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Bo's Stories, Page 11

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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“More Fish Tales”

 

            About the time World War II started, Lloyd and Leonard Nelson became friends and they went fishing together several times before Leonard went into the Army.  Lloyd tried to enlist, but was turned down, I believe because of his eyes.  Lloyd always took me along on their fishing/camping trips (thanks, big brother).

            I liked Leonard a lot.  He was always low key and soft-spoken.  He treated me like an adult.  He and Lloyd always made these trips special for me.  I enjoyed listening to them swap stories as we sat around the campfire in the evening.  I don’t remember who cooked, but I expect Lloyd did, for he is an accomplished camp cook.  I do know that I was always well fed on these trips.

            A couple of things about these trips stand out in my memory.  The first is a trip we made to Waller Bridge on Martins Creek.  On previous trips, we had mostly fished on the south side of the county road there, but on this trip we put out hooks to the north side of the road.  I don’t know how long we camped, but while there we caught a really nice (I believe 8#) Opelousas catfish.  This was a rare catch for us in those days (it’s still pretty rare). 

            The second thing was, I got a medium sized tick buried in my scalp.  Leonard said the best way to get him off was to burn him, which he proceeded to do with his cigarette.  He burned a little hide and hair along with the tick, but he got it off and it never bothered me.

            The first time that I recall going camping was with my Uncles Roy and Willis Brown and my cousin Travis Gentry.  There might have been others, but these are the ones I remember.  I have no idea where we went, but we went in Uncle Roy’s car.  I expect this was in the spring or summer of 1934 when I was about four years old. 

            That night, Uncle Roy fixed a small shelter, for me to sleep in, using a tarpaulin.  Sometime after dark, Travis came into camp and his trouser legs were torn in a couple of places.  Travis was a big kidder and I remember him telling this big tall tale about being attacked by a “Catamount” (Cougar).  Even at that tender age, I perceived this story was told for my benefit, and they laughed about it.  I don’t remember being scared at all when Uncle Roy or Uncle Willis tucked me into bed in my little tent.

            The sun was shining when I woke up the next morning.  They had caught some catfish during the night that they put into a towsack (burlap bag).  When we left for home, they put the bag of fish in the back floor of the car.  I was riding in the back seat.  When we got to Uncle Roy’s house and I hopped down off the back seat to get out, I jumped onto the bag of fish and stuck a fin in one of my (bare) feet.  I learned early on how painful catfish fins can be.

            I remember once when I went with Ray and James to Martin’s creek in Taylor’s pasture.  We camped out and stayed a day or two, and had hooks strung out for quite a ways from our camp in both directions.  The way we usually did when we had them set out like this was to start at camp baiting in one direction.  When we got to the last hook, we would walk all the way to the last hook in the opposite direction, and then bait up back toward camp.  We usually kept a pot of coffee close to the fire and it could be heated quickly.  We would have a quick cup of coffee, and maybe a biscuit, and then do it again.

            On this particular night, the hoot owls were really talking all up and down the bottom.  If you’ve never heard this, you have missed a treat.  I want to digress here a little bit to talk about how wonderful it has always been to go and camp out and enjoy the wonders of nature that God has provided for us.

            To lie down on the ground out under a sky just full of stars is awesome, and if you watch you can see falling stars.  How many of you have sat out and watched a moonrise or a moon set.  With the right backdrop, that can be as breathtaking to me as the most beautiful sunset.  The moon moves much faster than the sun and will surprise you with how fast it moves away from or towards the horizon.

            The owls talking to one another and maybe a “whip-poor-will calling every once in a while is music to me.  Then to sit in a tree and watch dawn break is a special treat for me too.  Being out in the wilderness and watching the world come to life is a wonderful experience.  First the birds begin to awaken and start their morning song, and then the other animals begin to move.  Squirrels and deer begin to feed, usually as soon as there is any light at all.  Many people think that hunters and fishermen are out there only to kill that animal or catch that fish.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  People spend days in hunting camps every year without much hope of taking any game.  They do it for the thrill of being out in nature with their friends, or sometimes in solitude. This is an experience that most people go through life without ever experiencing.  And that is a shame. It’s free for the taking.

            On the night in Taylor’s pasture, James began imitating the owls.  He was pretty good at it.  Then one time after we ran the hooks and stopped in camp, we heard an owl way up the bottom where we were about to go check our hooks, and James said,  “He said we’ve got one”, meaning we had a fish.  We started out and in a few minutes, sure enough we took a fish off.  About that time another owl called out and James said, “We’ve got another one”, and sure enough we did.  That went on for most of the rest of the night.  I know it was just coincidental, but still it was exciting to hear the owls telling us when we had a fish on one of our hooks.

