I can see daddy sitting in the big soft green recliner, feet propped up and newspaper across his lap, watching “Jeopardy” and checking the sports at the same time. The recliner sits in the living room of what is now my place at the lake, since the chair has been empty for 12 years.
We joined the Raysville Boat Club in 1966 when I was 16 years old. I am not sure why daddy decided to join the club. Mama and I both loved to fish, and our best friends, the McGahees, joined at about the same time. Our families already camped together at Clarks Hill often and Mr. Hugh had taught me to water ski when I was 11, something I was fanatical about as a teenager.
Daddy didn’t ski and didn’t really like to fish but he bought a nice ski boat to keep at our dock and put a pop-up camper at the boat club. We stayed there almost every weekend, even though he had to dive the 22 miles back to the farm to take care of the chickens, hogs and cows each day. Those were wonderful days filled with skiing, fishing and eating fantastic food cooked by mama and Miss Mary for me.
Daddy loved to fry fish and he was good at it. We would have big fish frys at the lake on a cooker he and Mr. Hugh made from an old tire hub, tubing and rebar. I can still see him standing over the big black pot, fork in hand, carefully watching the fish until they were cooked perfectly or until the hushpuppies turned over and browned just right.
When the crappie were in the bushes bedding in the spring daddy would fish with us. We would take the big ski boat to a cove and tie it up and drown minnows in the surrounding bushes, catching dozens of fine eating fish. We also had a 12 foot jon boat would sometimes pull to the cove to be able to more around better.
I can still see daddy in the back of that boat one day, fishing near mamma and me in the big ski boat. Daddy moved wrong and tipped out of the boat head first. The water was only a couple of feet deep and he stood up, water dripping from him and a half broken soaked cigarette dangling from his mouth. All of us laughed so hard we probably scared every crappie for miles.
Daddy figured out how to make a platform on the front of that ski boat to mount a foot controlled trolling motor and pedestal seat. He would drive to where we wanted to fish and crawl over the windshield, then perch up there and move us around to the perfect fishing spots. And he never fell off!
It was difficult for daddy to relax. He was a hard worker, running a farm and Dearing Elementary School as its principal. He could not fish just for fun, he had to be catching something to eat. That he could enjoy.
We often ran trotlines, jugs and bank hooks at night and caught a good many cats. We also put out baskets baited with meal cake and caught an amazing number of fish in them, often more than I wanted to clean.
We had a great cleaning system. Daddy and mama would scale the crappie and I gutted them. I could keep up with the two of them once I realized I could cut at an angle from the top of the head to just past the vent. Almost all the guts came out with one slice and there was no waste of meat since there was nothing but rib cage there.
The mobile home I now call mine has a screen porch running its length on the front. Daddy, Uncle Slaton and a couple of other friends built it. I helped some since by then I was doing construction work during the summers between college years. That porch is well built, it is now on the third mobile home on the lot. When the mobile home got too old we would detach the porch, move the trailer out, move a better one in and reattach the porch.
One event really stands out in my mind that shows how much daddy wanted me to be happy. We were camping on Clark’s Hill when I was about 12 years old. The campsite was on a point about 300 yards from a bridge and I wanted to fish under it at night so bad I couldn’t stand still. Daddy agreed to take me.
Our only boat was an old wooden skiff that was very hard to paddle and uncomfortable to sit in. Right at dark we loaded lanterns, rods and reels and I think daddy probably told me to put the minnow bucket in the boat. He rowed us to the bridge and tied up and we realized the minnows were still on the bank. He did not complain, just untied the boat, rowed back to get them, rowed back to the bridge and we fished. I have no idea if we caught anything or not but I cherish that night.
When I go back to the boat club now there are ghosts there. Daddy and mama are always around. It is very bittersweet, but I would not give up those memories for anything. If you have kids, or if your parents are still alive, make some memories this summer. They will last a lifetime.