Thursday, December 14, 2017
The job started in the middle of the year. I had just graduated from college in January, and I felt very lucky to find a teaching job at that time of year. It was at Saint Paul, Arkansas, deep in the Ozark Mountains near Fayetteville. It wasn't until later that I realized it was because they had already lost so many teachers that year.
It paid two thousand dollars for the semester, big money to me. It was sort of a bits and pieces job, just fill in where a teacher had been destroyed and quit, where a senior sponsor had been run off, where another just couldn't take it anymore and walked. It didn't seem to matter that the subject didn't match my degree, my area of expertise. But really, at that point I had no area of expertise, although I was pretty well conveinced I knew it all. I did get one physical education class, in my field, and that actually turned out to be my salvation at St. Paul.
I knew the coach, Billy Max, an old Arkansas A&M grad like me. He invited me to share his trailer. I went along with him to lots of his games. His senior boys basketball team was very short, no good, and would pass up a layup any day for the glory of gunning a thirty foot shot. Just quite naturally, they won no games that year.
Teaching went pretty well, everything considered. I had a hard core group of senior hillbilly boys in my PE class, but I was a hard core hillbilly too. These guys, I knew, were at the forefront in running off teachers, so I put in a little segment on distance running right off. Since I had just came from being a college distance runner, I led them out on a 3 mile route. They were determined to not let a teacher outdo them in anything physical, and they kept up until they just, one by one, collapsed. They respected physical things much more than teaching ability, fortunately, and we got along pretty good. One of my boys collapsed to the point that I had to load him up in my car and take him to the doctor in Huntsville, twenty miles away. We were late getting back, he was still pretty much out of it, so I drove him home and milked his goats for him.
Time for the senior play was coming up, and, as the senior sponsor had already been run off, I was the man. When we started having practice at night, I soon realized I had my hands full. Sometimes, some of them would just not show up. Those that did had not been studying their lines. I knew a disaster was in the works, and I was right. When the big night came, I posted lots of prompters around behind the curtains. It really was not a matter of prompting, often they just had to read the whole line. And sometimes, the wrong actor grabbed onto a line and just ran with it. Halfway through, a very loud alarm clock that some junior had hidden in the couch on stage went off. I still have that clock. You just can't believe how loud that clock was.
Oh well, all's well that ends well. When it was over, they called me out on the stage, told me how much they appreciated my hard work, and presented me with a brand new fly rod.
I was returning from seeing my girl one Sunday night, well after dark. I cut through the mountains. When I passed a new Ozark National Forest sign, I saw it was on fire. I grabbed an old rag and was trying to put the fire out, when an old, beat up station wagon drove slowly by. I got the fire out and went on to St. Paul. The next day, a kid brought me a message from his grandpa. Grandpa said, “Don’t be messing in my business again.” This was along about when the Forest Service stopped allowing locals to run their cows up in the mountains. I guess grandpa had a grudge about that.
The end of the school year rolled around. Time for the senior trip. I was again the man, with a lady out of the community agreeing to go along to watch after the girls. She really didn't do much of anything, I think she was just on vacation. I drove the bus to Little Rock and booked us into a big hotel. These mountain kids were totally awestruck. I began to realize most of them had never been to a city before. Many of them just wanted to ride the elevator, up and down, as long as I would let them. Some of them were older than me, and a few of the girls were pretty and flirty. A twenty-one year old guy just really should not be responsible for them, that long. But my do right mechanism was turned on and kept me in good stead.
We went on to Hot Springs. We went for a ride on a party barge. I had never driven one before, but I was again the man. As I came into a dock, I tried gracefully to shift into reverse. It would not go. I tried again, desperate this time. No luck. I yelled to the kid up front. “Hold it off, Max! Don't let it hit!” Well, I was giving an impossible assignment to that little boy on that great big barge. BOOM! Everyone came running out of cabins, and from everywhere. I had to cough up several bucks to get out of that.
I had made another big mistake. I passed out everyone's meal money for the whole trip the first day. Max, and some others, were big spenders – for about a day. Then they begged and starved the rest of the trip.
Coach Billy Max resigned, and they offered me the coaching job for the next year. I took it.
The most noteworthy thing about my coaching time at Saint Paul was getting a personalized insult from Frank Broyles himself. After a particularly bad practice by the Arkansas Razorbacks he told newsmen, “We looked like Saint Paul out there today.” Well, I was the only coach Saint Paul had, and we didn’t even have a football team. As I looked around to see if maybe he aimed that insult at somebody else, I didn’t see anyone but me. Ironically, a couple of years later, I was coaching at Fayetteville, and two of his sons were on my football team. What goes around comes around.
