Wednesday, July 11, 2012
A worm's life
I followed along behind, my cane pole over my shoulder. The line was looped around the end I was holding with the hook embedded in the round cork stabbed through with a small wooden red shaft. I had to run every few steps my granddad made just to keep up. He was carrying the bait bucket in one hand and two more cane poles bobbling horizontally in the other. He wore faded overalls that looped up over his shoulders under which was a faded blue shirt with the collar askew. Draped at an angle was a shabby straw hat with a broken spot splaying straw strands in all directions the brim bouncing ever so gently with each step forward. I looked down at the ground to watch the worn heel leave a cat's paw imprint in the sand along the shore. "Are we going to get a boat, granddaddy?" I asked looking at the rowboats lined along the shore. They rose and fell slightly with each ripple coming towards us. "No, Rickey. We're going to find a stump over in that direction to sit on the bank and drown our worms quietly." Disappointment flashed across my face. "Now don't give us that look. I don't like being on the lake. We don't have any life preservers and I can't swim and I know you don't swim being such a little fella." "I'm a big boy! I started school this year." "They teach you to swim?" he asked smiling at me. "No sir. But I can write letters good." "That's fine. Maybe you can show me in the sand while we watch our corks." I smiled and nodded my head. The stump was right where he had pointed. It was just at the edge of the pond under a tall oak which gave shelter from the sun. The shade was cool and the water was warm. I knew because I had slipped off my Keds and was wiggling my toes under the wavelets. "You're gonna have to sit and not disturb the water, Rickey. Those fish are skittish and anything unusual will make them stay away from our worms." I backed out of the water and sat in the sand. He lowered the bait bucket to the ground next to the stump. He sat and began to untie the lines on the poles. The shortest one he untangled. He reached into the pile of loam in the bucket. Digging around he found one pulling it out. It wriggled in his hand as he stuck it on the hook. "Here you go, son. Now let it swing out into the water over there," he said pointing away from him. I tried several times but the line dragged in the sand. "Hmm, guess you need to grow a bit." He took the pole and lifted the line up and over. With a plop it settled on the water and bobbed in the tiny waves. I sat and took the pole from him. "Keep a watch on that cork. If you feel a tug and it goes under that means you got a fish on your line." "OK, granddaddy. I'll watch real close." He went about baiting his two poles which were much longer than mine. One he flipped out in the opposite direction from mine then placed the butt of it into the sand so that it stood on its own. The other he tossed between the two. He pushed the brim of his hat back settling on the stump to wait for the fish to bite. I watched him pull a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket beneath the left strap of his coveralls. He shook it so that the cigarettes stood like stairs from the opening. He placed the tallest between his lips pulled the pack away in one smooth movement placing it back into his pocket. I heard the click of the Zippo and the scratch of the tiny wheel. A flame lept up to his Camel. He pulled it into the tobacco then let out a cone of smoke into the summer air. His smile told me all. "Can I have one, granddaddy?" I asked knowing the answer. "No. It'll stunt your growth. Besides this is a grown up pleasure. You got plenty of time to grow up. Oh, watch your cork. I think I... Yup. There it goes." It dipped below the surface and I felt a tug as the cane bent down toward the pond. "What do I do? Granddaddy, what do I do now?" I shouted. "No need to get so excited. Just stand up and pull up on the pole. That's it" I was on my feet yanking the cane pole upward. The cork rose dripping water. Up further the line beneath the pole rose higher and there struggling to loose itslef was a small bream." "Oh, hold it steady and bring it over so I can pull it off the hook." He looked at me then said, "Unless you want to do it." "Yes sir, I do!" "Alright then. When you grab it grab over his eyes and slide you hand back." He had grabbed the line and was holding the shaking squirming body towards me. I reached but it flicked and I snatched my hand back. "It's OK. Try again. Like I told you. Wait til it calms a bit." It slowed its frantic slashing body. I reached again closing my hand. "OW!" I screamed. "You didn't do what I told you, son. You tried to grab his body. Those fins on his back come up and jab hands. That's why you have