I don't like being in the spotlight, and I'm
not in the habit of sitting down and writing
letters to the editor, or any such thing as
that. However, not too long ago some of the
musing of a young writer and reporter for the
local newspaper caught this retired old school
teacher's attention. After nearly thirty years
in a classroom a teacher recognizes real talent
when it is seen. This Young Fella, Roger, has that
something special. He is an articulate and
knowledgeable wordsmith. His philosophy and the
topics that he chooses to write about are things
that caught my interest. It appears that somehow
he and I seem to travel parallel paths. His writings
had touched me and I had to e-mail him to tell him so.
I realized that he must get his share of kudos, as
well as some innocuous comments from folks who don't
have much to do with their time, including retired
old school teachers. I didn't think that my comments
would elicit an answer from him, however, I was
My greeting, "young fella," to Roger is a carryover
from almost thirty years in the classroom. Old habits
are hard to break. Conversely, he replies to me in
kind as "The Old Fella." I do, of course, wear this
title with a great deal of pride.
After a series of correspondence over a period of
several weeks regarding our mutual interest of fishing
and wooden boats, we eventually got together one
morning for breakfast. I don't know if it was the
scrambled eggs, the hash browns, or possibly that
strong Louisiana coffee, but a true friendship
emerged from that meeting.
It's a very rare experience to have someone put into
print things that are part of a person's youthful
memories. Roger's writings brought me back to my
younger days when I tramped through swamps, traveled
up and down levees and sat on the banks of bayous and
sloughs to fish with Uncle Joe and several older
cousins. Growing up, I preferred fishing to eating.
I was hopelessly addicted to this sport.
The thought of Uncle Joe and I loading his rusty old
black Chevrolet with bamboo fishing poles, water jugs,
brown paper lunch bags, dirt encrusted tackle box,
dented minnow bucket, tin cans of worms and a mess
of crickets had escaped me for years. I also recall
the heat, humidity and mosquitoes being unbearable
in the early summer mornings of Louisiana back in the
'40's and '50's. I also recall on one occasion when
the crickets got loose in that old Chevy. We did some
scrambling to round them up. Unfortunately the ones
that we couldn't gather up serenaded us for weeks
In those days we didn't have the luxury of a boat.
All of our trips were short rickety rides down
deserted, narrow, bumpy blacktop roads, lined with
black-eyed Susans and ragweed that led us eventually
to an unpaved side road where we kicked up a smoke
screen of dust. The tires of that old car threw rocks
and gravel unmercifully in all directions. The noise
was unbearable. It was enough to wake up the dead.
After what seemed an eternity we finally arrived at
the fishing grounds in the secluded woods of Washington
Parish, Lock No. 3 on the Pearl River. We unloaded our
gear and began a long, sweaty trek to the honey holes
through the piney woods and thick under-brush of
Southeast Louisiana. We carefully made our way along
the red-yellow clay banks of the beautiful clear
waters of this majestic river. This was the place
where we caught many bass, bream, sac-a-lait, catfish
and the occasional choupique. I saw many a weathered
bamboo pole give up the ghost on good size bass,
catfish and choupique.
Being the youngest member of the group I was always
elected to carry tackle boxes, rods-reels, bamboo
poles, water jugs and breakfast bags. I can remember
on one occasion of being at the top of a levee and
stepping on some loose dried pine needles. The result
was that I tumbled down the thirty or so feet to the
bottom without letting go or losing anything. Although
I wasn't physically hurt, only my pride was bruised a
little. We all had a good laugh.