            I’ve talked a lot about fishing Martin’s Creek.  The reason is, we did most of our fishing there because it was the closest stream to us that held any sizable number of catfish, which we were after (and they are still my favorite).  I should tell you that my brothers and I left a lot of tracks in Martin’s creek bottom.  We fished there a lot in the spring when the banks were muddy and we slipped and slid all over the place and got wet and muddy too.

Why do you suppose we went fishing when conditions were like that?  Any farmer who might read this would know immediately.  It was too wet to plow or work in the fields, so we went fishing while it dried out.  I would love to go back to those places and see them once more, but to do so would require draining Martin Creek Lake.  They built the lake to supply cooling water for the lignite- fueled power plant at Tatum, and flooded all of those wonderful places that I write about.

            After Ray came home from the war to farm, he and I went to Taylor’s pasture fishing.  This was in the early spring and there had been a lot of rain.  The “road” (really a dim trail) from the gate at Mr. Chester Wyatt’s to the creek, followed the ridges down through the pasture.  That is it stayed to the high ground, and was probably three times as long as a straight line would have been.

            We were in the old 1935 Plymouth automobile that Ray owned for a time.  I don’t remember the origin of this car, but Uncle Willis rebuilt the engine and cut the back half of the cab off to make a kind of pickup out of it and it really ran well.  We had no problem driving nearly to the creek, but couldn’t go all the way because it was too muddy.  Where we stopped to camp was right out in the open on top of a knoll, but very near to the creek.  We put out some hooks and came back in and ate supper.

            I think we had run the hooks one or maybe twice before a “blue” norther hit.  As the old boy said, “It felt like there was nothing between us and the north pole except for a barbwire fence with two of the wires down”.  The temperature dropped rapidly and, although we had a roaring fire, we saw that our position was untenable.  Neither of us was dressed for cold weather, so we threw what little stuff we had into the car and took off for home.

            If you have never been out in the country on an overcast night, you don’t know what dark is.  It is the complete absence of light.  There were no ruts to follow, so we were just trying to head in the general direction of the gate and stay on the high ground, but the headlights on the car were poor and we had trouble seeing where we needed to go. 

            The ridge we were driving down kind of petered out and Ray said, “Which way?” and I said, “Straight ahead”.  That was a big mistake, because we ran off into a marshy area about 75 feet across to the next ridge.  We made it about 70 feet before we stopped, but there was no way to get the car out of there.  We talked it over and decided the only way to get it out was with a tractor.  Ray had a 1946 Ford-Ferguson tractor at home that we were making a crop with.  We decided to flip a coin to see who went after the tractor.

            I thought I lost, because I had to walk the seven miles home to get the tractor, but Ray told me later that he got the short end of that deal, because he nearly froze waiting on me to come back. I walked at a brisk rate and jogged some too, so I expect I made it in a little over an hour.  I got the tractor and headed back and found the ride back to be much colder than the walk home.  Once there, we got the car out in short order and went on home.

            The only weather forecast we had in those days was the “Farmer’s Almanac”.  Now we pretty well know when the weather is going to change, but then we had absolutely no idea what was in store weather-wise.  One spring I plowed one afternoon in a tee shirt and parked the tractor near the old pecan tree at our back yard.  An unexpected late norther blew in during the night and froze the water in the radiator and engine on the tractor.  When we went out the next morning, the freeze plugs on the tractor were pushed out of the engine block.  The block cracked and it was ruined. 

            That was before the pressurized cooling systems that we have now.  You had to put antifreeze in each winter and drain it out and replace it with water in the spring, or like we did, drain the system during the bad cold weather.  We just got caught that time by a late unexpected plunge in the temperature.

            Persons unknown to me owned the land around Waller Bridge on Martin’s Creek.  We always went there, as many other people did, and fished and camped as though we owned the place.  I suppose who ever owned it didn’t mind us doing that.

            About the time WW II ended that changed.  Posted signs were put up.  At that time the land was owned by Mr. Amon Carter who was a wealthy man.  He had a very nice, large home on the same road that Waller bridge was on.  The home was in Panola County (Waller Bridge, being on the west side of the County Line road was in Rusk county), about half a mile toward Beckville from the county line.  I don’t know if he had owned the land all along or had just bought it, or why he decided to post it, but he did.

