There’s an old woman who sits in a lawn chair on my dock at sundown, fishing and reminiscing and not caring if the fish are striking. She dreams of the little kid in bib overalls who was nicknamed Billie by the two hired men who worked in her father’s dairy.
Billie fished with homemade tackle. Her line was a twine string; her sinker, a metal washer. I was that tomboy. I’m also the old woman who doesn’t care if the fish are striking.
Billie was born in the bent-pin era but had real, store-bought hooks. She carried extra hooks, twine and a couple of washers in the chest pocket of her overalls. As she walked through the woods, she’d hunt a dry stick and break off a stub that would float well enough to resist the tug of a 10-inch mud cat or a hand-size creek perch. She’d use two half hitches to tie that stick on her line for a bobber about two feet above the washer.
Her dad taught her that two half hitches will hold the devil.
Billie used a straight green branch for a pole and stripped off its side twigs. She’d cut a notch around the pole tip and tie the line in the notch so it wouldn’t slip off. A Prince Albert tobacco can in the rear pocket of her overalls held barnyard fishing worms and a little moist earth. Sometimes, she took an empty can for crickets or grasshoppers she’d catch on the way.
In Grindstone Creek south of their farm, only a few holes were deep enough for fish. She knew that on hot summer days, perch hid around big rocks, and mudcats hid under the roots of overhanging trees.
When Billie was 10, she’d ride her bike two miles down the Fulton gravel road to fish with her friend Elizabeth. They threaded long, fat barnyard worms onto the hook, spit on the worms for good luck and tossed the line out, ready for a fish to bite.
The girls didn’t know if the spit actually worked, but Elizabeth said, "It can’t hurt, and some say it attracts fish."
The first one to catch a fish would cut a small Y-shaped branch, strip off the bark and cut one leg of the Y short and leave the other one long. She’d thread the fish on to this "stringer" by putting the long end through the fish’s gill and out its mouth. Then she’d gently put the fish in shallow water and keep it in place with a big rock. The next fish would go on the same stringer the same way.
The girls dressed six or eight little fish up near the well pump in the back yard. Then, Elizabeth’s mom finished the cleaning while the girls built a small fire between two rocks in the back yard. They’d fry their catch in lard in an iron skillet and eat them with homemade bread, whether it was meal time or not.
It’s hard for Billie to realize that she’s the old woman with two hearing aids, walking slowly, slightly bent forward. She fishes from the comfortable lawn chair on the dock, reviewing treasured memories at dusk.
She places a tiny fly, gentle-like, where willow roots grow down into the water from shore. Nothing happens. She winds in the line and stops on the way to the house to marvel at the quiet beauty of first stars, the call of the whippoorwill, fading willow reflections in the water.
Who needs fish? Each tomorrow begins another wonderful day.