(Jun 15, 2016 - Jacksonville, TX)
In 1957, I was a towheaded kid. My nickname was “Tag-Along” because I was always following my big brother around. My childhood was typical for the era. We were financially poor but well-to-do in so many ways – we had freedoms. Our neighborhood on the north side of town was our playground.
My connection with nature, outdoors, fishing and hunting began in our neighborhood. Our across the street neighbor had chickens. I was welcome to keep the sparrows in check with my BB gun.
Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis recently wrote in his High Points from El Camino Real column, “We all had BB guns and we shot every bird that we could find. Except mockingbirds, of course. They were the state bird and if you killed one, you’d go to jail.”
Then was a different time – a time closer to when sustenance hunting was a respected skill. On the border of our neighborhood was the city cemetery. Here I stalked and shot a rabbit with a long bow and arrow. For the first time I heard the sound of death.
On Saturdays, I would pack a lunch and trek the couple of miles to Lake Acker, the city water supply. This was a gathering place for the neighborhood kids. We would build forts to defend our kingdom, fish in the overflow creek and shoot at nutria rats in the lake with the ever present BB gun. We had freedom! I was breathing freedom.
My father was an outdoorsman. I tagged along with him before I could carry a gun. Once on a quail hunt, just outside our neighborhood, our birddog Sib pointed a covey of quail in front of me in open cover. I was standing on a pine stump so I could see. The covey rise was all around me. My father, with his old Model 11, Remington 12 gauge shotgun, carefully downed birds on either side of me. That shotgun is in my possession today.
To the west of town, along the railroad tracks, was a field with a chinquapin tree. My father would slip out there to quail hunt and bring back a double hand full of chinquapin nuts. These are a very tasty little nut looking like an acorn with a tuff shell. The taste was worth the shelling.
I witnessed my father catching a nice largemouth bass with a popper fly on a fly rod. That fiberglass rod is hanging on my wall today. Also on my wall is a long bow he hued from a bois d’ arc tree. That bow’s handle is of deer hide he tanned.
My father took us to the outdoors. One memorable weekend camping trip was to Honey Lake between Jacksonville and Frankston, Texas. Honey Lake is an oxbow lake off the Neches River in Anderson County. Then, to cross the Neches, there was a rickety, one lane, wooden bridge with no side railing. This crossing was a scary experience for this kid. Now there is a two lane, concrete bridge crossing the Neches. Many times I have fished from my kayak around the remains of the posts of that old wooden bridge.
Back then Honey Lake was not posted and it was used by many for swimming, fishing and camping. This camping trip with my father, brother and me was in March. The weather was dry but cold. We slept in a small pup tent. In an attempt to capture the warmth of our campfire, we built a dirt mound opposite the fire from the tent to reflect the heat from the campfire. I was still cold.
In the sun of the next day, my brother and I fished the bank using cane poles with bait of minnows that had been seined from sloughs around. A large tree had fallen over into the lake. In order to improve our extension into the lake, we climbed out onto limps to fish. Fishing straight down in the branches, I caught a very nice crappie. My infatuation with the tug of game fish had begun.
I came by my connection to hunting, fishing and the outdoors honestly.
Ironically, almost fifty years later, Honey Lake was purchased by Joe Bob Staton, my wife’s uncle.
I lost my father to heart disease when I was age fourteen. Remember back then was a time of smoking, poor diets and little exercise and a time when treatment for coronary artery disease had limited success.
We are a collection of our experiences from our past. Remembering is memorable. We will be a collection of our experiences to come. Life’s not over. Get out there and experience what God has to offer.
Until we put in again,