            Ray and I rode over there on horseback to spend a night fishing on the creek.  We knew about the posted signs and went by Mr. Carter’s house to ask permission to go on his land fishing.  When we rode into the yard, there was a man out there that we had never seen before.  He was a small man, was probably not much older than Ray.  He had on a pair of pants that were kind of a purple color and looked as if they were made of velvet.

            I have no idea who this guy was, but he said it was all right for us to go on the place fishing.  We laughed about those ridiculous pants, and nicknamed the guy “Velvet Pants”.  I never saw him again.  Don’t know if Ray did or not.

            Before we got to the creek, a very dark cloud formed and we could tell we were in for a storm.  We rode into the pasture and along the north side of the old mill pond to a clearing in a stand of large cedar trees.  This was our usual camping spot, though sometimes (if we were in a car) we would camp out by the roadside at the bridge.  The storm was almost upon us, so we quickly removed the saddles from the horses and hung them and the saddle blankets over the lower limbs on a large cedar tree.

            For those of you that are unfamiliar with cedar trees; these trees (much like most Christmas trees), have many small limbs which are thick on the tree, and unless the tree has been trimmed, the limbs are low to the ground.  That was the case with this tree.  We had to stoop to get under the limbs to hang our saddles, and then we squatted under our saddles as the rains came.  We were pretty well protected from the winds, but the rain came down in a deluge and in spite of the tree and the saddles, we got soaking wet, and then cold.

            After the storm passed, we built up a big fire (don’t ask me how), pulled our clothes off and hung them by the fire to dry out.  We always took a gun, usually and in this case it was the .22 cal. rifle that Ray traded for (I think an animal of some kind and a sack of pecans).  One of us had the .22 shells in a shirt pocket, and when we hung our clothes by the fire to dry out, we spilled the shells and a couple of them fell into the fire.  All of a sudden there were a couple of explosions that scared the daylights out of us but didn’t do any damage.

 

            The danger from an exploding shell like that is from the case.  The bullet doesn’t go much of anyplace, but the brass case will usually rip open when the powder explodes and will fly through the air.  This jagged piece of twisted metal can do some serious damage, but it missed us.  We scratched around and found some, if not all, of the remaining shells.  We got dried out and got on with our fishing.

            There is no better time to be on the creek fishing than on a sudden quick rise in the water level and flow.  This brings all kinds of debris into the flow of the creek including bugs and worms and stuff that catfish consider delicacies, and I suppose that brings on kind of a feeding frenzy.  That is the time to have a baited hook in the water.

            I might have mentioned, in an earlier story that when the creek was low, no water flowed through the mill pond, but when the creek was high, water flowed from the creek, into and through the mill pond and back into the creek further down stream.  Actually the lower end of the mill pond was only a little ways from Waller Bridge.

            Martin’s Creek, in this area, has many small tributaries and when a heavy rain falls, the creek can rise very quickly.  That is what happened in this case.  We knew all the best places to put out hooks and proceeded to do so.  I don’t remember what we were using for bait, but it was probably earthworms.  On occasion though, we used other things like fat pork, dead chickens or other animals, and sometimes crawfish.  It didn’t really matter much.  When the fish were feeding they would take most anything.

            When we got to the upper end of the pond, we couldn’t go down the other side because there was a flow through the high water by-pass channel, so we put out hooks in the channel and then on up the creek.  We caught a bunch of nice channel catfish.  Several pretty large ones and we caught most of them in the by-pass channel.  This turned out to be one of our better fishing trips, particularly for the fish caught.

            I mentioned using crawfish for bait, I remember once when we had baited with crawfish we had a funny thing happen.  I don’t think I ever saw this again.  We used a heavy cotton staging for our set hooks.  I guess it was about 1/8 “ in diameter.  Ray, James and I were running the hooks, and we discovered that some of the crawfish (hooked through the tail to keep them alive) had crawled up the line and were sitting on the end of the fishing poles.

            Mentioning bait brings to mind another time and place.  This was just after the war and we were fishing on the Sabine river.  Getting bait on the river was sometimes easy and sometimes next to impossible.  Most of the time, we took a minnow seine and just seined all the minnows and sometimes small perch that we wanted from the sandbars in the river.  At times though, there just were not any minnows to be seined.

            When that happened we got our bait elsewhere.  We would go out of the river bottom and seine creeks or sloughs or ponds.  Lloyd and James always had a lot more brass than I did about seining on other peoples land.  I remember once James and I (I would not have done this on my own) crawled over a fence and seined a man’s pond.  Neither of us knew this man and just about the time we got through, here came this guy.   He had smoke coming out of his ears at the temerity of anyone seining his pond.

            I busied myself with the seine while James talked to him.  I should have listened to the conversation, but I didn’t.  After talking for a few minutes, James and this guy were like old friends.  We’d muddied his little pond and got his crawfish and perch, and here he was patting James on the back and wishing us good luck with our fishing.  Had I been by myself, he probably would have held me until the Sheriff got there.  But James had that knack about him.  People just instinctively liked him.

            One time when we were camped at Rose Bluff (near Old Center off FM 699) we went and seined a pond out in a pasture across the road from the Methodist Church at Woods Post Office.  This was a large pond, but not very deep, with a cleared area on the bank on each side.  We decided to just drag the seine directly across the pond, which we did.  When we pulled the seine out on the far side, it was full of crawfish.  This one drag was all the bait we needed.

 

            Back to this time on the Sabine.  We were at Rose Bluff.  Mournice and I were camped on the river.  Lloyd and Ray were there part of the time.  Bait was really tough to get this particular time and we just couldn’t find any.  Lloyd had a .22 cal Hi-Standard automatic pistol that he brought with him to the river.  He let me shoot it some and I loved it.  One afternoon while I had the gun, I saw a large swamp rabbit a good distance from me and took a shot at it and killed it.  I never expected to hit it and didn’t want it.  Rabbits were out of season to eat, so I just threw it out into the brush.

            A couple of days later when we were desperate for bait, I remembered the rabbit and mentioned it to Mournice.  He said he was game to use it if I was, so I went and found it.  By then it was ripe, but we took it in the boat with us and one of us cut bait while the other put it on the hooks.  We almost gagged while we did this it smelled so bad.   Ray came down that evening and later on in the night we went out in the boat to run the trotlines.

            I was in the bow of the boat running the line when we came up on a very large catfish.  He was tearing the water up.  Now, I would let him calm down before proceeding, but then I just went on down the line to him.  When he came up to the surface he rolled over and headed down, and the line snapped like it was a thread.  We just got a quick look at the fish, but it was good enough for me to know that I have never hooked another fish that large in all my fishing days.

            Of course I was the “goat” for losing the fish and was just sick about it.  Maybe Ray or Mournice could have got the fish into the boat, but I doubt it.  Our tackle (used cotton trotlines) was just not strong enough to handle a fish like that, unless you did it so that you didn’t spook him.

            Lloyd taught me to river fish for catfish.  I think he learned a lot from some of the Old-timers he met when he was teaching school.  The first time that I fished in the river with a pole was for catfish and I was with Lloyd on the Sabine river near Hemphill.  This was the summer that I visited him and Mildred in Hemphill just after I finished the ninth grade.  I would have just turned fourteen.

            Lloyd had caught a big (about 15 pounds) catfish while fishing from a boat by himself.  He typically used a long cane pole, the longer the better, and a line as long as the pole.  Your line cannot be much longer than your pole, because you need to be able to raise the pole up to bring your hook in with a fish on it or to re-bait it.  On the day we went, he rigged up a pole for me and we went out in the boat.  We baited our hooks with two nice sized minnows on each hook

            The technique that Lloyd taught me was to let the hook and sinker down until you felt it hit bottom, then pick it up and slowly move it around until you found some structure (he didn’t call it that, but that is what fishermen today call it).  On the Sabine we were feeling for a hole, a gully or a log.  On some waters it might be a rock, or pile of rocks.  Wherever fishermen fish, they are looking for structure, because that is where the fish stay while waiting for something to come by to eat.

            On that afternoon, I found a hole about as large as a #3 washtub near a log.  I fished in that hole and caught three fish that afternoon.  Lloyd only caught one.  Now if he were telling this story, he would have caught the three fish, but I’m telling it my way.  I learned my lessons pretty well and Lloyd and I have fished together many times, but I seldom catch as many as he does.  He is a good fisherman and, as all of you who know him know, he is a tough competitor.

            We had a really good time fishing there while I was visiting, but there was an incident that I must tell you about that I didn’t much care for.  At this particular camp, there was a small clearing with a cabin in the center of the clearing a little way away from the riverbank.  I say riverbank, but it was really a bluff, and a high one at that.  There was a trail winding down the steep slope of the bluff that was a little tough to navigate.

            Lloyd and I went to the river to spend the night, and while we were out in the boat, two men and a boy came to the river.  There was an old man and a younger man and the boy who was younger than I.  Maybe he was 7 or 8, but not any more than that.  Well these two men brought a bunch of home brew with them and got drunk during the night.  I was a sound sleeper and didn’t hear them, but Lloyd did.  I think one of them staggered off into a briar patch and made a bunch of noise, and I believe one of them got into Lloyd’s car.

