I got a chance to talk my cousin the other day - the one who was always right there beside me as we did stupidly stupid things. We don’t get the chance to talk much anymore, so it never fails that, upon hearing his voice, I’m struck with memories of our childhood. Those memories usually involve something we did that would have made our mothers cringe. I know most young boys, when they get together, are apt to find themselves in situations a grown person would call, Up To No Good, but the issue was heightened with me and my cousin because we’re both primarily creative people. And other times, we were just rotten and ought to have had our hides tanned with a hickory if we’d have been caught. Hickory is southern for: An implement of discipline, typically a small branch harvested from a tree grown in the fires of hell. Also reference, “I’Mone take a hick’ry to yeh!” or “Go on git me a switch!”
I recall a couple of interesting stories where fate took the preverbal hickory to us after a bout of rottenness and we had to learn lessons the hard way.
I’m Michael Blackston and we’re about to hit 88 miles an hour in the Delorean of my Funny Messy Life.
The mid to late eighties saw me and my cousin, who did stupidly stupid things with me, getting bolder in our delinquency. We had reached 16 years old and my cousin had a car - an enormous Dodge Magnum that probably got 1.5 miles per gallon and took up the curbside in front of three houses. It was black and all metal and you could drive that thing through a brick wall without scratching it. We tested out the durability of the Magnum at one point, but that’s another story for another time. Right now, just know it was simply the method we used to get from Point A to Point B, Point A being the small convenience store where we acquired our fishing tackle and Point B being a pond out in the country, where lived a mystical largemouth bass we affectionately called, Granddaddy Long Balls. That’s the only time I’ll say the full name of the fish because it’s crude and this is a family show. I’m also a deacon and may yet have to answer for that. From here on out, he shall be called, GLB.
My cousin was the best fisherman of the two of us. Wait, let me take that back and be more specific. My cousin could whistle and fish’s would jump on his hook. I could be equipped with the latest and greatest of angling technology and the fish would pop their heads out of the water and blow me a raspberry. There was only ever one fish that I knew my cousin to have trouble catching. GLB. He was obsessed with catching the fish if he had to throw hooks into that pond till he was eighty years old. My cousin would say things like, I’ll catch the fish if I have to throw hooks into that pond till I’m eighty years old!
Perhaps finally seeing him hooking GLB was the catalyst behind the life of crime we turned to in order to get the very best tackle.
The convenience store was tiny and back in the mid eighties, there were no video cameras. Top notch security surveillance meant a round, bubble shaped mirror perched high on the back wall behind the counter. It was supposed to give the 267 year old man, who seemed to be the only person who ever worked there, the advantage of seeing everything that happened in the store in real time. Unfortunately, because of where it was placed behind him and the fact that the only movement we ever saw from him was the occasional shallow breath or creaky turn of his head, as if he’d have a look around the old store if only they made WD-40 for necks, it felt like we could have gotten away with just about anything.
And we did.
The store had a pretty massive collection of fishing tackle. That was a staple in a lot of stores back then because the world had yet to be brought to its curricular knees by cell phones and video games. You actually had to bait real hooks and hold real poles and a lot of us did.
The store, though, had the good stuff. I’m talking the latest precision lures and fishing line. There were plastic worms galore in all kinds of colors and shapes. Rubber minnows and lures with skinny things on the end of them. Top water lures and divers, something called plugs, and even styrofoam cups with holes poked in the top of the lids with soil and wriggly, squiggly, live earthworms inside.
Somewhere, my cousin had gotten his hands on a gigantic tackle box that had what seemed like hundreds of compartments. Every time you thought you’d opened it up as far as it could go, you found another clasp that allowed entry to yet another compartment. You could have rented it out as an apartment complex. It was too big to have been purloined from the convenience store. We weren’t that brave, but the things that we put into it ... well, we never paid a cent for it. As a parent and business owner, I’m making myself mad just talking about it. Mom would have been so ashamed of me and if I had even the slightest inkling of who had owned the store back then, I’d make a donation in their name to some charity or just pay them back outright. Sadly, the days have passed for that store and there’s nothing I can do but say, I am truly, deeply sorry for our behavior and saddened to the point that I’m considering going to find a hickory to use on myself.