to cover the eyes and slide back. Like this. See? Ok. Want to try now?" I held my hand which was smarting from the jab of the spiked fin. "No sir. You do it." He unhooked the fish. "That's a nice size. About the size of my hand. Always keep them when they're like this. Always throw them back if they are smaller. That'll be about right for the pan when we get him home." "Are we going?" "No. Not yet. I'd like to catch one or two myself." He threaded a cord through the fish's mouth and out its gill. The threading end was tied to a metal bar which he dug into the sand. The end with the fish attached he tossed into the pond. Meanwhile his pole to the left had begun to bow down the cork having disappeared. "Granddaddy! Your cork! It's gone. His pole was bending further and coming loose from its base in the sand. He grabbed it as his catch began to tug it out toward the middle. The line was taut at a long angle into the water. He pulled back. "Whoa Nellie! He's got some strength to him that one." "Look at your pole! It's gonna snap!" I yelled. "Hold on to your britches, son. We'll get 'im." He stood up from the stump and braced himself on his feet. He pulled back and the line zigged to the right. Another pull. The line whipped to the left. "This boy's gonna be a big one. You want to help?" "No sir. Looks to big to me. You're gonna need a bigger frying pan." He laughed. "You might be right." He held on to the pole as the line whizzed from one side to the other. He began to back up holding tight. "OK. Get ready," he said. With that he yanked the pole backward. He fell over. The sound was like a sack of flour hitting the ground. The line whistled past me. My granddaddy was sitting on his rump, a look of surprise on his face. The line smacked him across the cheek. The hook was gone, the line dribbled pond water down his face. "John Browned black sea buzzard got away." "Where's the hook?" I asked, pointing. "That sorry Caspar took my hook. Felt like it could have fed us for a week. Guess my line's too light. Didn't know they had something that size in here." "Whatcha gonna do now. The hook's gone." "Oh, no worries there my boy. I always have an extra hook with me." That was a life lesson I obvioulsly never learned. He placed a new hook on the broken line and unravelled more line from the tip of the pole. Another worm, another lazy toss and another plop as the cork hit water. We sat there for a while after that with no more bites. Then each pole bobbed its cork. I pulled mine in like he showed me earlier and he took each of his up and out. Three more about handsized. "Well it's a little after noon now. Reckon we can go. We'll get these home, fix 'em up, and cook 'em for our dinner. Just enough for you and me, eh?" "Yes sir," I said with a grin. We got our poles out and tied the strings and embedded the hooks into the corks. I put mine across my shoulder while my granddad finished gathering everything. "Want to carry these?" he asked pulling the strung fish out of the water. "Yes sir!" "Don't drag 'em in the sand now." I picked them up. "They're heavy. Maybe you better carry 'em. I'm too short." He smiled and took them. We followed the sandy path back to the car. He placed the fish in the back inside the bucket he had brought. The worms he'd dumped at the water's edge and dipped pond water which he now poured over the fish. I climbed onto the running board of the old black Chevy then stepped up and climbed into the drab tan suede covering of the front seat. I slid over then leaned out to grab the door handle. I pulled as hard as I could. The door slammed. My granddad reached across me, opened it again and slammed it with a solid click. "You are a little 'un, huh?" He smiled and put the keys into the ignition. His foot pressed on the starter on the floor board. The engine came alive with a roar as he pressed the excelerator. "Next time we'll get that big one." He grinned. "Yes sir!" I said looking forward to it. Our trek took us to the Cooper River Bridge. As we began the incline upward the radio announcer said, "Here is Marty Robbins." "A white sport coat and a pink carnation..." I looked out over the guardrails at a precipitous drop and closed my eyes as we crested the first hump and didn't open them until we had begun our horizontal drive at the end. "Thanks, Granddaddy. I like fishing with you." His grin lifted the Camel between his lips. He inhaled, lightly clamped his fingers over the cigarette and removing it said, "Next time maybe I'll use you for bait. Maybe we can get that big fish." He looked ahead. Two columns of smoke poured from his nostrils. He looked at me again, saw the look of fear in my face and chuckled. "I was kidding, Rickey." He tussled my hair and continued driving. "I knew that," I said voice atremble.