            The next morning, both of these guys were in pretty bad shape.  I think one of the men asked Lloyd for some of our breakfast, but he didn’t get any.  We did, however, feed the boy.  We finished our breakfast and left in the boat to run and take up our lines, which we did.  When we came back in, their boat was gone, so we figured they had sobered up enough to go fishing.

            When we began to load up to go home, Lloyd noticed he had a flat on his car.  He didn’t have a jack, but did have a spare tire.  We went out into the brush looking for a long pole to pry the car up so we could change the tire.  I was going through some bushes and ran over a man lying on the ground.  He looked like he was dead and didn’t move or grunt when I fell over him.  That scared the bejabbers out of me and I ran and got Lloyd.  He looked at the guy (it was the younger man and I guess the daddy of the little boy).  Lloyd said the man was just passed out drunk.

            Well we found a pole, pried the car up, changed the tire and went home.  I’ve often thought about those people, and wondered what ever became of the little boy.  Did he grow up to be a drunk too?  I hope not.  That incident took a little of the pleasure out of the fishing trip for me.

            Another brief story about fishing at Waller Bridge.  When James first came home from the war, he and I went to the creek fishing.  We went in a car, but I have no idea whose it was.  We took some of Mama’s meager stock of kitchenware to use in our camp.  We camped right at the edge of the road and when we finished our supper that evening we laid the utensils on top of the car.

            During the night it came up a bad storm and rained a lot.  James decided that we better hightail it out of there, which we did, never once thinking about the stuff on top of the car.  We scattered it up and down the road and never did find all of it.  I know Mama was upset about it as I, and I’m sure James, was, but she never said much.  Mama frequently suffered in silence.

            Most of my early fishing was in the little pond across the road from our house where we swam, and then in Smith’s pond and the small creek below the pond.  I get about as much thrill from catching those perch as I do anything.  I would like to wet a hook in Smith’s pond one more time, but of course I can’t.  It’s gone forever. 

            There were no switch canes growing near our house.  A shame too.  I sure could have used them.  As a very poor substitute, I used what we called the “coffee bean” stalks.  These things grow wild all over East Texas, and I still don’t know their real classification, but those of you from Sugar Hill will know what I’m talking about.  Those stalks only got about 8 feet high, so they were really shorter that I preferred, but their real drawback was, they were pithy and had little strength.

            Strength was not usually a problem when you were catching little fish anyway and I only recall having one break in the heat of battle one time.  On that day I was fishing from the dam (were it still there I could go stand on the spot). I got a real hard bite and when I jerked, the fish didn’t sail out of the water like usual, but just jerked back, and my pole snapped half into.  Being young and quick, I grabbed the tip end of the pole and pulled the fish out on the bank.

            I had never seen a fish like this one before, and the image has dimmed in my mind, but it might have been a bass.  I took my fish home and was out in the back yard cleaning them when Mama came out and saw that big fish.  I had just cut its head off when she stopped me, and went and got her tape measure and measured the fish.  It was nine and one-half inches long from the fork in the tail to the nearest point in the curve of the gill to the tail.  I would guess the fish was 12 or 14 inches long from the tip of the mouth to the tip of the tail.  A nice fish back then, especially for me.  We ate the fish for supper.

            During the war, Betty Sue Tompkins stayed with us one year.  I think she was Nell’s age.  I remember once I had hooks out in Smith’s pond (this was more often than not) and I would run down there and bait them before dark and then go back and check them before going to bed, and then again in the morning before going to school. 

            Nell and Betty Sue went with me to check the hooks before bedtime.  I always put out hooks along the dam and then would go around on the south side of the pond to where a small point stuck out into the pond, and put one there.  My light was not very good, but when we got down near the south end of the dam we could see the pole around on the point, down in the water.  We ran around there and I pulled out what we estimated to be a 5-pound catfish.  This was a pond cat (“Chugheads” we called them, but appropriately called they were “Bullheads”), and it was the largest fish that I ever saw come out of one of the ponds.  If it really weighed 5 pounds, two and a half pounds would have been head.

            I believe to be a dedicated fisherman, you must be an optimist.  Many people fish and catch a lot of fish that are not really what I call fishermen.  A true fisherman is one who will sit for hours without a bite with the hope that at any moment a great fish will take the bait and bend the pole.  There are some that seem to communicate with the fish on some level.  These are the guys who catch fish when no one else is catching fish.  My brother James was such a fisherman and my late brother-in-law Bob Riley was another one.  Bob would fish in the bathtub if that were all he had.  He always believed he was going to catch fish and usually always did.  If you don’t understand the attraction of fishing to those of us who feel it is somewhat essential to our well being; then there is no need in my trying to explain it because you wouldn’t get it anyway.

