top two stories on this blog, but after reading through the entries, I have decided to post several throughout December as a thank you to the writers who sat down and composed stories and as a gift to my blog readers. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Season's Greetings to all of you!

Here's Matt's story.

Some of my earliest memories come from a time when I was about five years old. They involve my paternal grandpa, Horace Baxter. We called him, Pop.

Pop lived next door to my family in Carrollton, Georgia. Just about every day, I would walk down to his house to get some milk and cookies, and we would talk for hours about fishing, hunting, and all kinds of stuff.

I remember one day in particular, Pop and I decided to go fishing. We found an old log, rolled it over, and dug worms. We filled up a old coffee can with wiggling worms. Then we went over to a old well that was full of crickets and caught lots of those, too. After we retrieved enough bait, we took off to the lake.

My first fishing pole was a simple cane pole. My grandpa fished with a Zebco 33.

Pop helped me bait my hook with a worm, and I tossed it in the water. We sat there for awhile, and then the red and white bobber bounced up and down.

I screamed, “Pop! Pop! I think I got a fish!”

He said, “Pull back to hook him!”

Sure enough—I had a fish. It was a pretty big crappie. I was elated.

Pop was able to throw his line way out into the lake, and I watched with amazement.

“Wow, Pop,” I said. “You can cast so far away. What kind of fishing pole do you have, Pop?”

He answered, “It’s a Zebco.”

“Man, Pop! I want one like that so I can cast my line as far as you and catch bigger fish like you.”

About that time, his bobber started bouncing up and down. Pop motioned for me to move toward him.

“Come here,” he said. “I need some help. He’s a big one.”

Together, we started reeling him in. The fish was really putting up a fight, but we finally got him in—a big catfish.

Pop and I were both smiling from ear to ear.

When we got back home, we started cleaning the fish for a fish fry. My maw maw made hush puppies, cole slaw, and fried taters to go with our fish. It was a feast. I ate my fish—the one I caught all by myself—and it was delicious.

As I got ready to walk back home, Pop turned and said, “You’re forgetting something,” and he gave me his fishing pole with the Zebco 33.

I was so happy that I ran home and showed Mama and Daddy my new fishing pole. It was one of the best days of my childhood, and I think about it often. The Zebco turned into many years of fishing and fun and happy memories—some of the happiest.

Forty years later, I have it all cleaned up and ready to go fishing again. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Life was so simple when I was a young boy—fishing in nearby lakes and ponds, building teepees and forts in the woods, and being with family. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my family showered us with time and love. I miss that simple country life of yesterday, and I miss my grandpa—I miss fishing with Pop, talking to him, spending time with him. I think about him every time I lift that Zebco in my hand.
— Matt Baxter

Thank you to this year's judges—Audrey Lanier, Paul Garrison, Dana Cooley-Keith, Mitzi Boyd, and Jake Andersen. After reviewing the stories, each judge sent me their top four selections with remarks, and I tallied the votes. All five told me that judging the contest was a lot harder than they had anticipated.

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Thank you again to all who wrote and entered keepsake stories. I enjoyed reading each story and connected with each story and storyteller.

Again, I will post several of the entries on this blog in the next four weeks. Stay tuned.

Project Keepsake is on sale now with no shipping and handling charges. And by the way, it's a great Christmas gift for a loved one, especially when paired with a keepsake or heirloom.

And as always, please share your keepsake stories with the people in your life. Everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell.