The Young Girl and the Sea

High school senior Heidi Mason has been reeling in big ones since she was knee-high to a grouper

Dating has been a somewhat related point of contention. "My parents have never disapproved of the guys I've dated. They know I'm a pretty good judge of character," Heidi concedes. "The world has changed since they were seventeen."

Don and Linda Mason were a few years older than seventeen when they met in the library at the University of Miami in 1968, a time of social unrest and generational upheaval. They were not what you would call hippies. Don had just received his juris doctor degree from Baylor and was working on a master's degree in law. Linda had been a TWA flight attendant for six years before going back to school to complete her bachelor's degree in education. Today they share their 5000-square-foot custom-built home with Heidi and a pair of coddled dogs, Lucky and Tasha.

"They're a team," Heidi explains of her parents. "He handles the fishing, she handles everything else."

As the array of plaques, trophies, crystal ice buckets, and signed prints covering one entire wall of their living room indicates, Don and Linda take pride in Heidi's fishing accomplishments. But neither parent singles out Heidi's angling as the trait of their daughter's that they most esteem.

"I guess I'm proudest of her conservation activities," claims Don. "It's not just that she goes out of her way not to harm the fish she catches. For over one year she did volunteer work with manatees at the Seaquarium. At Rosenstiel they trusted her to weigh, measure, and anesthetize fish while she was still in the ninth grade. I like to think that she played a part in redfish returning to Biscayne Bay. She's the president of the ECOS club at Ransom. Every month they try to do some kind of cleanup. She was active in opposing sugar interests in the Everglades."

Linda Mason ponders her husband's statement for a moment before expanding on it. "Kids growing up today face so much pressure," she offers. "I'm proud of the way Heidi stands up for her beliefs -- anything, not just fishing or the environment."

Still, the Masons believe fishing has been a positive influence on their daughter. "I truly feel it's something she'll be able to enjoy for the rest of her life," Linda points out. "I think there's some truth to what fishermen say -- 'I've never known a kid who fished a lot and got into trouble.'"

And yet Don Mason worries that maybe his daughter has grown up too fast. He worries that he and Linda have been overprotective. He worries that Heidi spends too much time with Eric -- not because there's anything wrong with the boy, but just because Don and Linda don't think it's a good idea for Heidi to get too serious about any one guy at this point in her life. And naturally, both Don and Linda worry about what will happen when Heidi leaves the nest.

"I'm eagerly looking forward to it," Heidi says of moving away to college. Of course that's exactly the kind of gung-ho statement anyone who knows her would expect. "I started planning for it in the ninth grade. I guess it's scary in a way, too -- the thought of going to bed at night surrounded by people you've never seen before."

"For her, I think it will be great," predicts Linda. "For me, it'll be devastating. Our whole lives revolve around her."

"You hate for that to happen," says Don. "You wish your child was always twelve years old."

"But she's ready," Linda concludes, swallowing hard. "It's time for her to go.

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