When I was a boy we
spent a lot of time as a family FISHING. Now what most of you know
as fishing may not be our FAMILY'S way of fishing. See we would load
up the Ford Station Wagon the night before with the all we would need
for the next days trip. Starting in the afternoon before the trip,
my mother and grandmother began cooking. Three or four chickens were
fried in an old Cast Iron Skillet. The chicken was dipped in buttermilk
and rolled in a mixture of flour and black pepper. Then dropped in
several inches of sizzling Lard. Also cooked were a big pot of green
beans, potatoes were always fixed, usually fried in the same Cast
Iron Skillet, but over a wood fire the next day. Slaw, from fresh
cabbage with carrots and onions. Corn on the cob was packed, but would
be fixed the following day. A couple or pies and a cake always
made the trip with us, as well. This was just our mid-afternoon snack.
The real feast was breakfast.
Like I said we began packing early the evening before our fishing
day. First was the Rods and Reels, Zebco 33s, "That's all anyone needs"
Dad would say. A couple worn old tackle boxes, filled with Hooks,
Sinkers, Floaters, Extra Line, Pliers, Knife and Stringers to hold
our days catch. Forget the plastic worms, lures, and all that, "Can't
catch no fish with them thangs" Dad would say. Every old wore out
chair we had around went in next, if it could be folded it went.
"Never have too many places to sit" Dad would say. A worn out old
quilt for my sister to take a nap on. Three or four Iron Skillets,
a couple of BIG pots for boiling water in. A Cast Iron Dutch Oven,
Heavy Plastic Plates, the kind they used in restaurants years ago.
Forks, spoons, knifes, of all sizes. Flour, Crisco, Salt, Pepper,
the house was cleaned out and packed in that wagon. A big load of
firewood was also packed since on an earlier trip we spent a good
part of the morning finding wood. By now it should be obvious that
my dad knew how to pack a station wagon.
The one thing I almost
forgot was that big piece of tin used to cover the fire pit, he used
it as a range top, worked real well, and the tin was tied on top of
the station wagon. The cooked food, and coolers, minners and worms
were not packed till just before we left that next morning. Now the
next morning was something, getting up about 4:00am. Packin what had
not been packed the day before. By 4:30 we were on our way. Bare in
mind it did not get daylight till about 6:00am so we had a couple
Coleman Lanterns. By 5:00am we were there Bark Camp Lake. A
child's dream big as the ocean I thought.
First thing we had to do was unload the station wagon. Considering
the amount of stuff we packed, that job was finished in record time
on most occasions. Still dark, we sat up our home away from home between
two picnic tables that shared a common fire pit/grill. All our things
we had brought took up one table and the other we used to eat from.
Dad would start a big fire with firewood even in the summer the fire
felt good early in that morning. All the while my grandmother and
mother were getting breakfast ready to cook. Yes cook right there
beside the lake, between the picnic tables, usually no one there
but us. The fire soon became a bed of very hot deep red coals.
The big piece of tin was placed on the fire pit and soon the cooking
would begin. While my grandmother and mother cooked, dad, my sister,
and me when she was not asleep in the station wagon, went to
the lake and set up our fishing spot. Dad took three poles, and me
one, and the tackle boxes. Our fishing spot already clean and neat
from the many trips there before. Then back up the small hill to the
wagon, each of us brought a couple arm loads of chairs to our
lake side spot. By this time the smell coming from the cooking was
finding its way to our noses.
Sausage canned the fall before, if you have never had canned sausage
it is best explained as heaven in a can. The can was filled three-fourth's
full of sausage, hot grease from the already cooked sausage had been
poured in the can, the can was then turned up-side down, the grease
ran down on the can lid, hardening and forming a seal that kept
the sausage fresh and safe. Then when grandmother opened the can she
dumped the whole mess, in a big cast iron skillet the hardened
grease melted and he sausage was warmed up in the now sizzling sea
of grease. Sittin inside the fire pit, near the fire was the cast
iron dutch oven with biscuits baking inside. In another pot,
apples were cooking, full of butter, sugar and cinnamon. On the corner
of our make-shift-tin top stove was a big pot of coffee going, I guess
it was from this the my love of strong black coffee came. A pretty
good size cast iron skillet held mounds of cube-cut potatoes, frying
in some grease poured off the sausage. Still yet another frying
pan held a couple pounds of bacon, fried real crisp to my mothers
taste. When the sausage was done, this wonderful mixture of flour,
milk, black pepper and the sausage grease became gravy. The bacon
grease was used to fry up a dozen or more eggs. My dad and I already
had our lines in the water for a while when the call "BREAKFAST IS
READY" came. We reeled in and sat our poles on the forked sticks we
had already placed along the lake shoreline to hold our fishing poles
tips up high, so we could see the tips move when we got a bite. We
moved quickly up the hill to this wonderful, if unhealthy breakfast.
I followed my dad's lead and started with three or four biscuits,
topped with eggs, then a layer of potatoes, then covered it all with
the gravy. More that once my mother would tell us, "you boys need
sideboards on those plates." The apples were in a bowl usually mixed
with another biscuit. It took two cups of coffee to wash this all
down. Somehow while we all ate my mother would eat, then would have
a aluminum pan she called the fishin' dish pan, full of hot soapy
water to do the dishes. As we finished she washed them, dried them
and they were ready to eat off again later in the day.
Making our way back to our fishing spot, much slower that we had left
it, we each cast out lines in the water, propped our poles on the
forked sticks and just sat back. We often did not catch a fish, sometimes
a few small ones; very few times do I recall bringing fish home. But
we sat and enjoyed our day fishing. Late in the afternoon we would
pack up the fishing stuff, and make our way up to lunch which had
been warmed up on the make shift stove. First thing we had to do was
cool the tin stove top off. Usually a gallon or two of water did the
trick; we then gobbled down our lunch, which was another big meal
in itself. Sittin' around in the shade of the trees that surrounded
the tables, and just relaxing we often were visited by people my dad
new, or he knew them by the time the day was over. See my dad loved
to talk, and would talk to a fence post till a human came along for
him to talk to.
My sister and I would sometimes by accident fall in the lake, it sure
felt good on a July day. Or I would push her on the swings, we made
sure she had fun that day to. Packing up was always harder than packing;
I guess it's the joy of wanting to be somewhere makes it easier. As
we drove away down the dusty gravel road, back toward our modest house
twenty miles or so away, the first thing that would come up in conversation
was when our next trip would be.
I have been back to that lake many times in my adult life. Sometimes
to fish, a time or two a hike around the lake. On occasion just drive
through the parking lot and drive on. Other times just sit and look,
and remember some of the best times of my childhood.
I began writing this with no real intent in mind other than to write
down some thoughts. But somewhere during the writing this thought
came to mind. I read somewhere, "Men will fight and die to win the
souls of other men, but the greatest fight is the fight we have within
ourselves for control of our own soul."
My father died in 1987, and during this writing I realized I had yet
to come to terms with his death and how I had chosen deal with
his death my putting it aside and not thinking about it. I hope sharing
this with people I consider very good friends will allow me to retake
that one small part of my soul. While at the same time bringing part
of everyone's childhood back to them if just for a short time.