            I have great patience when fishing.  I might move fairly often, but I don’t give up trying to catch fish.  When I was a kid, I spent many hours by myself fishing at Mr. John Smith’s pond and in his pasture.  I would really have preferred to have someone with me, but was glad to go fishing even if alone.  I’m still that way.  Now when I go to the river by myself, I will fish as many as six rods at a time.  If the fish are really biting well, that is too many, so I will cut back to the number that I can manage, given the activity level of the fish.

            As a kid though, I just used one pole except for the set hooks.  And I almost never used a float.  Never liked them then and still don’t.  I like to feel where my hook is.  I like to feel when the fish touches my bait.  I believe that you can catch more fish on a tight line than you can under a float, and it is more fun for me.

            I used to go along the little creek across Smith’s pasture and drop my hook in every little hole large enough to hold a perch, and most of them did.  There was one hole in particular where I always caught a lot of fish.  The water overflowed the pond at the south end of the dam, ran down a little way and then ran into the original creek (before the dam was built).  This continued on east a little way and then turned north for perhaps 50 feet.  Along this stretch there was a sizable hole with a bluff bank just above it.  I used to fish this hole from that bluff (six feet high) and would sit down and dangle my legs over the side.  A Kingfisher (a bird that feeds on fish) always nested in a hole in the side of the bluff there, and I was careful not to disturb this nest.

            In the hot summer, the small creek would dry up in holes and then dry up completely before summer was over.  Sometimes I would get in one of the small holes and catch any remaining fish with my hands.  At the “bluff” hole I mentioned above, there was a second bank below the bluff, down near the normal water level.  Cattails grew in the edge of the water along the length of this hole, which I suppose was about eight feet.  The hole was normally about three feet wide, with about two feet of this between the cattails.

            One afternoon I was down in the deepest part of this hole, now about the size of a bathtub, on my knees, catching fish with my hands.  I was by myself as was the usual case and was very intent on the fish.  I sat back on my haunches and glanced to my right, and lying there in the cattails was a huge water moccasin.  He was at about the same level as I and there we were eyeball-to-eyeball looking at one another.  He could have bitten me at any time.  I’ve thought about that many times and concluded that he was full of fish, knew what I was doing, and didn’t feel threatened by me, so didn’t attack.

            I look back at all of the near misses with disaster that I have had, and just know that I must have a guardian angel looking out for me.  Nobody could be so lucky as I have been.

 

            Usually, I would fish the branch all the way across the pasture and then cut straight across the pasture back to the pond.  One day when I did this I was walking along when I looked down and there, right at my feet was a large snake.  I am not terrified of snakes, but always wanted to give them their space.  When I saw this one I jumped and took off running.  I ran a little way and slowed down to look and there the snake was, running right alongside of me like we were racing.  It didn’t take me long to accelerate and change direction too, and I never saw it again.  This was the black snake that we called the “Coachwhip”.

            After the war, James and I fished in Milsey Williamson’s pasture on the west side of the County Line road.  Milsey had a dragline dig two ponds at opposite ends of long very shallow slough.  Martin’s Creek ran through the pasture, but was a long way from these ponds.  When the creek got out of banks, it would flood the whole bottom, including these ponds.  That didn’t happen every year, but did so fairly often.  When there was quite a lot of rain the old slough would fill up and the two ponds would flow together, making one big lake.  The area in between the two ponds was shallow.  Probably no more than two or three feet and most of it was not that deep.

            Once in the spring, James and I were there fishing when it was like that..  James was wearing a pair of rubber boots.  They were of the type with the rigid tops that came to the knees.  To increase the area that he could cast his lure to, he waded out in the shallow water of the slough until the water was within a couple of inches of the top of his boots.

            Meanwhile I was down a little way fishing another part of the place, but still pretty close to James.  On one of his casts a grennel (proper name is Bowfin, also sometimes called a mudfish) followed his bait (a Hawaiian Wiggler) back almost to him as he reeled it in.   The fish then wheeled and moved away.  James cast and again the fish followed the lure back almost to James.  He did this several times and the grennel would not take the lure, so James pulled out a .22 pistol that he was carrying and shot at the fish and scared it away. 

