Out of Delta story "Building Castles"
Fried fish is a staple food in the Arkansas
Delta. My family had fish on the table three
or four times a month. My daddy ran nets on
the Saint Francis River, a swampy river that
fed into the Mississippi. He would check the
nets every weekend and many times he
brought home a 100 pound catfish. We
considered catfish to be fine eatin’. A fish
meal included fried potatoes, slaw, onion,
and hush puppies. Often when my daddy
caught a really big catfish, he would cook it
in a big iron kettle in the yard and everyone
in the neighborhood would enjoy the feast.
In my home, going fishing on a Sunday afternoon was a family outing. My daddy had a flat bottom boat, olive green in color, and it was powered with an outboard Evinrude motor. The boat was big enough to accommodate my parents, my grandmother, my two sisters, and me. Early on it became evident that there was no way on earth that I was going to bait a hook. A family member, usually one of my sisters, would bait it for me. I thought, “How could they be so mean to those worms?” When my bait was hooked and in the water, I was bored to death sitting still, holding the bamboo pole, and watching the red and white float while waiting for a bite. I would last about five minutes at best before I started driving everyone crazy. There was no way that I could sit still in the boat and be quiet. I was far too fidgety and way too talkative.
When I was ten years-old-or-so, my parents thought that I was capable of taking care of myself and it would be best for me and best for all family members to leave me on the shore while they went out in the boat. That suited me just fine. I would spend the afternoon, building castles with the muddy sand, collecting driftwood and mussel shells, catching crawdads and minnows, and exploring. I was a good swimmer so there were no worries about me drowning if I should fall into the river. One would never get in the Saint Francis River on purpose. The water was coffee colored and home to water moccasins, snapping turtles, and gar.
Often during the fishing trips, my family would be out of my sight somewhere around a bend in the river. I liked when they couldn’t see me. I felt free from supervision, I felt responsible, grown up, and I also felt free to turn cartwheels, dance, sing, and just be silly. I could do whatever I wanted to do without fear of being ridiculed by my siblings.
The fishing trip would end well before dark so there would be enough time to clean the caught fish when we got home. My sisters liked to help clean the fish. My daddy had built a fish cleaning table in the back yard. My sisters would get the metal hand held grater-like fish scalers and they would vigorously and rhythmically start removing the scales. No way would I do that. When they slit the fish open to remove whatever was inside, I would gag. It didn’t take me long to realize that while they were “cleaning,” I was better off staying in the house and thinking back about my day and how much fun I had playing on the river bank.
I am so fortunate and so thankful to have had understanding parents that let me build castles in the sand.