Junction: County Road 197

As It Was in the Beginning, pgs 5-10

THE GREAT FISH HUNT...1964

We had everything we needed for a good camping trip. Our cardboard box was full—tin-foil, paper towels, matches, cast iron skillet, and Irish potatoes. We had all the assorted paraphernalia of the camping trade—and we planned to catch fish.

But, for insurance you understand, we relieved the home freezer of four sirloin steaks. I think they were part of "0l' Buster," a steer we butchered the previous February. All was tossed without ceremony into the bed of our blue Ford F-100 stepside pickup truck. A musty bale of hay remained there from our latest trip to "The Back Forty". It held the cardboard box in place. Brother Jim drove because he was sixteen.

Leaving behind the world of concerns our parents and teachers had tried unsuccessfully to impose on our young lives, we struck out for Keyser's Landing on the Delaney River. Floyd and Neal Enfinger joined us on this excursion. They met us at the river.

Jim and Neal slipped a boat in the water just before dark. They moved slowly and quietly "up river" to set out trot- lines. They attached treble hooks and baited them with the insides of dead chickens. We hoped their invested effort would bring a harvest of succulent catfish before the light of dawn.

Floyd and I set up camp and prepared our cane poles for serious bank fishing. We had an old Maxwell House coffee can full of worms. I had collected the fresh red wigglers that same afternoon from underneath Grandma's massive camphor tree. The well- fertilized tree grew behind her house, next to the chicken yard.

The worms did not make the effort to do their job as well as they should. Of course, it could have been the noise Floyd made as he whispered brief monologues, commenting on the weather, school, and girls. We were not of an age, yet, to discuss politics. I convinced myself that Floyd was scaring the fish away.

I hollered, "SHUDD-UP FLOYD-OYd-oyd ... YOU'RE GONNA SCARE THE FISH-ISH-ISh-ish!" The echo returned across the peaceful river water, bouncing off a solid wall of moss-covered Cypress trees on the eerie shores of snake- infested Parker Island. Soon, Floyd would forget and whisper again. I had to yell at him several times.

Luck was not forthcoming with conventional fresh water angling. I pondered our situation. Using astute empirical analysis, I arrived at a solution. WE WOULD SHOOT THE FISH.

Floyd and I went back to the truck. We pulled out a flashlight and an old Sears & Roebuck single-shot 22-caliber rifle. By this time, it was inky dark. Floyd and I followed the river trail until we found a likely place to shoot our fish. Floyd held the light and spotted for me. The fish appeared to sit motionless in awe of the beam, quietly awaiting their execution.

I aimed and fired: CRACK-ACk-Ack-ack! A plume of water rose into the air—but no fish. Shooting fish appeared to be an easy job, but it wasn't working for us. Science now tells me that the fish were not where we thought we saw them because of light refraction and because the water deflected our bullets. The chances of our shooting a fish were about zero.

But nature had thrown down the gauntlet. Our purpose in life (for that moment) was to meet the challenge.

We made another trip back to the truck. From underneath the seat, I reverently resurrected "Pop's Pride and Joy". It was a double-barrelled, engraved "Baretta", 12-gauge, shot gun. He bought it in Naples, Italy, on his last cruise aboard the U.S.S Shangri-La. I slipped it out of its protective case. It was a thing of beauty. My calculations suggested a load of single ought buckshot would have better odds of striking a fish than would a solitary round fired from a 22-caliber rifle.

Again, Floyd and I looked for a prime location from which to blast our prey. We slipped down a clay bank and stood at the water's edge by a rotting log of Paleozoic proportions.

Floyd shined the light on a monstrous catfish. I figured a fish this size must have survived in these waters since the Devonian period of prehistory. It was Delaney River's equivalent of the Lochness monster. It was lying about 16 inches beneath the surface of the water, near the log. I loaded one barrel with buckshot. I prepared to take aim. To support myself, and to steady my sights, I looked down to place my foot on the "prehistoric" log below.

"SNAKE-AKE-Ake-ake!", I bellowed. The echo resonated in the humid swamp air. BLAM-AM-Am-am! The gun fired into the air. Buckshot scattered the width and breadth of the serpentine haven of Parker Island.
From the top of the small cliff, Floyd and I could see the Cotton Mouth Moccasin. The venomous reptile slipped easily into the river water beside the fresh footprints beneath us. The air grew still. When Jim and Neal returned, the steaks were done to perfection.

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SAUTÉ WITH WHISKEY UNTIL DONE...

When my brother, Jim, was fourteen years old, and I was thirteen, he found a bottle of whiskey in our pasture beside "Scared Man's Curve." We have called it "Scared Man's Curve" ever since Jim found the bottle of "Johnny Walker." We figured some scared man threw it out of his car as an arm (and perhaps a leg, too) of the law pursued him through the county.

We knew we were too young to drink the elixir. On the other hand, we knew we were too old to tell our parents about it. So, we saved it for a couple of years. Somewhere, we had heard aged whiskey is superior in quality.

The time we judged to be correct was the summer my brother turned sixteen. We took the bottle with us on a camping trip to our favorite place, "Keyser's Landing." We sat around the campfire with our friend, Teddy "Two-Toe" Turnipseed (a near world class master at the hazardous game of barefoot mumblety peg). Teddy was also a mature sixteen. We discussed how we should dispose of the whiskey.

We were all in agreement that the substance should be consumed. That point was settled early on. Negotiations began in earnest over who would get the first drink and who would get the most.

We argued over a secrecy agreement and decided that we were prohibited from telling anyone about the whiskey for our whole lives. We were not to tell our wives—should we ever marry, or our Sunday School teachers—should they ask if ever we had sinned.

"No, Miss Lavita, ma'am. I ain't never smoked no cigarettes or drank no alcohol ... much ... to speak of."
A major problem developed in trying to divide the whiskey equally among the three of us. The bottle was a fifth of a gallon, whatever that was. And, there were three of us. It is not easy to divide one fifth by three.

Nobody thought to bring cups, so we had to improvise a drinking vessel. I dumped our fishing worms out of the rusty coffee can. I rinsed it out in the river. "Two Toe" took some of the ice from the cooler that held our steaks and our frozen catalpa worms. Jim cracked the seal on the bottle and let us all sniff the aroma of alcohol.

A small amount of whiskey was poured into the can. Jim was the first to taste it because he had found the bottle. As was the custom portrayed in the movies, he took a quick gulp. His face turned red. He gagged and he choked. Red liquid oozed from the corners of his mouth. We thought he was going to die. Only later did we discover that the liquid was colored by rust from the worm can chalice.

When he stood up and yelled, "Water! Water! Get me water!" his foot tipped the bottle. Nearly all the remaining whiskey poured out on the ground. Only a minuscule portion of the precious forbidden substance remained.

"Two Toe" made mention of the fact that refined people cook with wine. It made sense that we might cook our steaks in whiskey, providing thereby a similar result. The pleasant effect would be that we could all partake of the liquid, what little remained. And "Two Toe" and I would probably fare better than had my afflicted brother, Jim.

So we poured the few drops that remained on top of our frozen steaks. We cooked them over red hot coals until the steaks were charcoal black. They were among the first-ever "Cajun Steaks"—only they were burned through and through. Steaks are best, I believe, when burned to cinders and then smothered in ketchup.

We each felt the arrangement was fair. I have never tasted a steak that was as good as the one we ate that night: sautéed in whiskey. Each of us swore to the others that he was drunk. We even complained among ourselves of exorbitant hangovers the next morning.

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