This is the first of my collection of non-fiction stories about the most memorable period of my life. The late 30s and early 40s were rough times for everyone. However, close family ties, good moral values, and a desire to make the most of what we had (which wasn’t much in material wealth), stern discipline and allowing kids to be kids, soon made a kid a man. Born and raised in Mineral Wells, Texas, fortunate to have farmers as Grandparents, I had many an opportunity as a youngster to roam the country along the Brazos River. My intention is to leave the short stories for my grandkids. Perhaps they will provide an insight to the family values of yesteryear–values that seem to have escaped a majority of this younger generation.
I received overwhelming support for this story when posted on the Internet. I have been encouraged to write more. This short story has been republished, with my permission, in several foreign countries and in various fishing club newsletters across the United States. It’s evident I’m not a professional writer and don’t pretend to be, never tried my hand at it, but what the heck, maybe someone will get a kick out of the stories, and bring back a few precious memories of their own.
I hope you enjoy reading it.
Four a.m. and Granny is calling softly, “Son, it’s time to get up if you’re goin’ fishin’ today.”
Tough crawling out from between the warmth of down quilts–it’s only fall, but cold at 4 a.m. A quick walk outside to the outhouse will wake me up.
Gotta watch out for that danged old Dominick rooster. He always ambushes me on the way or traps me inside and then flogs me on the way back to the house. I heard him crowing earlier. Gonna knock the blue blazes out of him one of these days….
Then there’s that blamed old screech owl, the one who always manages to screech just about the time you get halfway to the outhouse, and can cause you to go before you get to where you were going. Makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and gives you a shiver down your spine. But Granny always says, “There’s nothing in the dark that’ll hurt you but yourself.” Easy for her to say as I now begin to run.
It’s still dark and I ain’t got no time to look at the girls’ underwear ads in the Sears Roebuck catalog this morning. For some reason those pages never get torn out of the catalog, not by me anyway. Need to tell PaPa we need some more corncobs in the bucket.
Business taken care of and back to the wash basin to clean up. Brrr, that danged well water coming from the outside water tank above the well is cold this mornin’. That old well has never run out of water in 50 years my PaPa says.
“Yes Granny, I’m brushin’ my teeth.” Although I don’t know why, as I’m only going’ fishing’ and the blamed fish don’t know the difference. Dang woman is always reminding me to do this, or to do that… Repeating PaPa’s words, “Women, humph…”
Back in the kitchen and sitting beside the old wood cook stove with hot coffee perking, slab bacon frying and hot biscuits in the oven. I’m thinking that no one can make biscuits like my Granny can in that old wood cookstove, as I scoot away from the stove because my britches are smoking. Nothing hotter than an old wood cookstove if you sit too close.
PaPa (pronounced pawpaw) comes in for his breakfast and asks, “Whatcha’ going’ to do today boy?”
“Goin’ fishin’ PaPa,” I reply.
“Humph, be better off in the field helping’ me plow with that team of old hardheaded mules. Don’t know why I let your granny talk me into lettin’ you off today. Gotta get my peanuts out of the ground. Boys need to be kept busy to keep out of mischief,” he gruffly says with a twinkle in his eye and giving Granny a wink.
Granny replies, “Now Buster, boys have to have some fun, don’t they?” She then hands me a cup of steaming coffee (mostly milk with two tablespoons of coffee), served with her million-dollar smile.
I noticed he didn’t argue with Granny. Like PaPa says, “No one argues with Granny, not if they got any common sense at all. She’s only 5’3″, but she can reach up all the way to heaven to smack you one.” She rules the roost around here.
It’s tough being the only grandson among a half-dozen or more granddaughters. Spoiled no, pampered, yes.
“Granny, nothing beats your pancakes, hot sorghum syrup, eggs, bacon, sausage, and hot biscuits to get my day started,” I said with syrup running down my chin and getting a big hug from her.
Granny has already fixed me a sack lunch of leftover biscuits, bacon, and a biscuit dripping with homemade pear preserves. Corn meal, a little piece of salt pork, and an old iron skillet are already packed in a tow sack (along with a salt shaker). Tow sack full, I’m ready to go fishin’.
Fishin’ tackle is all ready from the night before.
Trusty old Calcutta fly rod. For those of you not familiar with the “Calcutta,” you could buy a Calcutta pole for a nickel at the feed store in town. Cut off the top eight feet and you got a dandy custom-made bamboo fly rod. Make the guides out of a few scraps of baling wire, twenty-five feet of fishing string, tie on the hook (one size fits all) and you’re in business. No fancy reel, just tie the end of the line to the butt of the rod.
Caught the flies the night before (hoppers we call them), and I have two cans of them, along with a few crickets. Too dry behind the barn to dig worms (my favorite bait). Good, with this dry spell the river will be lower and make for better wading.
Can’t forget the two buttons and 25 feet of extra string for the empty bean cans, comes in handy later on for communication!
It’s still dark out, but I’m on my way. Gotta meet my cousin Billy near the watermelon field and make the trip to the river together.
As I stumble off the back porch, trying not to drop my old coal oil lantern, with dawn just crackin\’, Granny shouts, “Now don’t get wet, boy, and watch out for snakes, you hear? And you and Billy don’t go throwing’ rocks at those range bulls, either!”
How’s a man gonna go fishin’ and not get wet, and who knows if you’re gonna get bit by a snake while walking’ through a peanut field in head-high grass and wading around barefoot in the river? But me, messin’ with range bulls, no way. I ain’t that brave, unless of course there’s a handy tree to climb.
“Yes’um, be home before dark, Granny.”
“Better. Remember PaPa’s razor strap hanging by the fireplace,” Granny again reminds me.
Granny sounds just like my mom saying, “Son, make sure your underwear is clean in case you get hit by a car on the way to school.”
“Good grief Mom, my underwear ain’t gonna stay clean if I do get hit by a car. They’ll be full of crap,” I always reply.
“Watch your smart mouth, boy,” Mom replies. “Or get your mouth washed out with soap.” Hmm, had that treatment with lye soap more than once. Mom says I wouldn’t pick up such words if I didn’t hang out at the feed store so much.
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