Tallahala Creek is a sight to behold when it is above flood stage. Dark swirls and sinkholes are scattered, as the rocks form rapids down the river. Muddy water rushes by dragging trees down the river to some unknown destination. From the camp we have set up, you can hear the river pulsating with dark desire at night.
I have many fond memories of this river. It was where I learned to swim, where my grandfather and dad took my brother and me fishing. We would sit on soapstone and bump bait to attract fish. My pawpaw called it ‘agitating’ the fish. Our seats were buckets, our feet dipped in the puddles that formed in the crags of the soapstone. At night, you had to battle mosquitoes and horseflies to get any kind of sleep.
Tallahala was where I discovered turtles could grow to weigh hundreds of pounds. One hot, sticky day we ran trotlines and bank hooks. The river was way above flood stage and we paddled out to the first line. My dad grabbed hold of the line and we began to check hooks. In the middle of the river, we discovered we had a massive turtle. It weighed about 80 pounds. We checked the next line and had another turtle. Again, it was almost 100 pounds. On the last line, we had another turtle. In Mississippi we call them loggerheads. If I am not mistaken, the correct name for them is alligator snapper. Long story short, we went home with over 200 pound of turtle.
My family had no recipe for turtle, so we fried it up like chicken. It was the only time I have ever caught turtles that big. Tallahala fed my family for many years, and not just mine, but every poor family in the Morriston community fished Tallahala.
When I deployed to the Middle East, I often thought of that river and the memories that we made there. In the middle of Iraq, being blown up and shot at, my mind was never far from home. The roar of the river would play through my mind, and no matter how bad my day, I felt closer to home. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I would see my grandfather’s smile when my brother or I caught a fish. His glasses would fog up from the humidity, but I can still hear him laugh.
I am often asked what brought me home from Iraq. The easy answer is that the Lord had His hands upon me, and that He protected me. I like to think that the memories of home, of my grandfather, and my family played a role too. At the very bottom, also known as rock bottom, it was the memories of my childhood, the good and the bad, that kept me from committing suicide. Sometimes, when you have nothing left to lose, proving the naysayers wrong is enough to pull you through.
Even if, you are pulled through like a tree on the flooded waters of Tallahala.