            On the very next cast he made, the grennel took the lure and the fight was on.  It was a large fish, probably 7 or 8 pounds, and they are notorious fighters.  In the heat of the battle James got water in both of his boots, but he landed the fish.  I had walked over to watch him, and he slid the fish out on the grassy bank and we stood there looking at it.  All of a sudden the grennel started flouncing, spit the lure out and flipped back into the slough and swam off.  We didn’t mind that much.  We caught a lot of fish here and also got a lot of frogs.

            Once while I was there, I found a well worn, but nice, Case pocketknife.  I believe I told Mournice and his boys, maybe they were with me, and one of them mentioned the knife to Odie Williams’ stepsons and they told Odie.  It was his knife and he had lost it while fishing there.  Of course I gave it back to him.  A small world isn’t it.

 

“The Blacksmith”

 

            Mr. Josh Belew was our blacksmith.  He lived about four miles from us in an old house with a “dog run”.  He was an interesting man and I think a good one.  He was mostly easy going, had a very deep voice that was kind of melodious, and he was full of stories.  I liked him a lot, and was always glad of the opportunity to go to his house to have some blacksmithin’ done.

            Mr. Josh had a shop out on the north side of his house and he spent a lot of time in the shop.  He did find time though to put in a crop on his own farm.  My Uncle John Willis Brown worked for him on at least two occasions that Mr. Josh told me about.

            The first time when Uncle Willis was working there he was a young man.  And, when he was young he was pretty wild, but was a good worker according to Mr. Josh.  One day in late winter they were building fence.  The wind was blowing pretty good and gusting some.  Uncle Willis had a new Stetson hat on and the wind blew it off two or three times.  Each time it blew off Uncle Willis got a little madder.  He was just finishing digging a hole for a corner post (this is a larger than normal post and requires a larger hole) when his hat blew off for the last time.  He made sure it was the last time because he went and got it, threw it into the posthole and put the corner post in on top of it.  Guess what?  It never blew off again.  Not that one!

            Another time Uncle Willis was helping Mr. Josh get ready for spring planting.  Each of them had a team and was working in Mr. Josh’s west field, which is pretty large.  Mr. Josh was intent on his own work and was not paying any attention to Uncle Willis, but about middle of the afternoon he happened to look back that way and he saw Uncle Willis’ team standing at the end of the rows.  He didn’t think much about it, just thought he was answering a call of nature.  But, a little later he looked that way again and the team was still there, sans Uncle Willis.

            Near sundown there was still no sign of him, so Mr. Josh went and unhooked the team and took both teams to the barn and tended them.  He never saw Uncle Willis again until about six months later when he came in from West Texas.  He told Mr. Josh that he just felt the urge for some new scenery and left.  That was Uncle Willis then, but he became a new man after accepting Jesus Christ as his savior.  There was about as dramatic a change in him as you will ever see in a human being.

            I started off to talk about Mr. Josh, but got sidetracked.  Seems I do that a lot.  Mr. Josh was in every sense, a craftsman.  A piece of metal in his hands would become whatever he wished it to be.  He had a large forge.  This is an open fire pit equipped with a blower to supply air for the fire and usually burns high-grade coal, and when I was there I always turned the crank on the blower.  He coached me on how fast to turn it to give him the fire he wanted.

            The blower was equipped with a heavy flywheel that was a little slow to get started, but once it got up to speed, then it was easy to keep going.  Air from the blower blew right up in the center of the fire pit and he would rake burning coal up around the draft and it would glow very hot.  A piece of metal would turn red/white hot quickly.  He would jerk it out of the fire with his tongs, lay it on the anvil and hit it with his hammer to shape it to his satisfaction.  Once that was done, he would plunge it into a water bath or into wet sand to give it the proper temper (hardness).  He was really good at this.

            Mainly what he did for us was sharpen and rebuild plow points, but if something on your equipment broke, he could fix if or make you a new one.  I’ve watched him weld two pieces of metal together by heating them and applying flux before hammering them together while red-hot. 

            Mr. Josh also did some automotive mechanics and he was pretty good at it.  I called on him more than once, when I had a problem.  He had a pond built in his pasture just beyond where the road curved to the south, down the road from Uncle Roy Brown’s house.  I didn’t fish this pond until after James came home from the war and found out about it.  It had some big bass in it and also some big bullfrogs.

            Two things stand out in my memory about this pond.  First, the first really big bass (more than 5#) that I caught was at this pond.  I parked on the road and walked out there to the pond and went about to the middle of the dam.  I had tied onto my line a “Devils Horse Ma Scooter”. 

