Wednesday, March 4, 2015
One mile from where the pavement ends stands the old homestead where my catfish tale begins.
About a three quarters of a mile east of our house and maybe another half mile north through an orange grove was another one of our favorite fishing holes. That was the best catfish hole ever.
The only thing we ever caught out of that little pond was catfish. Any time we wanted catfish, that was the place to get em. That’s why we called it “The Catfish Hole“. Never was there a time when we couldn’t catch all the catfish we wanted out of that little pond.
Then one hot summer day when I was about fourteen years old. My brother James came running into the yard all out of breath and yelling, “The catfish hole is dryin up.”
“Whaddaya mean, it’s dryin up?” I asked.
“It’s almost all dried up.” he said “I took a shortcut on the way home and went by there. There’s just a little bit of water left in the middle, and the fish are all crowded together in it.”
“We better go get em before they all die.” I said. “Let’s go see if Ray’ll take us back up there.
When our brother Ray agreed to take us to the catfish hole, we went around to the back of the house where we got two big tubs and a long handled fish net and loaded them on his truck.
When we got to the catfish hole it was just like James had said, but I couldn’t have imagined what I saw before actually seeing it for myself. It looked like thousands of catfish all squishing together in a little puddle of water maybe about five to six feet in diameter. They were thrashing and jumping, all of them trying to get deeper in that little bit of water. We knew they couldn’t survive in such a little bit of water, and besides, catfish have those needle like thorns on their backs and sides and we figured they’d be stabbing each other to death with all that thrashing around just trying to stay in the water.
We backed the truck as close to the edge of the pond as we could and started filling the tubs with the catfish. About twenty or thirty minutes of scooping with the net and we had both tubs full, but we had hardly made a dent in the pond, it looked about the same as before we’d ever started.
“What're we gonna do with all these fish?” Ray asked.
“Well, we can eat some and put some in the freezer, but there’s more than that just in these two tubs.” I said. “Why don’t we try to give em away? That’d be better than just lettin em all die.”
We climbed in the truck again and went to our friends, Joe and Calvin’s house to see about getting rid of some of the fish. Sure enough, when we explained what we were doing, they took as much as they thought they could and got some of their neighbors to do the same. We managed to empty both of the tubs before we left, and some more of the neighbors said they’d take some if we had any more. We made three more trips back there and gave away six more tubs of catfish.
Finally we went back and got the tubs full one more time and took them home to our house. Then of course we had to clean them all. It took us till late that night to get it all done because nobody wanted to help, so it was just James and me. What a job! By the time we were finished, neither of us wanted to clean another catfish for a long, long time.
We went back to the catfish hole the next day to see if we had done any good for the fish that were still there.
We couldn’t see any fish crowding together this time, so we figured they might be alright now.
All together we had taken ten of those big old tubs full of fish from that little hole of water and we thought it would dry up completely, but it never did. When the rains came again, that replenished the water and that little hole was once more what it always had been, The Catfish Hole.
None of us went cat fishing for quite a while after that though, we had enough catfish to last us a good long time.
The last time I saw the catfish hole was about ten years later and it looked about the same as it always had except for that one really dry summer.
Monday, March 2, 2015
Like most people, I don’t usually remember the exact dates nor my precise age for most of the memories from my earlier years, or even later ones for that matter. Most of them I don’t remember in any chronological order that I can actually describe. They are just old memories from years gone by, plain and simple.
I find that when I try too hard to assign dates and times, sometimes even exact places or people’s names, it often tends to cloud the memory and detract from my ability to tell the story the way I would like to present it. So rather than fuss over dates and times thus making a memory more difficult to write about, I just don’t bother with dates and times unless they are extremely relevant to the story at hand.
I have finally learned that a memory needs no date of birth. A memory needs no year of manufacture. Time does not matter to a memory, a fifty year old memory can be as fresh in the mind as if it happened only yesterday. A day old memory can seem as if it has been there fifty years or more.
Sometimes the story may have been such a great event that the date or my age at the specific time has been indelibly inscribed in the gray cells of that big hollow place that sometimes substitutes for my brain.
