Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

January 17th, 2005

Proper Piddling

Many times I read the FAOL forums and see discussions titled "Show Me Your Fly Tying Area" or the like. Usually I feel slighted, since I don't tie flies, or very rarely, at least.

But there is a room of the house that I have designated my "piddling room" and lots of fishing related activity occurs here. So today I thought I'd give you a little glimpse of this area of the house where proper piddling is of utmost importance. It is winter, after all, the waters here are muddy and high, thus I'm not doing a whole heckuva lot of fishing to write about!

The Stouff men were expert piddlers, one and all. They could piddle with the best of them. It was almost unheard of to see one of them just sitting there. Even if they were watching television, they were piddling with something. Dad would be stringing up a guitar or tying leather into a strap for a war club he had made; my grandfather would be sketching plans for his contracting business or repairing a temperamental Zippo. They were piddlers par excellence, and I try my best to keep the tradition alive.

It's a small alcove off the living room of the old house. My grandfather built in the 1940s as a guest room. Tiny as it is, there was only room in it for a bed and two nightstands on either side, against the rear wall. Many a night did I spend in that little room as a youngster, spending happy "staying over at granny's" weekends with the old folks who lived here.

When I inherited the house in 1997, I set about reconstructing it. It was built in the 1840s, a small Cajun cottage-style structure of cypress. Decades of haphazard renovations, including the most recent and obnoxious one in the 1970s, had raped it of much of its character. I set about trying to make the old place look "traditional" insofar as I could, while keeping it as comfortable and useful as I could. Painted sheetrock is being replaced by real wood covering, or quality traditional looking paneling at least, varnished crown molding, wainscot, beadboard ceilings in the kitchen, the works.

Along the way, I decided that since I live alone at the moment, and there are three other bedrooms in the house including the attic which was converted into a big room many decades ago, I would use the alcove off the living room for my piddling room. As I was renovating it, I removed the old built-in bed and night tables. You can still see the outline on the floor where the bed was. Behind one of the frameboards of the windows, when I pulled them off to remove 60 years worth of paint, my grandfather had penciled "E.A. Stouff, 1946."

Let's start in the foreground, then. To the left is my father's old Kay guitar. He purchased it right after he got out of the Army after World War II to replace a battered Gibson that had accompanied him all over Europe. It's a jumbo, what my dad always called a "dreadnought" guitar, and for my entire life it sat in the corner of the big, corner-fitting sofa in our living room. It was always at easy reach should the mood strike him to play. My father was an accomplished musician on nearly any instrument he picked up, and could wail blues, country western and bluegrass with the best of them. His favorite artist was the ol' blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers. You couldn't walk through our house when I was a kid without tripping over a guitar, but like we say in fly-fishing, the Kay was his "go to" guitar. I don't play much, just a few chords, though I can get through "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in its entirety, over and over again until you run screaming in agony into the night. That's one of my fishing hats on the key head.

In the center is an old porcelain-tin-topped table my grandparents had that I rescued from the shed outside, reconstructed, and use for proper piddling. The boxes atop it were also rescued from here and there, one needed to be reglued. These hold my fly-tying stuff, so little as it is, tools and the like. You can just make out a little Cabelas fly tying vice in the front, too.

Most prominent on the table is a bamboo fly rod on a rod turner. It's a little project Montague I picked up, and the butt section was receiving it's third coat of varnish at that time.

To the rear wall, on the left, is a rack of spin and casting tackle which you'll kindly pretend does not exist, thank you very much. They require more dusting than anything else in my piddling room, if that makes you feel any better.

To the right is my fly tackle. You can see the tubes there in the rack, and my bag on the floor. All at easy reach, as is necessary, in case I suddenly get the urge to go fishing. I just grab the rod of my choice, stick it in the side holders on the bag, and I'm out the door.

Now in the center is what I'm sure many of you are wondering about. All the things there are atop a deep South huntboard that I made about four years ago from recycled antique Douglas fir. A huntboard, from what I understand, is similar to a sideboard, except that it stands on six spindly legs. It was placed just inside the doorway of the southern plantations, filled with glasses and liquor, so that when the men returned from the hunt they could stop for a drink while taking off their boots and not muddy up the rest of the house. I am sure the fishermen of the plantation era did the same, so it fits very well in my piddling room.

Atop my huntboard at the center is the only one of the piece pipes my father made that I have left. He made many of them during his time as a Native American craftsman, and my grandparents operated a little crafts shop out of this old house for decades where they sold his work and their own. My father personally presented one to each governor of Louisiana at their inauguration for more than 25 years of political history. When the famous Gov. Edwin Edwards received his the first time he was elected under intense media coverage, his office sent a thank you letter to dad, noting that "despite what was reported in the New Orleans newspaper, the Governor is quite aware that Chitimacha is not an African American Mardi Gras group." Dad got quite a kick out of that. I built the case for the pipe from pecan, mahogany and western red cedar. Another of my fishing hats sits atop it.

To the left and right are some of my father's other crafts I hung onto: A carving of two doves entwined like lovers, a ceremonial drum, and a violin. Dad made many violins, too, ornate and wonderful in tone. There are a few other items up there not his, like the crystal sailboat my gal gave me.

Inside the huntboard, in the center drawers, are more of his things that are somewhat private, not for public display except to chosen few. I won't go into details, but they include his medicine bag, ceremonial fan and the like. To the left behind the door are five Chitimacha split river cane baskets ranging from the late 1800s to the 1940s, made by my grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-great aunt. See, my people were always comfortable with cane! Behind the right door are more tools for working on rods and such.

The frames to right and left are just some fly fishing prints I picked up from Ebay, but the center is a carving my father fashioned of a stallion looking over his herd down in a valley. I remember him working on it when I was a kid. The little horses down in the valley had to be so small he would drop them while working and lose them forever on the dirt floor of his workshop. After cussing for half an hour or so, he'd start on another. There are about six tiny horses in the carving, but he must have lost two dozen more.

So this is my piddling room, the place where proper piddling is done. I can open the blinds and let sunlight stream through, or watch rain fall from the roof like the memories surrounding me in this little sanctuary. Sometimes at night I piddle there, oiling a reel or tying on a new leader, with just that green lamp on the table burning. Beyond the front of the desk, in the shadows of the living room, I can almost see my grandfather in his old chair, leaning back, carefully working with pencil and slide rule, my father sitting on the sofa, crafting beaded wrapping for a peace pipe, and my grandmother weaving split river cane into a water-tight basket. I am in the proper company. This is proper piddling. ~ Roger


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