My family gathers every few years in a central location convenient to all of us for a reunion. We are direct descendants from our Paternal grandfather’s side of the family since we are children of his five children. Our parents along with our grandparents have all passed away.
We are first cousins. Now, we are all older, senior citizens. At first, there were seventeen cousins. Now, sadly, we are down to eleven. Although just ten of us attend the reunions. Our youngest cousin was placed up for adoption when she was only seven. None of our family were notified about these proceedings until it was too late. Her parents were not able to care for her, according to state officials. We were all devastated after hearing about her adoption.
Before we meet for our reunion, we talk by phone and text to plan what each of us will bring; like foods, games and most important our family photo albums. When we are together, we enjoy delicious meals, we play games, we talk a lot and the most enjoyable part at these gatherings is passing around our old photo albums and even boxes of loose photos. We laugh and sometimes cry sharing these old memories. I was passed a photo of me standing by my grandparents, proudly holding up a fish that I had caught during the summer when I was six or seven years old. This triggered a wonderful memory.
I looked forward to my summer vacations. This summer was incredibly special because I was spending two weeks with my grandparents. We always did such fun things. They lived in a cabin at a large lake and went fishing every day during the summer after my grandfather got home from work. They both were avid anglers. By trade, he was an independent carpenter and he started his day early, always on a job by 6:00AM and usually home by 4:00PM. As soon as he was home, we usually headed straight out on the boat. I had everything loaded in the boat and ready so we could leave as soon as possible.
Pops was already gone before I woke up this morning. As I sat down to enjoy the delicious breakfast that Granny had made, she told me that Pops wanted to go behind the dam at an area called the spillway this afternoon instead of taking the boat out. There, we would fish from the bank. I had hungrily inhaled a plate of food then, helped myself to a second helping of Granny’s homemade, flaky biscuits topped with a generous serving of steaming-hot sausage gravy while washing it all down with ice cold milk.
I had been to the spillway with them before but I had never fished because I was too young to handle a rod and reel. I placed all our fishing gear out on the front porch so it would be easy to load into Pops car. Including my very own little pink rod and reel that Pops had waiting for me when my parents dropped me off at the cabin as I began my two week stay.
Granny was teaching me how to make biscuits. She made a batch every morning. I loved watching her cook. She made it look so easy. I made my own batch in a smaller bowl working beside hers. I had to stand on a stool to reach the countertop. Her’s were two-inches tall, and cut into perfect little disc of dough then baked to a beautiful golden brown. Mine turned out like little hockey pucks. They felt as heavy as rocks but Granny, proudly ate some anyway and told me how good they were. Years later, I laughed and wondered how she could eat those biscuits without breaking a tooth. At the end of my two weeks, my biscuits were much better. They still were not as good as hers but they were good. I could not wait to bake some for my mother when I got home.
After breakfast, I dried the dishes as Granny washed them. They never had a dishwasher and she never seemed to mind. Lunch was simple, usually a bologna and cheese sandwich, some potato chips and sweet iced tea. I could drink a gallon of her sweet tea.
At 12:30PM sharp every week day, Granny would make us a coke float and we would sit and watch her favorite soap opera, ‘As the World Turns.’ She had been watching that TV program for 20 years. It stayed on the air at least another 20 years after that.
When her TV show was over, we would lay down and take a short nap. At first, I didn’t want to take naps but I soon realized that the naps made the afternoon go by faster. That meant we would be going fishing sooner.
When it was almost time for Pops to be home, I changed from my sandals into sneakers. Granny told me there were lots of sharp rocks behind the spillway. After my shoes were tied and my thick ponytail was neatly retied, I sat on the front porch swing waiting for Pops.
As soon as he pulled up, I greeted him at the car with a warm hug as he opened the trunk of the car. He went in to change out of his work clothes into his fishing clothes. They didn’t look much different to me. The car was loaded and we were ready to go. Poor Pops didn’t even have time to relax. He told my concerned little six year old self, he would sit down while they fished so he could rest then.
We drove straight for about 15 minutes until Pops turned onto a narrow unpaved road that led to a parking area that he knew about. He carried everything down to the shoreline of the lake where he sat up his and Granny’s folding chairs and my smaller pink folding chair. Which I rarely used. He and Granny baited their hooks and cast out their lines. Then he guided me down from the chairs about ten feet and cast my line too. Pops said our three lines, if cast too close together, could become entangled easily. He handed me my rod. Pops told me to watch the little red and white, plastic bobber that was floating on top of the water. The bobber allowed me to see where my fishing line had dropped. He told me that if the bobber goes underwater then I might have a fish on the line. I don't think I even blinked for several minutes as I stared at that bobber.
