More Blather About Fishing and MemoryThursday, July 22, 2010
Dr Sanscravat, a frequent contributor to these pages, has forwarded the following reminiscence, or prevarication, or senile ramble:
I've been thinking my Texas grandfather of late. My doctor had asked me about the medical history of my parents and grandparents -- specifically about any family history of heart disease. It's just one of the little indicators that let us know that we are no longer as young as we pretend. No one, I recall, asked questions like that when we were in high school or college.
When I admitted that my grandfather had indeed died -- in his late sixties -- of heart disease, my doctor started to wear exactly the kind of interested expression one never hopes to see on a doctor's face. Before he could jump to any conclusions, I explained why he shouldn't... umm... jump to any conclusions.
For the sixty or so years before his death, my grandfather consumed, every day, three meals consisting of things fried in bacon fat, over-cooked vegetables from his huge garden (often flavored with chunks of bacon), wonderful sweet onions I've never seen outside of Texas that were eaten raw, like fruit, a small bowlful of tiny, green, unbelievably hot chiles, about the size of M&Ms, and four packs of Lucky Strikes. When the meal's protein was not fried chicken, or chicken-fried steak, or fried eggs -- all swimming in bacon fat -- it was fried fish that he caught in local cattle-watering ponds called "tanks."
He was a serious fisherman. Behind the house he had built a concrete tank only slightly smaller than a VW bus. It had a roof onto it, so the water inside stayed cool enough to keep hundreds of minnows at their peak of friskiness. At the back of his garden, there was a patch of soil mixed with vegetable scraps and corn meal. He watered it religiously, so there would always be a ready supply of fat nightcrawlers.
While he did enjoy eating "brim," "croppies," big-mouth bass, and channel cats, he did not care for shrimp -- and had no hesitation in voicing his opinion on the subject. "SHRAAAMP? That's fishbait!" One can easily imagine what his reaction would have been if he had ever encountered sushi.
[Editor's note: Despite this long circumambulatory approach to today's sermon, readers familiar with the Sanscravat style realize that they won't be reading any more about his grandfather's eating habits, or any implications they might hold for his cardio-vascular prospects.]
Granddad certainly loved his fishing so -- one time when we were visiting -- he, my father, and I hoisted his row boat into the back of his pick-up and we drove off to one of the many "tanks" near Cisco. It was a big tank, one that had been enlarged sometime in the past. You could tell because there was a section of an old dam out in the middle. All around that dam, mesquites had grown up, creating a little island of shade, with water on all sides. Since it's always more fun to cast toward a target than just out over random water -- and, in Texas, any shade is appreciated – we rowed out there right away.
We fished for a while, with not much result, so my attention wandered a bit. As my eyes wandered about the surface of the tank, I gradually became aware of some movements there. Small black objects occasionally broke the surface, moved slowly along it, then disappeared again. "Hmmmmmm… turtles," I thought. I mentioned my observation to my grandfather.
Without blinking, or even looking in the direction of the alleged turtles, he just said, "water moccasins."
This focused my attention completely.
I could now see that there were a LOT of black heads swimming around us. Closer observation showed that they weren't all that small either. Some seemed to be as large as my fist. Worse, while the heads had seemed, at first, to be moving around randomly, it was clear that more than half of the heads were swimming toward the shady part of the tank where our boat was anchored.
I looked at my grandfather's arms. They were very tan, of course. He had lived under the Texan sun from his teens, and in Alabama before that, and worked outside -- either in his gardens or, before retirement, on oil pipelines.
But it wasn't his tan that impressed me.
It was the dozens of x-shaped whitened scars on his forearms -- souvenirs of the old days, when the standard treatment for snakebite was to cut an "x" through each fang puncture, then suck out the venom. This man had more experience with snakebites then I wanted to think about.
I looked back at the heads swimming about us -- just taking a little informal herpetological survey, you understand.
I waited for what I thought was long enough to make the question that occupied my mind appear to be suitably nonchalant. I asked, in a voice that might -- just possibly -- have broken a little, "What would you do if one of those water moccasins wanted to... you know... get in with us?"
He answered, never taking his eyes off the tiny dimple where his line entered the water, "He can HAVE the damned boat!"
Back then, it seemed an utterly prudent strategy.
However, in the fifty-odd years that have passed since then, I have had ample time to think about our potential situation that afternoon. The picture that always forms in my imagination is of the three of us, swimming for shore, the water all around us aboil with black venom-filled heads.