Such stories include my latest one about Hurricane Donna in 1960, and anther is the one when I was seven years old and learning to walk for the first time. Why I remember dates, years, or ages for different events I guess will forever remain a mystery, but I’ve learned not to care, and let a memory be what it is, a memory.
In this, another tale from the old dirt road, I don’t recall a lot of things at all, but some, I recall very well indeed.
I don’t recall what year it was, I don’t recall my age. I don’t recall the yelling and the big fuss about it later, but I do recall the pain!
There is a huge gnarled oak tree just outside of our yard where all us kids used to spend vast amounts of time. We’d build forts out of scrap lumber (and whatever else we could find) in the lower branches of that old tree. We spent hours and days working and playing in and around that old tree. We made swings with ropes, chains, and cables, anything we could find that might work. For seats we used old tires, boards, pipes, and sometimes, nothing at all.
One time my brother James and I found an old piece of galvanized pipe about six feet in length. This thing was battered on the ends as if someone had pounded it with a sledgehammer, thus leaving sharp, jagged edges on each end.
What a great seat for the swing!
We threw a rope over our favorite limb for swings, then tied each end of the rope to an end of the pipe. This created a six foot seat on our swing. A two seater! Only two or more people could ride this thing, one person couldn’t hold on because the ropes were too far apart to reach both of them.
With my sister Babe holding on to a rope with one hand and holding hands in the middle, we were having a swell time when suddenly James decided to try something different. Instead of pushing us in the normal way, he started us to spinning round and round. What fun! Wound up tight, the rope naturally started unwinding on it’s own when he let it go. Faster and faster we went for a double dose of dizzy! What a lot of fun that was! We had a lot of fun on that thing for a while, taking turns riding then pushing each other. But it didn’t even last out the whole day.
After playing on the swing for a while, Babe went off somewhere, probably to the house. I sat on the ground watching James wind the empty swing up just to see how fast he could make it go. After a bit, I became distracted by something else that I still can’t remember and probably never will, but what happened next, I will never forget!
Suddenly, I heard James yell “Watch out!” But it was too late! The battered, jagged end of that old pipe slammed into the left side of my head with a tremendous force! It hit so hard I was sent flipping end over end several feet. It was like an explosion, I couldn’t see anything but black. Amazingly, I didn’t feel any pain! The front of my shirt was literally covered with blood, I could feel it soaking through my shirt and it felt like a hot liquid on my skin .
Then I felt the pain! Excruciating and totally overwhelming pain! I thought I knew about pain before, what with all the surgery and spinal taps and other things that those doctors and nurses had put me through because of the polio. All those were nothing compared to the all engulfing pain delivered by the seat of our great new swing. Broken bones from falling out of trees, blackened eyes and broken teeth from fist fights, bee and wasp stings and dog bites were nothing compared to the pain from that old pipe that hit right on the edge of my eye and opened up a terrible, big ugly gash from which all the blood was flowing.
The next thing I remember is my oldest sister, Midge, holding my head in her lap, pressing something to my face and telling me to be still. She didn’t have to tell me twice! I just wanted to go to sleep, but she wouldn’t let me, every time I did, she’d shake me and tell me not to.
I don’t remember how I got to the house. If somebody carried me, I don’t know who. I don’t remember finally going to sleep, and I don’t know how long I slept. But I certainly know that when I did wake up, sometime the next day I’ve been told, I had what had to be the worst headache in history. And I remember going to school the next day with all that pain in my head and a patch over my left eye, and what a job it was to get around with four legs and only one eye. That totally ruins depth perception and is not good at all for keeping one’s balance on a pair of crutches.
They told me later that James was yelling louder than I was, he thought I was going to die and it was all his fault. James said we got a real dressing down over all the trouble we caused with that swing, but I still don’t remember that.
If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the scar by my left eye that I still wear because of childish carelessness nearly fifty years ago.
Probably needless to say, that was the end of our two seater swing. I still don’t like to swing even after all these years. I still get that queasy feeling in any type of swing, no matter how gently it moves. Driving or riding in cars, trucks, boats and airplanes has never been a problem, but I tend to stay out of swings.