David Lauderdale

Hilton Head Island native Ben Green thinks fishing can cure mankind. Here’s why

Some people go to the moon looking for peace.

Ben Green goes the town dock.

He goes to the Squire Pope Community Park on a bend in the Intracoastal Waterway as it flows past Hilton Head Island.

He stands over the salty waters we call Skull Creek that have been gliding and glistening there all the days of his life. He was born 69 years ago in a house across from today’s Crazy Crab restaurant on Jarvis Creek.

Green doesn’t go to the water alone.

He invites children to come, so he can teach them to fish.

They come most Saturday evenings, and Green and his band of volunteers are ready for them, with cast nets and rods and reels, bait and fish scalers.

He started it with the help of his church, Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, just up the creek. He does it with the help of the Island Recreation Center, and American Legion Post 42 and Bi-Lo and a lot of others. A Facebook group called Fishing and Crabbing with Ben Green has been set up for him.

Ninth-grade student Nicholas King hands his fishing line back to volunteer Jim Reynolds on Tuesday morning after attaching a new weight and hook to the rig of his fishing pole at Squire Pope Community Park on Hilton Head Island. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

Green was reared in Thunderbolt, Georgia, where grew up to become the first African-American on the police force, and where he once owned a shrimp boat he called a vast pit he tossed money into before coming home to Hilton Head with his wife, Ruby Maria, and their son, Sheldon.

When Green was a kid, he had no choice but to go to work with his mother when she went off to head shrimp at the Trade Winds dock in Thunderbolt.

He was too small to reach the heading table. So he entertained himself with a string, a hook and a tin can with a weight in it. He caught eels that still make his mouth water.

And he caught the secret to a peaceful life.

That’s what he wants to share with kids, not so much how to cast a line with the flick of a wrist.

It’s the peace he wants them to know before he shuffles off the town dock for the last time, his fluffy white goatee giving him a hint of a thin, black Santa Claus.

Native Hilton Head Islander Ben Green, right, convinces Caitlyn Edwards, left, and Jenascia Peleti that they’ll need to learn to clean a fish if they plan on eating after their hours-long, hands-on class at Squire Pope Community Park. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

The thin frame may be in some way related to the dialysis Green now undergoes three days a week, a less-appealing part of retirement from the cleaning business he ran for 28 years.

On Tuesday, Green and his helpers in red Rec Center shirts helped about 70 students who came to the dock in yellow buses from Woodville-Tompkins Technical and Career High School in Savannah. Biology students scraped scales from whiting fish. Culinary students grilled picnic food for lunch.

And Green stood with Irvin Campbell in an unusually crisp wind and told how fishing could save mankind.

“Fresh air,” he said. “They need to get a sense of fresh air. Get outside.”

Ben and I had sons at Hilton Head Island High School together, so we’ve been jawboning for years on the pitfalls of being a grown up and being a father. It was amazing how he’s honed the formula to such simplicity.

“They don’t get out,” he said about this generation of children.

“They’re stuck in front of a computer.

“They’ve got everything they think they need inside.”

Green thinks they should see the river, smell it, gradually learn its secrets and understand that “this was our way of living. This was our way of surviving. The waterway. The oysters and crabs and the fish. Especially the mullet fish. You could catch a large amount of them at the same time.”

He wants children to learn the process: How to toss a cast net, clean the fish and cook them.

But there’s more.

“It’s relaxing,” he said.

Relaxing is a lost art. It’s been replaced by security checks, mass shootings and pressure, all the way down to getting into the right pre-school.

“Fishing teaches patience,” Green said.

“It teaches how to get along in close quarters.

“And on top of that, it’s a meal.”

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