I enjoyed the opportunity of listening to all the
stories and other lies of my accompanying uncle
and cousins. By the way, in Uncle Joe's breakfast
bag was his favorite 6:00 AM snack: a can of sardines
and one raw onion. This is not exactly the breakfast
of champions, nor will you find these items on your
local Mickey D's menu. Naturally I fished up-wind of
My breakfast, on the other hand, usually consisted
of a deliciously thick bologna sandwich (with a touch
of garlic), a vanilla flavored moon pie, and the
requisite ice cold R.C. Cola. Southern gourmet eating
at its best. To this day, the very taste of any one
of these items stills brings back vivid memories of
Speaking of memories, I also can recall many a golden
sunrise framed on a background of blue sky, dancing
through the tall green pine trees. The smell of the
fresh clean air that had the sweet fragrance of pine,
intermingled with that of wild honey-suckle. The air
was also filled with the sounds of the litany of
nature: the shrill, high-pitched buzzing of cicadas,
the humming of mosquitoes, the chirping of sparrows,
and the grunts of wild pigs. Reality was present in
the form of brown wood ticks and the ever-present
water moccasins. I remember the red, juicy wild
grapes of Louisiana muscadines. We all shared them
whenever we could find them in season. There were days
when I caught more memories than fish. The whole experience
was almost religious. You could almost feel the presence
of God here. This serene image has brought peace and
consolation to me many times in the intervening years.
This has been a mental retreat from the everyday world
on more than one occasion.
Then one day out of the blue came the invitation: "Go
fishing with me this spring," Roger wrote in an e-mail.
Time had caught up with me though, and I am now paying
the price of my squandered youth. I was a two-pack a
day smoker for over forty years. My constant companion
these days, besides Mrs. Old Fella, is Brother Emphysema.
I take life one day at a time, but this time the
temptation proved to be too great to resist.
Being in the outdoors could possibly compromise my
respiratory system. Consequently, fishing was
something that I had not attempted in over a decade.
This invitation came as quiet a surprise and I really
"You're going to open up Pandora's Box," I warned.
Regardless of the consequences, I gave in and accepted
Roger's invitation. So early one Saturday we headed
out for a morning of fishing. A cool front had moved
in the night before and made the weather exceptionally
pleasant and almost Fall-like, except it was August
which is extremely unheard of for this time of year
in this part of Louisiana. We fished a short canal
most of that morning, trolling down one side and
then the other, repeating the process when we were
done. Expertly the young fella fished his fly rod.
He is really good at raising cane. I stayed with
what I know best – drowning worms. We caught a few
small bream and a couple of catfish. I hung on to a
six-pound cat, but lost it at the boat. Roger was
trying to pump me up by saying that it was about
eight pounds. He's that kind of guy. I appreciated
the good thought. We also caught our limit of
tree-fish and stumps. But that is all in a days
fishing. As an added bonus, the dark-red juicy
muscadines of early Fall were in abundance and
they tasted as good and sweet to me now as they
had so many years and so many thousands of miles
Some things never change. Sharing these wild grapes
and just talking, brought back so many good memories
about long-ago fishing trips and missing relatives
and friends that have gone on to their eternal rewards.
These were thoughts that hadn't surfaced in my mind
in over fifty years. They somehow gave me a deep sense
of loneliness, but comfort at the same time. What a
wonderful contradiction. That smell of sardines and
raw onions is one that still leaves a melancholy lump
in my throat. Hope you get your limit today Uncle Joe.
Thanks Roger. I didn't realize how much I really needed
this trip. I hope that this won't be our last trip
The world has been so caught up on materialism that
it has forgotten the most important facets of
living – the immeasurable value of true friendships.
The story of Damon and Pythias, whose names have
become symbols for loyal friendship, is a reminder
to us of that important principle. The most important
and valuable things in this world are not things,
Whether you are swinging an expensive fly rod with
the world's cleverest fly, or still fishing with a
bamboo pole with a grimy old worm, there is more to
fishing than fishing. Enjoy the outdoors. Enjoy your
life and share it with a very good friend.
Nick, you have a fine son here. He has a lot of you
in him. You'd be proud of the young fella. ~ T.O.F.,
October 7, 2004
Roger adds, "Fall is just around the corner. The
air is cooling, and the leaves falling. The bream
and bass and sac-au-lait will be moving into the
shallows again soon, and the old fella and I will
be there to greet them. The truest treasures in
life, as my friend noted, are those that cannot
be quantified, cannot be tax-exempt or depreciated.
Oh, and don't let him fool you. It was an eight
pound catfish." ~ Roger