Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Fish Tale

We lived up Johnson Holler at the old house at Earl’s when I caught my first fish. There was a little creek under the hill, it was no more than 2 feet wide, and there wouldn’t have been any fish in it had it not been for our neighbor, Roscoe, who worked at the local trout hatchery and who stocked the creek. Roscoe had stopped by our house and told Mom that he had put some trout in the creek, and that she ought to let us boys try to catch them.

Dad, Mom, Jason and Me at the old house at Earl's.

When Dad got home from work Mom told him about the stocked fish, and how I wanted to try to catch one. Dad then borrowed a fishing pole off of my Uncle Fudge, actually Fudge gave me a pole with an old closed-face reel, it was green as I recall, and I used it for years. Anyway, over the next few weeks, I tried and tried to catch a fish with no luck. My favorite spot was the little water hole that Mom used to get water out of the creek to use for baths and such. It was a little wider at this spot, maybe 3 or 4 feet across, and about a foot deep. I was only 4 years old at the time so I was never allowed down at the creek unattended, but most of the time, I was down there fishing by myself with my Aunt Big Six or Mom watching me from the nearby holler road. I know I just about drove them all crazy with my incessant stammering about wanting to go fishing.

One day in June (I just remember it was in June but not any particular part of the month) luck caught up with me, and I hooked a trout. It was a strange feeling, I felt it tugging at my line and once it was hooked, I saw the trout roll over in the water. Well, I was too excited to reel it in, I just took to hollering “I caught one, I caught one” and I took to running up the hill towards Big Six, all the while carrying the fishing pole with the line still rolling out of it. It was about 30 feet up to where Big Six was standing, and she, still not believing that I had caught a fish, told me that I had a helluva mess with fishing line stretched through the briers and grass between the creek and the holler road. I kept saying, “I caught one, I caught one.” In an effort to get me to shut up, Big Six decided to walked down over the hill to check it out first hand. As we got down to the creek, she saw that I wasn’t fibbing, there it was, a medium sized rainbow trout. It was flopping around on the creek bank, apparently when I took to running up the hill, I somehow managed to drag the trout out of the water. I was as proud as could be.

My Kindergarten photo, taken soon after the fish incident.

With Big Six’s help, we got the hook out of the fish’s mouth, and she handed it to me to carry up to the house. Mom was waiting for us at the front door, she heard all the commotion and knew that I must have lucked onto one. My Granddad, who was visiting at the time, kiddingly asked me if the fish was blind or crazy, because it had to be one or the other to allow me to catch it. Mom then asked me if I wanted a fish sandwich made out of my trout.

Well, up to that point in my life, I never realized that fish sandwiches came from actual fish. As soon as it dawned on me that my fish was going to have to die in order to have a fish sandwich, I cut a fit saying that nobody was going to eat my fish. Mom then asked me if I wanted to put it back in the creek, and I wasn’t up for that option either. I thought I was going to make a pet out of my trout! Mom, who said we’d better get the fish back into some water if I was going to think about what to do with it, produced a gallon canning jar full of water, and we put the trout in it. It took to swimming around (this ought to tell you just how big this fish really was), and I thought I had a prize.

I remember soon after this, we had to go into Franklin for something and I insisted that I take my jarred fish with me. I showed everyone who would look when we were in Franklin. I remember we parked right in front of the old IGA store in Franklin, and me and my granddad stayed in the truck while Mom and the other kids went in the store. Whenever someone would come out of the store, I’d hold up my fish and holler at them, “Lookee here what I got!” Nearly everyone stopped to look and to talk with me, and they acted like it was a whopper. I was beginning to be thoroughly convinced that I was a fisherman extraordinaire!

After showing my fish to everyone in Franklin, we went over to my Granddad’s house to wait for Dad to get home from work. Granddad lived between where Dad worked and Johnson Holler, so he’d see we were there and stop by. Soon after arriving at Granddad’s, I decided that I would put Swimmy (a name I got from a book that I really liked at the time titled "Swimmy") into the water hole behind Granddad’s house. They figured there was enough fresh water coming into the water hole to keep my fish alive, and it was small enough that I could visit my trophy fish whenever I wanted. Looking back, it really is a wonder a coon or a hawk didn’t scoop out Swimmy, but they never did.

Taken before the fish incident, but while we lived at Earl's.

As with any prized possession of a child that age, I soon lost interest in Swimmy, and while everyone knew Swimmy was there, we didn’t give it much thought. As the summer wore on and it got dry, Granddad’s water hole was drying up. I remember them telling me that I needed to get Swimmy out of the water hole and go put it in the river or he was going to die. Well, of course, I was having none of that, and one day about a week later I remember poking around near the water hole, and I noticed that there was a half eaten fish laying in the cracked mud. I don’t recall that I was terribly upset, but I must have been because I remember it. I recall going around to the front porch where everyone was at and saying that Swimmy was dead, and as I put it, “his belly busted open and his guts came out.” They all told me that I was warned that I needed to put Swimmy in the river, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I brushed them off, and just let it go. Soon the neighborhood cats ate what was left of Swimmy.

You know, I never did like the taste of fish, but I would eat fish sticks (albeit reluctantly) if Mom made them for us. But after what happened to Swimmy I completely refused to eat any kind of fish or seafood again. I am now going on around 27 years in my fish free lifestyle. Now I have such an aversion to it that I can’t even stand the smell of it without getting sick. Really, I physically throw up if I smell cooking fish, as evidenced on a trip to Red Lobster where I only got the door open, and they got pile of vomit on their welcome mat. This is much to Shirley’s chagrin since she loves fish and seafood and I won’t allow it in the house, and if she eats it, it has to be when I’m not with her. Maybe psychologically, Swimmy affected me more than I know.


Janet, said...

Matthew that's quite a fish story. Sorry about 'Swimmy' and sorry you can't eat fish, it's really good for you. My middle son, Andrew, loves to fish. I have a picture of him when he was around 5 yrs old holding up a fish he caught at a friends pond, he was so proud. So were we, my husband drove all the way home from there to get the camera so he could take a picture of him holding it.

Susan said...

Poor Swimmy, but what a story. It hasn't been long since our son tied together the hens in the yard with the fried chicken on the table... now I wonder how long he'll remember that moment when he understood their connection! Thanks for a great tale.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

I've always loved this story! All the photos of you at that were such an adorable little boy.... I bet that was a sight to see!

Vera said...

Matthew that's another great story as usual.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Oh, and I also really hate that I can no longer have seafood at home, or when I am out with Matthew. [sigh] Oh, the price of love. :-)

Jason Burns said...

"My Granddad, who was visiting at the time, kiddingly asked me if the fish was blind or crazy, because it had to be one or the other to allow me to catch it. "

Ah, he was ever-supportive.

tipper said...

One of the best fish stories I've ever heard! Reminds me of a fishing trip to the river with my brothers and Pap. I got so excited when Paul caught a big cat fish I grabbed hold of him and began pulling him backwards as he reeled in the fish :) Poor Swimmy and poor Shirley-fish and seafood are my favorites!!

Granny Sue said...

Little boys are so alike, aren't they? This story reminds me of the pet worm, the pet wasp... they want to catch things but don't want to hurt them.

A tale well told, Matthew. It paints a picture of a time and a place where children were allowed to explore and learn on their own, even if the end result could be a not-happy ending.

Poor Shirley, though! No fish at all?