The Fish

On the surface my maternal grandparents differed little from my paternal grandparents, except that my mother's parents were Baptist. Grandpa Kenneth worked at Ethyl for most of his life, just like my grandfather John. He also created streamlines to the oil refining process. However, John Samuel Day worked for Ethyl exclusively in Baton Rouge, but Kenneth Rollins spent many years working in Odessa, Texas. Both of my grandmothers, Irene Rollins and Wilma Day, were homemakers. Both sets of grandparents lived in really nice homes my grandfathers designed and built. Their personalities contrasted sharply, however.

While John passed his free time painting and working around the house, Kenneth preferred to be in the great outdoors. Irene worked with ceramics, for which she won Best of Show repeatedly at the largest ceramics club exhibitions here. She also read novels voraciously. Wilma always wanted to go into business. She was somewhat bitter about the treatment of women in the Southern United States, treatment that prevented her from attending college and fulfilling her dreams. She spent her free time socializing, keeping an immaculate house, and praying. Kenneth and Wilma were the two most devout people I have ever known, but all of my grandparents were really good people.

John and Wilma took care of me for years when I was a small child. I stayed with Kenneth and Irene a fraction of the time, but because of that I was always wildly happy at the opportunity to do so. Kenneth had a camp on the southern portion of the Amite River. Originally the camp was on land, but eventually, because of flooding, he built a house boat. We often went tot he camp and stayed the weekend in the house boat when I got to stay with he and Irene.

A few years ago I thought I encountered a panther in some deep woods in the Felicianas. Research indicated all the panthers died out or were driven away before I was born. I found that information extremely odd considering my experiences staying in the house boat. Late at night, now and then, one could hear what sounded like the scream of a husky woman. My grandpa told me that was a panther howl. I can't imagine he lied to me, and if that's not what it was then I can't imagine what it could have been.

The development of South Louisiana had yet to take off when I was still young. Vast forests covered large portions of what is now called Baton Rouge and is covered with parking lots and strip malls. The area around the house boat was as wild as it gets. These days the only places left like that are in the Atchafalaya, but back then we could fly down the river for miles in a boat and never see any sign of another human being. Grandpa Kenneth believed in the old ways. He picked a great place to keep the old ways alive.

We always fished for what we ate when we spent time at the camp. Irene loved saccalait. She fished for those for many hours from the edge of the house boat, and she must have had a good idea of peak hours because she hauled in quite a few. Unfortunately she was very good at catching eels too, and we both hated those. My grandpa set trout lines in the late afternoon as soon as we got to the camp, and again the next day. We'd go out in the boat and check those not long after daylight. The haul from those lines kept the freezers in Baton Rouge filled with catfish.

I spent enough time on the river to know when we had fish on the line, and when we had snagged a log or something else undesirable. One morning we were checking lines and I grabbed one that felt nothing like I had felt before. We pulled the boat out along the line until we discovered what it was. It was a catfish, one like I have never seen since except in photographs. My grandfather and I had a hard time getting this fish in the boat. I believe I was eight years old at the time. This catfish was bigger than I was. We knew nobody would believe it if we just told them, so we took lots of pictures. I don't think it could have swallowed me whole, but it definitely could have taken my leg.

I will always have great memories of the times I spent fishing on the Amite River. Those days came to an end within a few years. Besides my mother, my maternal grandparents also had two sons, my uncles. One night my younger uncle, Douglas, was out on the river and drowned. I very nearly drowned in the super fast current of that river myself, so I know that it was no difficult thing for the river to take someone's life.

To make a sad event even sadder, nobody knew Doug was out on the river. It took almost a week for his body to be found. I was with Irene and Kenneth when the news came; grief is a palpable pain. Kenneth sold the camp and the house boat and the boat and all their fishing gear, and never went fishing again. Irene had a sadness in her eyes the rest of her life.

Doug always called me Chopper. It was because I loved guns and spent so much time shooting. He wasn't a big man, but he was very strong. He managed to lift that fish Kenneth and I landed up into the air behind me all by himself, so we could take a picture, he and I and the fish. The fish really stole the focus of the shot away from us, it being nearly as big as Doug even. Curiously, I remember Doug more for all the people he knew in Austin, but we'll always have the picture with that fish.


I apologize to any readers who have caught my posts before every error was eradicated. In the past I never let any errors slip through, or caught them right away. I am off the grid right now, so when I figure out I have posted something with a mistake I can't fix it right away. It feels sloppy posting an error. It makes me feel dirty, in a bad way. I think I'm going to try to be more careful in the future, and read what I have written before I post it. I never had to do that in the past, but things change, and so must I.
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