"The Big Ones Who Got Away"

It was in the early summer of '53, school was out, kids were free at last! Fishing was "prime-time living" in the summers of my boyhood. It was a whole family activity, closeness, excitement, joy. In those days it was long cane poles, frisky shinner minnows, wriggly night crawlers, the creek, or a near-by farm pond and delicious king catfish. You can take the kid out of the south, but you can't take the south out of the kid. Some of my best memories center around the family fishing trips. And this is the one special one of all those wonderful memories, this has always been the source of a great warm joy and many pleasant reflections in my heart. But un-known to us this was the day all the big ones would get away...

My father had nine sisters but only one brother, W.W."Shine" Griffith, who's home in Tuscola, down in Southern Taylor County, Texas was a favorite destination, and one which I looked forward too with great anticipation, wanting to go as often as possible. To this very day my heart races as I drive into Tuscola and my eye catches sight of Jim Ned School. And this shared memory encompasses the best of both pleasures from my childhood, "Uncle Shine" and "Fishing"...
Mom, Dad, my sister Frances and I were to go to Tuscola, and there join my uncle "Shine" his wife Mamie and daughter Donna (the subject of many more fond memories) and embark on this much anticipated fishing adventure. The first stop was the "Phillips 66" station on the hill midway between Abilene and Tuscola for minnows and worms. Then it was on to a hidden farm pond that uncle "Shine" said contained some serious catfish. My heart was racing, excitement had grown since early morning. The day was brim full and running over! Time with uncle "Shine" and time with my cousin Donna who was just a year younger than me, fishing, teasing Donna, story telling and family around me; all on a lazy summer day.

That part of Texas is the birth place of red clay... none of the sandylomes or dark soils of East Texas this was a world of prickly pear, misquite brush, rattle snakes and jack rabbits. The topography of the landscape south of Abilene was cut by meandering dry creek beds, lonely mesas and such towns as Tuscola, Lemon's Gap and Buffalo Gap. Tuscola which was then, and still is, a town of 600 population. The farmers and ranchers of the area had to build stock ponds to capture the run-off from the rain water which flowed down the dry creek beds during the infrequent rains if they were to have any hopes of survival on the semi-arid land. And the water in those tanks (as the ponds are called) was the color of the surrounding soil, red clay. Many a boy has faced the rath of his angry mother when he came home from swimming in one of those tanks against standing orders. Your once white undershorts told on you, for bailing off into one of those forbidden tanks was a sure way to wear rosy clay stained underware home! Hince "skinny dippin" became the rule of the day so your shorts didn't get stained and mother was none the wiser.
On this day we arrived on the banks of the hidden pond and the adults set about getting the lines un-rolled from the poles, hooks checked, corks adjusted, live bait can in the water, and settling us kids down to an assigned place to fish, one within eye sight of mothers. The sun beat down un-mercifully, the water was red and the fishing was slow. But finally Dad hooked the first catfish! Landing him was easy and "Shine" went to his truck to get a stringer on which to put the fish so it could be thrown back into the pond and remain alive awaiting it's cousins to join it at the supper table.
No stringer was to be found, so my father got up to search his truck, look and look, but no stringer, not even anything from which to make a stringer. But "Shine" found several old "gunny sacks" (burlap feed bags) in his truck so Dad and his brother decided we would simply put our fish in the bag and the bag into the water. That decided, in the bag went the fish, and we continued to fight the heat, sun and flies as the day progressed.
From time to time first one or another would catch the wandering catfish and in the sack it would go, lips were wet in anticipation of the fish fry planned for the evening. It was slow hard fishing, catches dispersed over long periods of patience and waiting. Finally in late afternoon the adults had had enough and it was time to gather it up and go back to town and enjoy aunt Mamie's much anticipated fish fry and a night of tall tales and dominoes around the kitchen table. First, neatly roll up all the lines, gather everything up and load the trucks, and finally was time to take the sack of live catfish out of the water.

Dad lifted the full sack... amazed... the sack was sure light... but he could feel a flopping fish inside. Opening the sack he was shocked to discover just one old catfish, it's fin hung in the burlap, flopping to get back to it's wet world. Where were all the fish! At the old age of twelve, I could not help but roll on the ground laughing when the adults discovered this particular sack was open at both ends! The look on my father's face! The alarm in my uncle's eyes, the shocked expressions of Mom and aunt Mamie.
All that hot day under the sun, the minnows, the worms, the excitement, the fish, had all swam away, for the fish had just gone in one end and out the other of that old gunny sack, and then swam away into my memories forever......

~ © Dave Griffith ~

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