We went back over and over again and filled our pockets with booty from the fishing aisle, laughing because the old man behind the counter never noticed. We weren’t sure he was even alive, and we outfitted the palace of tackle boxes with the newest and best fishing gear of probably any in the county. We were proud of ourselves because while our parents had taught is better, we were at the age when we thought we were smarter than anybody else in the world and the idea of moral behavior wasn’t interesting. We were in it for what we could get and what we could get was the best shot at landing GLB.
We thought we were smart, but watching over us, laughing, and planning to teach us a lesson we’d never forget was God Almighty. Remember in the Bible when He made the donkey talk? Well, this was no donkey. It was the biggest bull we’d ever seen in our lives and while didn’t make it talk, it had no problem communicating how angry we’d made it by ducking under the rusty barbed wire fence that surrounded the country pond and daring to set foot on its turf.
My cousin pulled his big Dodge Magnum to a stop in tall grass right next to the fence. We could almost hear GLB taunting us in his little fish voice, Come and get me, ya lily livered, cotton pickin’, lure stealin’ varmints! I always imagined GLB sounded a lot like Yosemite Sam, but with more bubbles. I think I thought of it that way because what else kind of fish would inhabit a body of water we called The Civil War Pond? And we called it the Civil War pond for no better reason than because it was said it had been around since the days of the Civil War, as if it were the only pond in the south that had been around that long. Imagine looking at a big oak tree and someone tells you it’s over 200 years old, then you say, That’s the Civil War Tree! Anyway, I digress ...
We got our gear from the back of the Magnum, my cousin handling the ridiculously large tackle box, and proceeded to carefully negotiate the barbed wire fence. Once on the other side, we could make out the essentially 8 million lily pads that covered the pond.
Now wait a second ... that wasn’t the Civil War Pond, it was a different pond. The Civil War pond was where he and I used the property owner’s flat bottom boat, without their permission, to go out and cast our lines toward the bank. THat’s the day I finally hooked what I though was my legendary monster catch because the way it fought, it felt nearly impossible to reel in. When i got it to the boat, I saw that it was a tiny bream that I’d hooked in the side as it swam by, minding its own business. But I digress ...
Now that I’m remembering right, the point GLB lived in had a different name because of all the lily pads that covered the top of the water like a blanket. I told you that my cousin and I were creative types, and so we named this one ... you guessed it ... The Lily Pad Pond.
So now that we’re back on track, my cousin and I outfitted our lines with rubber worms, threading the hooks just barely back into the lure so they wouldn’t snag on the undergrowth beneath the surface. I think fisherman call that something like making your worm weedless. And we began to fish - casting and reeling, casting and reeling, making the worms do their little jiggle under the water and probably passing gas and blaming it on each other. I imagine we talked about the things sixteen year old boys talk about as all the while, a bull the size of my cousin’s Dodge Magnum was slowly making his way to the top of the hill to our right.
My cousin said, Ya hear that?
I said, Naw.
He said, There it went again. It sounded like a snort.
I said, I didn’t hear nothin’. Did you fart?
Then we both heard the same thing, but it wasn’t any snort. Sometimes cows and bulls will throw you an adorable Moo - the kind you expect in nursery rhymes. With a Moo-Moo here and a Moo-Moo there. Here a Moo, There a Moo, Everywhere a Moo-Moo.
But here was no moo and there was no moo. My cousin and I realized at the same time that we had done yet another stupidly stupid thing because charging right for us, blaring the most hellish bull-honk that’s every been blared, was Satan’s prize bull. He was pitch black, with red eyes that burned with fire and smoke billowing from the cadaver s of his nostrils like the gray aftermath of an atomic explosion. His voice was a siren of death and his horns were like great, curved columns hewn from the Temple of Hades. He charged us faster than anything we could have expected, his massive hooves, beating the ground hard enough to make a sound like rolling thunder.
My cousin’s eyes because the size of tractor tires and he said the only thing a person can say in a moment like that.
We dropped everything and ran back toward the car, praying the bull wouldn’t catch us. In an act of blessing, it stopped where we had been at the edge of the pond and sniffed our gear. Then, in one last meaningful expression of the mission it had really been sent to accomplish, the bull lowered his head toward the gigantic tackle box that was full of everything we had stolen, and hooked it with the point of one of his horns. With an effortless flick, he tossed the tackle box into the pond, thus showing my cousin and I - the one who did stupidly stupid things with me - what really comes of treasures that are ill-gained.
I don’t know if my cousin and i ever went back there and I certainly can’t remember if he ever managed to snag GLB, but I would wager he’d tell you he did. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to tell fishing stories?
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