Summer vacation. Those words were magic all during my school years. They were the words that opened up endless days of bare feet, fishing, building tree houses, visiting relatives and friends, and riding bicycles all over my end of the county.
The end of school meant no more early morning wake-up calls from mom and then sitting at the breakfast table staring at food I did not want. It meant the end of riding my bike almost a mile on pretty days to school or riding in the car with dad on the way to his job as principal. And no more seemingly endless hours of staring at books in the late afternoon when I wanted to be fishing or hunting.
We had a little ditty we sang – “no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers with dirty looks!” For some reason my teachers were always giving me dirty looks, mostly for talking about hunting and fishing during math, reading an outdoor magazine tucked into my notebook or trying to sharpen my knife during spelling!
Many summer days I would call one of my friends Harold or Hal and make plans. It was easy to call back then, you picked up the phone and told the operator two numbers. My phone number was 26. The phone would ring on the party line – one ring for Harold, two rings for the neighbor on my side of his house and three for the house on the far side. Sometimes a neighbor would answer the wrong ring and tell me Harold had already left for the day!
Our plans were simple – I would ride my bike to Harold’s house and meet Hal there. We would have our tackle box in the bicycle basket and rod and reel across the handlebars. After a quick stop in town for candy bars and cokes, we would head to a local pond. Fishing consisted of wading around and casting plugs or those new-fangled rubber worms for bass, sitting still watching a line for a nibble from a catfish or dunking live bait for bream.
The catfish bait was always my responsibility. We had 11,000 laying hens and some died every day. I could go out to the chicken house and quickly collect enough livers, hearts and gizzards with my pocket knife to last us all day. All the “innards” were put into a glass jar with a top so we could transport them without mixing them with our candy bars.
Live worms were a group effort. We usually met at my house and went behind one of the chicken houses where the water trough drained. One of us would stick a shovel into the moist earth and turn it over, and the other two would grab for red wigglers as they tried to get back into the ground. And old tin can could quickly be filled with all the worms we would need.
Catching fish was very secondary to going fishing. We often caught enough for supper for all three families, and cleaning them was our task as soon as we got home. But the fun of the trip was everything that it involved, and mostly just being with friends. If the fish didn’t bite today there was always tomorrow.
I can still feel the hot sun on my face and the cold water on my toes as I waded the upper end of Black’s Pond. There was an old channel in the upper end and the water was always cooler down in it. I was my own first depthfinder and temperature gauge! I learned the location of drop offs, stumps, hard bottoms and other structure by feeling it with my feet.
We also learned to pattern fish in those early days. There was one stump at Harrison’s Pond that always had a bass beside it. If I could cast my topwater plug just right, and work it up to the stump, I would always get a bite. Unfortunately, many times my line went over the little bush growing on the stump and I would have to wade out and unhook my only topwater plug, scaring the fish away.
Many times I want to return to those more simple times. Everything was much better back then, or so I remember. The sun was warmer, the water cooler, the candy bars more tasty and the fish harder fighting. Summer vacation made all my activities happier times.
I hope all school kids have as great a summer as I remember and make memories that will last them as long as mine have lasted me.