Again, returning to my roots, I think back on
one of those, "let's go get lost,"
Sunday afternoon drives. I was around twelve,
Mom, Dad and I had left the house that particular
Sunday afternoon and headed south. I really don't
remember where we turned off the main road, but we
wound around some old, sandy road through orange
groves, following the directions from a sign Daddy
had seen nailed to a pole. All of that seems a little
foggy to me now, but when we finally got to the end
of the road, it seemed as if we had gone back in time
at least fifteen years.
There, on the northwestern bank of Cypress Lake, sat
a fish camp, boat ramp, cabins and a barbeque shed
with two huge pits for cookin' the real stuff. Old
yellow dogs were laying in the shade of gigantic oak
trees; the entire setting became a watercolor painted
into my young memory. I remember Dad saying, "We gotta
come back here with the boat." With that said, we
turned around and drove away.
Several weeks later, Dad and I loaded up the boat
and headed back in the direction of that place I
didn't get enough of. It was "blue in the east,"
when we arrived back at the camp. I don't believe
it had a formal name, but it had these old, wood
cabins and each had a nickname above the doorway
in front. There was, "The Boars Nest," "Liar's Den";
too many for me to actually remember, but there must
have been ten or twelve of these small houses.
We had to pay fifty cents to use the boat ramp, and
I noticed the ones that were awake at that ungodly
time of morning, were staring at us. I didn't pay
too much attention to them; I was too mesmerized
with our new surroundings. In the blue, morning
light, I could see hundreds of cabbage palms
lining the banks of the lake; the yellow dogs
were still there and barked at us briefly when
we went to pay the ramp fee. The smell of camp
coffee lay heavy in the thick air, and I could
smell the aroma of bacon and eggs, biscuits and
grits, coming from the already lit cabins.
The boat was launched, and we headed southwest
around a deep bend in the lake. The bank suddenly
swung a hard right into what looked like a wide
canal to the north. I found out later it was the
South Port Canal.
The venture that day turned out to be a recon trip.
We fished a little, but mostly the day was spent
moseying around looking for "good spots," and there
were many. But my mind was on the camp. I wanted to
explore it, but I never said anything to my dad about
We returned to the camp around three-thirty that
afternoon, and two old men were standing around
on the dock at the ramp. Both wore faded overhauls
with thin, long-sleeved, light-colored shirts under
them. Old straw hats adorned their heads, providing
shade in the bright, Florida sun.
Dad eased up to the dock to tie off the boat and
one of the men asked, "J'all do enny good?"
"Fair to middlin'", answered Dad. We had ten, or
so, nice bluegills in the cooler. The other old
man asked where we were from, and a polite
conversation ensued. We were about ready to leave
when the man, once again, spoke to my dad, "Y'all
ought to come back next weekend an' plan on stayin'
fer a while. All us are gonna cook up a mess of pig
and other stuff." My head spun in the direction of
my dad; fingers crossed.
"Might as well," Dad answered back. "Whatcha want
us to bring?"
"Nerry a thing, we got it all righ' cheer."
Studying his face, I asked a million questions on
the way home, probably annoying the fool out of the
old man. He just drove, nodded, and grunted from
time to time.
That was the longest week of my life. That's all I
thought of, and spoke of, in school that week. Finally,
Friday afternoon was upon us.
The three of us packed up the tent, the sleeping bags
and army cots. Coolers full of block ice, fishin' poles,
tackle boxes…everything in the house, I honestly believe.
And then Saturday, 'fore light, we were off for the
fish-camp on Cypress Lake.
We arrived there again when it was "blue in the east."
The same scene was being played out, but the old men
were already at the cook shed. Strong, oak and hickory
smoke was billowing up from the two pits, and the yellow
dogs were sound asleep, never looking up at the new
folks arriving with the entire household in tow. One
of the old men that Dad had spoken with came to greet
us and expressed his happiness to see us again, just
as though he had known us all of his life. He politely
introduced himself to my mom and asked if we were going
to stay in one of the rental cabins. Dad explained we
had brought the old, canvas tent and we were planning
on camping out on the bank of the canal. The old man
told my dad to be back around three and everything
would be just about ready. I wanted to stay there
and hang out, but I went with the folks. I think Dad
sensed this, and once we had the camp set up and fished
for a while, we returned to see if we could help out.
I never was one to run off with the rest of the youngun's
to play. I had rather hang out with the folks that were
cookin.' I would ask question after question, and usually
got answers. I still use those answers today. I do most
all the cooking at home.
One of the old men opened the pit for me to see inside.
There were two pigs that had been cut in half, right
down the middle. I, of course, had to know where they
came from and the old man explained why the "dawgs"
were so tired. They were "catch dawgs" and, with a
little help from a "bay dawg," caught the pigs the
previous night. Dang, no wonder they were asleep when
we arrived. The men would open the pit from time to
time and mop a liquid over the pigs. It was white vinegar
and water, a little honey, crushed garlic cloves and hot,
red pepper flakes, with salt and black pepper. I still
use that very mopping sauce today on my barbequed pork.
The wives of these old men began to appear from the
cabins. They were dressed in simple dresses made
from flour sack material, my mom made her casual
dresses from the same. The women were carrying pots,
bowls and Dutch ovens loaded up with potato salad,
baked beans, collard greens, swamp cabbage, you
name it, and it was there. The smells were incredible!
Around five in the afternoon, a light blue pickup
truck came around the corner loaded with crates
full of fresh, sweet corn. The farmer apparently
lived around there, and everyone seemed to know
him. Three crates of corn were unloaded and
carried to the shed. Number three washtubs were
brought out and filled with the ears of corn,
still in their shucks. An enormous amount of
salt was added and the tubs were filled with
water. The corn was allowed to soak, and the
old man apologized that the corn should have
soaked all night, but the farmer had forgotten
to bring it out. Old coffee pots, with the guts
removed, came out as the corn was added to the
grill. They stuck the corn everywhere there wasn't
pig. Butter was placed into the coffee pots, and
they were placed on gas-burner stoves that had
been set up out and away from the pits. When the
corn had cooked, the burnt shucks were pulled back
and served as "handles." The whole ear was dunked
into the butter, salted and peppered, then handed
off to waiting kids.
People were showing up from everywhere. Cars pulled
up, people brought more food. Bare light bulbs had
been strung around the area, and a few of the old
men were playing guitars, banjos and fiddles.
Hushpuppy batter was being mixed with fresh, green
onions, and then dropped into hot, hog lard. The pigs
were removed; one side at a time, and the meat was
pulled away from the bones, while another added
homemade barbeque sauce and mixed into the steaming
pork. Conversations could be heard, and laughter
would erupt from time to time, as bluegrass music
filled in the blanks.
It seemed to happen quickly. We had been there for
hours, but seemed like minutes. The food was being
served to maybe fifty folks. They all knew each other,
and the best part; we had been accepted into this
wonderful, festive gathering. I ate 'til I couldn't
breathe! That was the best!
Over the years I have hosted a few gatherings,
none the likes of the one on the lake. I often
thought about that camp on the banks of Cypress
Lake. I realized, even back then, the food wasn't
the important part. It was the gathering; the
fellowship of friends; a time to mingle and
catch up on all that had happened.
The three of us returned time, and time again;
the scene never changed. I haven't been back as
an adult. I've tried to find that special place
a few times when I visit back home. I have yet
to. But I would hope they still have those
wonderful parties; those gatherings.
See y'all next week... ~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.