By Charles B. Martin, Sr. © 1984
Issue: May, 1984
"Hey Mom, look at what we've got."
This excited announcement triggered a warning on my mother's consciousness. The sudden droop of her shoulders and soft, involuntary sigh that slipped from her throat betrayed the fact that she was bracing herself for the unacceptable. (After all, nothing good had ever come to her that had been preceded by this tone of triumph.) With an air of total resignation, she turned from the stove where she was stirring gravy in the big, cast iron skillet, to stare in disbelief at the apparition in the middle of her kitchen.
As the full impact of what she was seeing began to register on her mind, Mom's eyes took on a glassy, hypnotized look. Her mouth fell open and made a few feeble motions, as if she were trying to speak and yet not a sound came from her lips. For several painful minutes she just stood and looked at us. Then, with the unattached movements of a sleepwalker, Mom staggered over to the kitchen table, sat down heavily in one of the cane-bottomed chairs and resting her elbows on the table top, cradled her head in her open palms. Except for an occasional, disbelieving shake of her head for side to side, she was as still as a statue carved from stone. As you might suspect, this reaction had my sister Dot and me about as immobile as our Mom.
Shock never lasts forever though, and after a few minutes that seemed like hours, Mom started to regress toward a more human role. First, she would laugh hysterically 'til she almost lost her breath; then just as suddenly, she would lapse into a crying jag. Dot and I watched in fascination. We had never seen anyone laugh and cry at the same time before.
Looking back, its little wonder our Mom displayed such a wide range of mixed feelings. After all, it isn't every day that a mother gets to see two of her offspring standing in the center of her kitchen with a stringer full of "hogsuckers" draped around their necks and their arms full of half-grown skunks.
The whole misadventure had begun several hours earlier when I decided to take Dot fishing. We walked down through the "flat-woods" country to the fishing spot known locally as the Douglas Hole. (Legend has it that a fellow by that name had drowned at this place nearly a century ago - hence this designation.) Anyhow, it was one of the best "red-eye" holes on the Middle Fork River and we whiled away many a lazy summer afternoon dangling a line in its shady riffles.
Reminiscing on those long ago days makes me marvel at just how little material possession contributes to the happiness of children. We had few modern luxuries and little desire for more. In fact, hardly any kid at that time owned a "store bought" fishing pole. This didn't pose even a small inconvenience. A sharp jack-knife could turn a sycamore or willow seedling into a dandy fishing pole in minutes. Also, nearly every country boy carried a hank of fishing line, wound around a short stick and a few hooks and sinkers in the bib of their overalls. That way, any time our ramblings led us to a stream, it took only a few minutes to set a pole, tie on a line and hook, rustle up a few worms from beneath the damp sod and start fishing. This is the ritual Dot and I followed on the day I'm telling you about.
Incidentally, having a younger sister for a fishing companion can be most rewarding, especially if they're unversed in the equal rights movement or woman's lib. They tend to look on an older brother as THE voice of authority and make the best slaves imaginable for all sorts of menial chores.
Dot was no exception. She would blindly obey any command, regardless of the work it entailed. This inclination to please came in awfully handy when I needed a can of "craw-dads" or fish worms. What surprised me the most about Dot, though, was the complete metamorphosis her character underwent once she got involved in fishing. When she was around the house or in the company of other girls, she would shudder and shriek at the sight or mention of any insect or worm. Then conversely, when we were fishing, I've seen her grub up half an acre of sod looking for worms, completely ignoring all kinds of spiders and bugs. I've even heard my brother swear that Dot could tear up more earth than a gopher. True to expectations, she had a can of worms by the time I got our poles rigged this day.
Now, anybody who does much fishing knows there are days when certain kinds of fish simply refuse to bite. This was one of those times. Our hearts had been set on a nice string of "red-eyes" (Rock Bass in more scientific lingo) but, all we could interest in our bait were "hogsuckers" and "shiners." I'm convinced neither of these will ever rate a mention in gourmet cookery and, as far as looks, the Lord never made a homelier critter than a "hog-sucker." Regardless of the desirability of their catch, however, kids never like to leave the river bank empty-handed. That's why I had Dot put every one of these animated vacuum cleaners we caught on our strings. They bit like mad all afternoon and Dot and I were literally in hog (sucker) heaven 'til it was time to go home.
The long walk back across the hills was pretty uneventful; that is, 'til we reached the fork in the road just above the present-day location of the Green Hill Market. Here we ran amuck of something even more entertaining than fishing.
One of our neighbors, Houston Stines, was leaning against the side of his old blue truck, watching a mama skunk trying to herd her litter of half-grown kittens under the roots of a walnut tree. After "passing the time of day" with him and showing off our string of "hog-suckers", the conversation somehow got centered around the merits of skunks as house pets. The more we talked about it, the more intrigued we became with the idea.
Now, I'm not accusing Mr. Stines of "putting us up" to anything, but I can still remember the look on his face today. The tears were streaming down his cheeks from laughter, as Dot and I braved that yellow fog of skunk elixir and gathered up this surprise for our Mom...
Editor's Note - Charles B. Martin, Sr. of Saltville, Virginia writes a column for the Saltville newspaper, THE SOUTHWEST PROGRESS. He also has had one of his stories chosen for publication in a book, THE GREATEST HUNTING STORIES EVER TOLD, a collection of 28 stories. The book contains stories about Theodore Roosevelt, Jack O'Conor, Robert C. Raurk and many others. This book was published by Beaufort Books, Inc. of New York, New York. It may be mail ordered by sending $17.95 plus $1.50 for postage and handling (total $19.45) to Beaufort Books, Inc., 9 Fast 40th St., New York, New York 10016.
This month, we're happy to welcome Charles Martin to our family of contributors.