            This was a stick bait that James had found and we both liked.   We caught a lot of bass on these.  They still make them.  It is a wooden lure about 3” long and kind of cigar shaped, but thinner, with two treble hooks on it.  They come with a little spinner blade on the shaft of the rear hook.  We modified it by replacing the spinner with a piece of lead so the bait would stand up in the water at about a 45-degree angle.  By twitching the rod tip you could make the lure do a kind of crazy sideways dive that would spray water into the air and it would make a gurgling sound.  Much like some kind of crippled frog or lizard might do.

            I smoked in those days, so I threw the lure out about the middle of the pond and laid my rod down while I lit a cigarette.  About the time I reached for my rod, there was an explosion of water and a big gurgle as my lure disappeared.  I grabbed the rod, set the hook and the fight was on.  This bass gave me a real tussle, but I landed it.  Didn’t weigh it, but I guess it would go 5# or maybe more.  I had heard that you should always let a surface plug like that just lie still until the ripples disappeared.  This was a good testament for that.  Had I begun to reel the lure in right away, the bass probably would not have taken it.  He must have lay there and watched it for a bit and then decided it was good to eat.

            The second thing about this pond was that I took my son Clifford there, once in the spring when chiggers were at their peak, and Cliff got covered with them.  He scratched (clawed would be a better word) at the chiggers and left welts on his backside.  A few days later after the chiggers were gone and he was about healed from the scratching, I had to take him to the doctor.  When the nurse went to give him a shot, she saw the marks on his backside and it looked as if he had had a beating.  I know that she believes until this day that I had beat him with a stick, but I hadn’t.

            Mr. Sam Gentry had a nice pond on his place over southeast of Fairplay.  James and I fished there quite a bit.  He had some real large bass in his pond and we loved to catch them.  James knew almost everybody and no one would refuse him permission to fish in his pond.  Once when we were there fishing, James hooked a large bass.  He got him in near the bank and the fish got tangled in some weeds and moss and the hook came out of his mouth. 

            I was across the pond and happened to be looking back toward James, when I saw him jump into the pond.  He twisted around while in the air, and when he landed he reached down, with both hands, and scooped weeds, moss and bass out onto the bank.  Mr. Sam was there talking to James and watching us and he thought that was the funniest thing he had ever seen.  James got wet mid-way of his thighs.

 

“The Pecan Trees”

 

            Our pecan-trees were a treasure to us.  Straight behind our house, beginning just beyond our garden, was a straight, north/south row of pecan trees.  I don’t know who had the foresight to put these out, but it was a wonderful thing for us.  The only thing he could have done that would have been better was to put out paper-shell pecans.  I believe there were five trees, evenly spaced, then a gap and another tree.  The tree nearest the garden died soon after my early memory and was cut down. 

            The next four trees bore pecans of similar size and shape, although all were different.  These were native pecans, that is, they were grown from sprouted pecans, and like other things in nature had distinct differences.  The pecans from these four trees were medium to small in size, with a length about twice their diameter.  The pecans from the tree at the north end of the row were long and slender.  With a length probably about three times their diameter.

            There was a pecan tree at the northwest corner of our back yard.  This was a large spreading tree that provided a good shade, but it was not a very productive tree.  We practically lived under this tree while we were tearing down and rebuilding Mama’s house.  It never had a huge crop as some trees did.  The pecans it bore were very small, peewees we called them.  They were about the size of the end of a man’s little finger and almost round.  

            There were two pecan trees on the east side of our house.  A young tree in the yard that began bearing about the time I was grown.  There was a very large tree over the fence in what had been our barnyard pasture.  This tree usually had a large crop of pecans.  These were probably the largest, best formed, pecans of all of them, but this tree died about the end of WW II and was cut down.

            There was a young tree just by the gate going into our north field.  This was a “volunteer” (grew from a pecan that was deposited there by some animal or act of nature) tree and began bearing sometime in the 1940’s and became a very productive tree. There were two or three other young volunteer trees northeast of this one down the drainage swale that began to bear in later years.

            In addition to being different sizes and shapes, the pecans also had different flavors.  The peewees had a very, light, delicate flavor.  Most of the others were very similar except for the large tree at the north end of the row.  The long pecans from it were my favorite because of their flavor.

            We made a real effort to collect all of the pecans that we could.  We were always anxiously awaiting the first ripe ones in the fall and picked them up as they fell.  Of course the birds got a lot of them, but we got our share.  All of us pitched in to pick-out pecans for Mama when she wanted some, but most we just picked-out and ate them.  They were always a treat for me.   We didn’t have a lot and small treasures like these were greatly appreciated.

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