Big Man, Big Fish
It rained this evening, about 0.5 inches. If we could get this every day, like summers when I was a boy, things would be just fine. I remember sitting under a shed with my father’s hired hand during slow, soaking afternoon rains. It rained like that a lot back then. He and I would sit and talk and listen to the rain on the tin roof when I was about seven, I guess. He was a black man, and wore blue coveralls and a gray long-sleeved shirt, and I thought he was about the most interesting and smart person I had ever met. He knew stuff about almost everything. He knew about planting things at the right time, and the moon was a big factor in making that decision. I remember wondering how that could be, with the moon being so far away and all. But when he planted things they always grew, so I didn’t question his wisdom, just my understanding of it. He knew things about fishing too. He said I had to spit on my bait to catch fish. Afterwards, I always seemed to catch more fish when I did that, so I guess he was right. He knew that when an owl called near a house, someone nearby would die soon, but I never quite verified it. Sometimes he would hitch up Jack, the horse, to a farm wagon we had and he would drive the wagon to a place we owned south of New Iberia. I remember feeling very important sitting up there on the seat with him, as he and Jack would take us down the gravel roads, a red bandanna hanging out of the man’s back pocket. There was a pen with a 1000-pound sow hog in it (there are pictures) and he wouldn’t let me get close to the pen because the hog killed anything it could catch. Back at the house, he always had to eat dinner by himself out in the back of our property under the shed where we listened to the rain. I didn’t understand that either, that he was always alone, I mean. When I asked my parents why he did that they told me it was because he was who he was. That didn’t make any sense to me then, and it still doesn’t. I wish I could recall his name, but I sure remember him. Is there any significance to the fact that I remember him, this man that never amounted to much by some accounts? I think so. He enriched a young boy’s life with memories that have lasted 60 years, and if his spirit dwells in a space unknown to us, I hope I am helping to give it strength. And when the fish are slow to bite, I still spit on my bait.
I remember that he liked garfish. And I think the pictures I include here would have made him happy. The pictures are not mine, but I would like to share them anyway. I am very leery of internet images; they are so subject to alteration, or outright falsification, but look at the picture of this fish’s tail. It is so huge, and who would try to fake a fish tail? There are gars like this in the Atchafalaya, right here behind the house. I see them rolling sometimes. One swirled at night once right next to my boat as I ran the trotline and I swear it scared the bejeezus out of me. It had that deep, water-slosh-kerwoosh sound that few things can make, unless they are very big. And why would that scare me? Because at night, on the river alone with just a paddle and your imagination, anything is possible.
The river is at 3.9 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, and falling to 3.1 by Friday. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling again. C’est la vie.
Rise and Shine, Jim