Scalawags, Outlaws, and Big Fish…A childhood remembrance…

I’m standing on the second strand of a bar wire fence trying to perfect my spitting technique. My brother comes meandering up behind me, and watches me try to hit a bullfrog sitting on a green lily pad in the creek bordering our property. He walks up and stands beside me.

“You’re doing it wrong, Possum.” He licks his lips and unleashes a stream of narrow spit at the frog. His aim is spot on. It reminds me of the Clint Eastwood classic, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

“That’s how you do it.” I try again, and again, but never match my brother’s finesse with aiming my spit accurately . My brother, Mule is his name, watches my many failures and never says a word. He looks at me and asks, “Wanna go fishing?”

“Might as well, I ain’t never gonna get the hang of this spitting crap.” Mule throws his arm around my shoulders and laughs.

“It’s alright, Possum. We can work on whistling later.” We stroll down the clay road with a couple of Zebco fishing rods and a five-gallon bucket.

“Let’s go hit Old Man Showes pond. We always catch a lot of fish there.” I nod my blond head in agreement.

Old Man Showes has a great pond layout, and its chock full of fish, but you gotta sneak in if you plan to fish it. My pawpaw is sitting on the front porch working on a broken lawnmower. The South Mississippi heat has him sweating something awful. He looks up as my brother and I cross into the woods in front of his house. 

“We gotta be careful so Old man Showes don’t see us. What if he’s down here,” I ask my brother.

“We’ll tell him we got lost.” I look at my brother and want to choke him. 

“You’re gonna tell him you got lost in the woods we were born in? Are you stupid?” My brother’s brown hair is wet with sweat, and he wipes at his face. “You think of something then. I’m here to fish.”

As we draw close to the pond, we kneel under the shade of a large white oak tree. My brother elbows me in the ribs. “We’re outlaws, Possum. I don’t see that scalawag.” I look around the pond and nod. “Me neither. Let’s go catch dinner.”

We ease down to the pond, Mule on one side, me on the other. In the noon day sun our tans grow even darker. On the other side of the lake my brother is bringing in fish after fish, but on my side, I haven’t caught nothing.

“Lord,” I pray, “just once, I would like to beat my brother in anything. Fishing, hunting, spitting, whatever, please let me catch something.”

I was fishing with a top water lure. I cast this lure out by a stump in the pond. After reeling in the lure, I cast it out again. It lands about six inches from the stump. I get so caught up in praying, I forget to check the lure. 

“Hey,” I yell at my brother, “how long has my lure been under?” He shrugs his thin shoulders and goes back to fishing. I pick up my rod and set the hook, when the water explodes.

My brother and I have read the stories in Mississippi Game and Fish magazine. I know right away that the fish is a bass. In photos, sometimes you can see them walk on water by its tail. This one did the same thing.

“I got one!,” I shout. I watch as my brother reels in his line and grabs the bucket. He races around the pond to where I am. He dips the bucket into the pond while I fight with the bass. For someone who crept into our neighbor’s pond, I am making all kinds of racket. My brother punches me in the shoulder.

“Will you shut up? Old man Showes will kill us if hears you.” I reel the fish in, and it’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. I remove the hook from the fish’s mouth and throw it in the bucket. We cut out from the pond and don’t stop until we reach my grandfather’s house. 

“Whatcha got there boys,” my pawpaw asks. His red skin glistens in the southern heat his trifocal glasses foggy from the humidity. He waits for us to answer him, while he wipes his glasses off on his dirty white t-shirt.

“A bass,” I shout. He beams with pride at my catch, and for once I feel good about myself.

“You better get that home, before that old rascal gets back from work.” We nod and head out to the house.  I carry the bucket home, and Mule slips his arm around my shoulder as we make our way back to our home in the woods.

I may not spit a stream of slobber accurately at bullfrogs, nor whistle loudly at pretty ladies, but there is this one time that I beat my brother in fishing, and that’s good enough for me.

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