By Kevin Tate/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal
About the time I was 12, I fell into the company of a group of Old Men who, for a while, took me to raise. I still lived at home with my mom and dad and brother and dog but, for a time, their world was my world, and the world we shared revolved around fishing.
Not casual, laid-back fishing, either, but hard work fishing.
We ran trotlines at Grenada and jug fished on the Tombigbee and could have been small-time commercial fishermen but for the fact we never sold a fish, all of which were duly dressed and boxed and frozen away beneath a big lid marked “Whirlpool,” alongside the corn and the butterbean and the peas.
Some of the Old Men were relatives, blood kin they’d say, like my Grandaddy and a collection of uncles, great and otherwise, and some were related only in the sense that their family and mine had shared the same ground and attended the same church and buried family in the same cemetery for so long, they were far more connected to me than any other people I knew.
When I was at home, I was a kid, and no matter how grown up I behaved, I was a kid in a kid’s role. But when I was with the Old Men, I was an equal. I was bigger, physically, than most of them by then for one thing, and I was good at listening more than I talked for another.
Of course, when you’re 12 years old and the third man in a three-man boat, and the other two are talking about The Great Depression and WorldWar II from first-hand experience, it doesn’t require much intelligence to shut up.
The stories the Old Men told weren’t fit to repeat in church, and they weren’t appropriate for mixed company, but they were just right for me who though I didn’t know it at the time, had stepped into this arrangement at its absolute peak.
I’m a long way from that time now, and the men who shared their world with me are long gone, but the lessons of those days continue to teach me things. I’d always assumed they allowed me a full share of their company as a courtesy and to see what kind of man I’d make, and that was part of it, I’m sure. But as the years go by and I gain enough age to see around the curve, I know now there was more to it. In the same way I felt elevated to adulthood in their company, I believe they found an avenue to return to their youth in mine. At home, they were grandparents and retirees. They had aches and pains and a smoker’s morning cough. They attended regular doctors’ appointments, kept track of their prescriptions and went to funerals for their friends, but on the water, they were as young as they wanted to be.
Together we worked harder and fished longer and explored more and remembered better than anywhere else, because no one was there to tell us to do otherwise, them or me. At home they fell into the roles they were expected to fill and acted their age. But on the water, they were free.
We’d leave well before daylight, return well after dark and rare was the trip that left us without a major haul of catfish for the freezer. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and coffee. Lunch was Vienna sausages and crackers. Supper was a table full of Grandmother’s best handiwork once the last fish was cleaned and put away.
Together we had something pretty special there for a while, and those days are what I think of whenever I get a chance to wet a line now. Whatever life holds for us in the end, experiences like these, banked away against time, let us return at will to the beginning.
Kevin Tate serves as Creative Director for Mossy Oak Productions in West Point.
Check out Friday’s NEMS Daily Journal for the Outdoors page. Get ready to hunt, fish and head outdoors.