I was good at not wasting money when I started to college. Can't waste what you don't have. College had honed that ability even more. I had three hundred ten dollars monthly take-home during that teaching semester, lived, made new car payments, and still saved eight hundred dollars.
Soon after, I brought my new bride to St. Paul. It had taken me a year, almost to the day, to persuade her I was the man, even though I had known it the first time I saw her. I took her around, showing her the housing possibilities up there. The first was a small box, right in the middle of town. She said that just would NOT do. So, I took her way up in the mountains, five miles off the blacktop, to show her the second possibility, up close to the Orval Faubus birthplace. The only neighbors were in the graveyard next door. She quickly decided that box in town was not SO bad, after all.
When I first arrived at Saint Paul it was midwinter.
Those hardwood forests were drab and dreary. Now, spring had brought to me bright green leaves and a brand new bride, completely changing my world. We found a new, beautiful spot in those mountains to picnic almost every day. A wonderful start to our fifty years together.
Monday, December 11, 2017
The year was 1968 and I had just turned 24. I was flipping through the paper one day when I stopped on a picture of an old man with what looked to me like, at the time, an unbelievable large string of catfish. The caption under the picture was, "Dick Dyer does It Again!" Seems Dick Dyer was about the best cat fisherman around Fayetteville, Arkansas. I wished I could do that, but it seemed out of my reach.
When I was a kid, growing up in Wing, Arkansas I caught lots of catfish, and we needed them. They sure tasted good, after a diet of salt pork. But they weren't real big. In the early days of Fayetteville, I had access to larger rivers, and I thought more and more about cat fishing.
Well, as it happened, shortly after seeing that newspaper article, my wife Barbara and I moved over to Anderson Place. Would you care to guess who my neighbor, right across the street was? You guessed it. Dick Dyer. I befriended him, I cultivated him, I quizzed him. After a while, Dick's MO began to emerge. I studied his techniques. He even let me go fishing with him, once. Well, he began to see that I could be a competitor somewhere down the line, and Dick dearly relished being the best river catfish catcher around. Maintaining that status consumed his whole life. He pretty well cut me off from any more information.
But I knew enough. I began to catch more and more fish, emulating his methods. Dick was OK with that, he was catching more, and bigger fish. We went along there, him doing a bit better, for several years. Then I slowly began to catch as many fish as he did, and probably about the same in total weight. He still had the largest fish, 16 pounds. Every time he saw me, he told me about that 16 pound catfish.. He never let me forget about that 16 pound catfish..
Barb and I were coming into our last months at Fayetteville. One really deep hole I fished a time or two that spring, with my limb lines probably tied to limbs I know now were too solid, with very little give, just kept breaking. The lines were 120 pound test or so, and I couldn't understand it at the time.
Barbara and I were walking along the river bank, one day in June, on a picnic. I saw two old watermelon rinds lying on the bank, and they were just covered with hundreds of june bugs. I had never heard of anyone using June bugs to catch catfish, but I knew that in the late summer, they often fed by just skimming along the surface, picking up floating bugs and whatever they could find. I had seen them doing that at night. After Barbara had walked on toward the car, I went back, pitched the rinds in the river, and the june bugs all floated up. I just scooped them all up, put them in a paper bag, and stuck them in the car. When we got home, I wrapped them up real tight in a freezer bag, and stuck them way back in the back of the freezer, out of sight. Barbara put no stock in mixing fish bait and food in the freezer. Late in the summer, I was watching TV one day, and I heard Barbara scream. I ran to the kitchen. There she was, the bag in one hand, a handful of june bugs in the other. Seems she had been going through freezer bags to find something to cook, stuck her hand in, and pulled out the june bugs. I caught it pretty good over that. As Barbara settled down some, a little later, I said, “ I've just got time for one more fishin' trip before we move, and no telling when I'll get to fish again. I'll get every one of those june bugs outta' here then.” She agreed. Catch Barbara when she's not screaming with a handful of june bugs, and she's a great gal.