It was hot standing on those rocks as heat penetrated the soles of my shoes even though they were my sneakers. Pops explained that big holes had been blown out of this area with the use of an explosive material called dynamite. Bundles of dynamite were placed in specific areas where pockets of quartz could be found. After the dynamite was ignited, the fuse burned down and the dynamite exploded
The now exposed quartz consisted of boulders with a variety of rock sizes all the way down to small pebbles. These pieces of quartz were picked up and taken out of the ground using bulldozers and caterpillars. I had no idea what that equipment was at the time. The rocks along the shoreline jutted up and had pointed edges that were as sharp as a knife. Granny warned me about them and to be careful.
I was beginning to get impatient because that bobber hadn’t moved except to bounce in the waves. The motion of the water was caused by thousands of gallons of water pouring, like a waterfall, over 140 feet drop forming a large stream below. Sometimes, if the wind were blowing the right way, we would get a little wet from the mist blowing from the falling water. It always felt so nice on hot Texas afternoons. I was thinking about how good that would feel right now when I heard Pops yell, “Sudie, you have a bite. My childhood nickname was Sudie, which had been derived from my middle name, Sue. Pops directed me, “Look at your bobber.” I snapped out of my daydream. The bobber on my line was sinking below the water, then it resurfaced and did this back and forth several times before it stayed below the water. I started reeling in my fish. It felt heavy like it was a great monster of a fish. My skinny, kid arms were aching before the fish was halfway to the shore. I was determined so I ignored the pain and turned the reel handle round and round as fast as I could. My line was drifting down stream with the current so I walked along with the fish. I finally was able to bring my fish in or at least close enough to the shoreline that I could see it’s silver scales sparkling in the sunlight. I thought it was a catfish and I loved fried catfish. I was so excited that I didn’t bother reeling my fish up any further to where I should have grabbed the fish in its open mouth to carry. I just took off running over the rough rocks about eight or nine yards to where my grandparents were sitting. Pops had gotten up to come help me. He removed the sharp, barbed hook from the fish. Pops turned to show Granny my catch. I couldn’t see my fish as while he was facing her. He had leaned forward just enough to reach the ice chest as he switched my fish with another one that he had caught a little earlier. He turned back to me and showed me my prize one more time. He said my fish would make a fine dinner for us tonight. I was so happy that I did a little dance, almost slipping on the rocks. Thank goodness Pops was able to grab me before I fell.
Granny told us it was time to go home and fry up our fish. That sounded good to me and Pops. We started packing things away and reloading the car. They had to listen to me as I chattered excitedly, as we drove home. I felt like this was the best day of my life.
Pops cleaned and filleted our catch as Granny cooked up some soft, fried potatoes with chopped onions in them, a can of pork n’ beans was opened and heated, and she sliced a large, red-ripe tomato. The fish was rolled in salted cornmeal and placed in sizzling, hot oil that had been heating in an old iron skillet to fry. The fried fish completed our delicious fish dinner menu.
Pops pointed out which one was my fish as he placed it on my plate. I ate so much that I had a stomach ache. I didn’t even care. It was worth it to eat that tasty fried catfish and all of if my favorite side dishes.
Many years later, when I was in my mid twenties, I was visiting my grandparents and the subject of my first fish came up. My grandfather loved to tell that story. It seems that they had been keeping a secret from me for all of these years. They both looked at each other and smiled. Pops said, “about your fish….” He went off to tell me part of the story that I had never heard.
It seems the day I caught my first fish, I had accidentally, torn it to shreds when I drug it over the sharp rocks as I ran to their chairs. Pops said there wasn’t anything left of that poor fish but it’s head, some skin still attached to skeleton ribs, and it’s frayed tail. He had switched my fish with one of his fish. Then, he told me that fish was mine. I had been so excited that I never really looked at my fish after I had dragged it to where my grandparents were sitting. So, I never noticed the fish he showed was a larger than mine.
What wonderful grandparents they had been letting an excited little girl believe she had successfully angled in her first fish. I miss them both so much, but I am so thankful to have so many great memories from times spent with them.