Next week rolled around. I asked John Philpott if he wanted to go with me. Said he guess so, nothing better to do. We went back to that hole, where the White River and the West fork of the White River join, where my lines had been broken last spring. This time, I had a new idea. We were fishing with cane poles, very limber, and we stuck them way, way back in that mud bank. I floated each hook right on top of the water, with a june bug on it. We ran the lines at midnight, and had a couple of ten pounders and a whole passel of smaller catfish. But, right where the two rivers join, that pole was going absolutely crazy! Ever tried to get a lively 25 pound catfish into a small landing net? We finally did. The next morning, we had a couple more ten pounders and another bunch of smaller catfish.. Then, we approached that last pole, right where the two rivers join. The pole was completely pulled out of the bank, but it was still laying there, mostly out of the water. Lying in the water, either just too worn out for one more flip of the tail, or having learned from his struggles that was as far as he could go, was the brother to the last big one. He was also 25 pounds. Well, when I got home, the first thing I did was take them over to Dick Dyer. Dick came out, I held them up as well as I could. Didn't say a thing, I didn't have to. He never said a word to me. Just turned sorta sick looking, turned around, dropped his head, and walked back into the house. We moved to Hannibal, Missouri a couple of days later.
I never saw Dick again.
About two weeks after we got to Hannibal, a letter chock-full of pictures arrived. A 40 pound catfish, and a whole bunch in the 20 pound range. The letter just verified the weights, And in the picture an old man was smiling. Smiling right straight out at me. Thats all. Not another word. The return name on the envelope was Dick Dyer.
I knew Dick didn't have my address. But he managed to find it. And I knew he had found my Glory Hole. All I could figure out was, he must have ragged John Philpott into telling him. I was pretty put out by this whole thing for awhile, then after I settled down some, I began to think about it a little differently. I had used Dick's methods, developed through his many years of experience. He used me to locate the Glory hole. Fair's fair.
I've never been back to that Glory Hole, but someday I will. Over the years, I think I've figured it out. There's a dam on the White River, a quarter mile upstream. Catfish naturally swim upstream. Until they're stopped by a dam. The small fish stay there, in that shallow hole at the dam. The big fish must have deep water, and they go back downriver, only as far as they need to, the first very deep hole. Right where the two rivers join. In the Glory Hole. And there they still lie. Year after year, just getting bigger and bigger. Just waiting for me to come back and challenge them again. But Dick Dyer passed away many years ago, and when he died, he was still the King of the Catfish Catchers in Fayetteville---and it just wouldn't be the same. Who else in the world could care as much about the size of the catfish I might catch there as Dick Dyer did? Nobody, thats who.
For all you fishermen out there, I know you can find my Glory hole from what I've told you here. But where will you be able to find a whole bag full of june bugs?
If you like this story, please share! Thanks for your time, and your attention.
If you like this story, please share! Thanks for your time, and your attention.
Friday, December 8, 2017
I just seem to have this burning need, deep down in my soul, for my grand boys to remember me as being outstanding in some physical way, because boys are all about physical strengths. The problem is, I never did have many physical strengths to begin with, and what I did have are pretty well all gone. So I'm going to tell you my story about my search to implant this respect in my grand boys, over the years. Before it’s too late.
Caylie is my oldest granddaughter. She's a married gal now. But Caylie is a lady, rarely impressed by an old man, trying to put on a show with his physical exploits. So, I just never felt the need try to impress her in that area. And, she runs half marithons, and is a skydiver. What could I do physically to impress a half marithoner, and a skydiver? Nothing, that’s what. And Cati-Beth, the youngest of them all, is still too young to care one way or another.
The grand boys are totally different. All four of them. Christian is the oldest, weighing in at 230 with no fat, six feet tall, so I know better than to try to impress him with most physical things nowadays. Afraid he might impress me with his own physical things. But years ago when he was much younger, I did impress him with my ability to start a fire out in the woods under any weather conditions whether it be rain, sleet, or snow, using only one match and natural things available out in the woods. That impressed him. I also showed him how to start a campfire with flint and steel, and he just grabbed onto that one and worked and worked at it until he had mastered that too. When he was much younger, he and I were sitting around a campfire one night. Now, sitting around a campfire just calls for a chew of tobacco. But I was still trying to conceal that from him. I didn't think he would be greatly impressed by that fact, and he never has been. Anyway, as we were sitting there spitting into the fire, as everyone worth their salt does in that situation, Christian just had to know. “Papaw, how come when I spit, it's clear. But you can spit brown. Now, why is that?” Well, I wasn't ready yet to tell him that whole story, he would find out soon enough. “Son, you have to reach way down into your lungs and bring it up from real deep to get to the brown stuff.” Christian started working at it. He just went deeper and deeper, just wore himself out. Couldn't do it. But he continued working on that for some time. He soon figured that whole thing out on his own.
Jordan and Jackson are brothers and both are rough and tumble boys. They get a lot of experience at it, fighting like cats and dogs. All day. Every day. After coming home from two hours of wrestling practice.
I just feel like my grandsons should carry memories of me around when they are older, and I 'm pushing up daisies, as a strong, fast, or tough old man. But it's too late. I can't impress them with my speed, I can barely get out of a good fast jog. On a good day. Strength, I never did have much of that. That just leaves tough.
We were sitting in their house one night, several years ago. I told them I would give them one shot each at pulling on the long hair on my forearm, as hard as they wanted to. I've got a lot of it. My “kids” at our orphanage we worked at in Africa often said, “Uncle Pat is like Esau.”
They both pulled as hard as they could. Though I was screaming inside, I just sat there and took it, never changed my expression. After that, they often said, “Papaw is the strongest man in the world. He's even stronger than Daddy.” Well, their father Mickey is about the strongest man I know. He could easily snap me like a twig, so I just wallowed in their admiration.
Lately, the youngest boy, Carson, got his shot at my forearm hair. But he somehow had it figured out. He didn't pull straight out, as the older ones did. He just grabbed a good handful of hair, leveraged his fist some way against my arm to get an unfair advantage of me, and pulled out a whole handful of hair. I've decided it’s about time to retire that one. But I kept a straight face the whole time. I'm proud about that.
Two or three years ago, they all got into a big gunfight with those air soft rifles (they shoot plastic BB's, unlike the metal kind) at my house, wearing goggles. I watched closely. Those plastic pellets went a long way, but you could follow the path of the pellet all the way out, so I knew they didn't pack a big punch. So I took advantage of that opportunity to impress. I put on goggles, and gave each of them five free shots at my face at about fifteen feet. When the pellet hit, I never blinked or moved. Only one, right on the ear, stung a long time, but they were all impressed. I worked very hard at never moving or blinking. That's the key to the whole thing.
Barbara and I looked after Jordan and Jackson this week, and our main job was to keep them from killing each other. They now had a new, up to date, and obviously, I soon found out, much improved model of the air soft gun, a pistol. Jordan was ragging Jackson about crying when he got shot in the back with it a few days ago and that impressed me because our family motto for a long time had been, If Jackson cries call 911. For good reason. He just almost never cries from pain.
Well, I saw a new way to impress the grand boys. I watched them shoot it a couple of times, and though I could never follow the pellet when they shot it, I just assumed it was because it would soon be dark. I backed off ten feet or so, turned my back, raised my shirt, told them to each shoot me in the back. Well, this turned out to be a whole different gun. Jack shot me, and the blood started flowing, I screamed and cried, but managed to keep it all inside. They were impressed.
Well, I still had one more shot I just had to take, and there was just no way I was going to destroy that image of being the world's toughest papaw that I had spent years building up in my grandsons. I turned around, told Jordan to take his best shot. He did, and it felt like it hit even harder, but at least no blood. Just a big bruise. I never reacted outwardly to either shot, though inwardly I was bawling like a baby. That's was enough of that for that day. My reputation was now reinforced in blood.
The boys went upstairs, and I went to the kitchen for a long, sharp knife. I called Jackson down, handed him the knife. Told him that bullet could still be in my back, possibly, and I couldn't reach my back to dig it out. I told him I was going to lie down, and, since he's the one who pulled the trigger, stick that knife in that hole about half an inch and dig that bullet out. Tough as he was, Jackson turned white as a sheet. While he was still in the white state, I took back the knife, told him I would let him off, as I could see he was a little nervous about doing that. I would just tough it out with that bullet in me. I told him that bullet would eventually work it’s own way out, most likely. All those other bullets I’ve had in me did.
When we all go to the State Fair together, I let the boys pick out the badest ride on the place, then ride that with one of them. That's all I ride. Always with a big smile on my face, flaunting the “no hands” thing. When I get off, I always get out of their sight as quickly as possible. In case I have to throw up. Where carnival rides are concerned, Carson, takes the cake. He's still very small, yet he begs to ride all of them. He managed to get on one this year that he should not have been on in the first place, and the bar did not fit tight enough to hold him. He got slung all over that cage.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Forever A Hillbilly: Part Two - Trapped - At the Winding Stairs: The next morning, I cooked eggs and bacon for the group, explaining to them I had seen only one baby chick in all those dozens of eggs...