Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

October 11th, 2004

The Old Fella Replies
By The Old Fella

Re: "The Old Fella" By Roger Emile Stouff, in "Native Waters," August 23, 2004

I don't like being in the spotlight, and I'm not in the habit of sitting down and writing letters to the editor, or any such thing as that. However, not too long ago some of the musing of a young writer and reporter for the local newspaper caught this retired old school teacher's attention. After nearly thirty years in a classroom a teacher recognizes real talent when it is seen. This Young Fella, Roger, has that something special. He is an articulate and knowledgeable wordsmith. His philosophy and the topics that he chooses to write about are things that caught my interest. It appears that somehow he and I seem to travel parallel paths. His writings had touched me and I had to e-mail him to tell him so.

I realized that he must get his share of kudos, as well as some innocuous comments from folks who don't have much to do with their time, including retired old school teachers. I didn't think that my comments would elicit an answer from him, however, I was happily wrong.

My greeting, "young fella," to Roger is a carryover from almost thirty years in the classroom. Old habits are hard to break. Conversely, he replies to me in kind as "The Old Fella." I do, of course, wear this title with a great deal of pride.

After a series of correspondence over a period of several weeks regarding our mutual interest of fishing and wooden boats, we eventually got together one morning for breakfast. I don't know if it was the scrambled eggs, the hash browns, or possibly that strong Louisiana coffee, but a true friendship emerged from that meeting.

It's a very rare experience to have someone put into print things that are part of a person's youthful memories. Roger's writings brought me back to my younger days when I tramped through swamps, traveled up and down levees and sat on the banks of bayous and sloughs to fish with Uncle Joe and several older cousins. Growing up, I preferred fishing to eating. I was hopelessly addicted to this sport.

The thought of Uncle Joe and I loading his rusty old black Chevrolet with bamboo fishing poles, water jugs, brown paper lunch bags, dirt encrusted tackle box, dented minnow bucket, tin cans of worms and a mess of crickets had escaped me for years. I also recall the heat, humidity and mosquitoes being unbearable in the early summer mornings of Louisiana back in the '40's and '50's. I also recall on one occasion when the crickets got loose in that old Chevy. We did some scrambling to round them up. Unfortunately the ones that we couldn't gather up serenaded us for weeks to come.

In those days we didn't have the luxury of a boat. All of our trips were short rickety rides down deserted, narrow, bumpy blacktop roads, lined with black-eyed Susans and ragweed that led us eventually to an unpaved side road where we kicked up a smoke screen of dust. The tires of that old car threw rocks and gravel unmercifully in all directions. The noise was unbearable. It was enough to wake up the dead.

After what seemed an eternity we finally arrived at the fishing grounds in the secluded woods of Washington Parish, Lock No. 3 on the Pearl River. We unloaded our gear and began a long, sweaty trek to the honey holes through the piney woods and thick under-brush of Southeast Louisiana. We carefully made our way along the red-yellow clay banks of the beautiful clear waters of this majestic river. This was the place where we caught many bass, bream, sac-a-lait, catfish and the occasional choupique. I saw many a weathered bamboo pole give up the ghost on good size bass, catfish and choupique.

Being the youngest member of the group I was always elected to carry tackle boxes, rods-reels, bamboo poles, water jugs and breakfast bags. I can remember on one occasion of being at the top of a levee and stepping on some loose dried pine needles. The result was that I tumbled down the thirty or so feet to the bottom without letting go or losing anything. Although I wasn't physically hurt, only my pride was bruised a little. We all had a good laugh.

I enjoyed the opportunity of listening to all the stories and other lies of my accompanying uncle and cousins. By the way, in Uncle Joe's breakfast bag was his favorite 6:00 AM snack: a can of sardines and one raw onion. This is not exactly the breakfast of champions, nor will you find these items on your local Mickey D's menu. Naturally I fished up-wind of him.

My breakfast, on the other hand, usually consisted of a deliciously thick bologna sandwich (with a touch of garlic), a vanilla flavored moon pie, and the requisite ice cold R.C. Cola. Southern gourmet eating at its best. To this day, the very taste of any one of these items stills brings back vivid memories of these trips.

Speaking of memories, I also can recall many a golden sunrise framed on a background of blue sky, dancing through the tall green pine trees. The smell of the fresh clean air that had the sweet fragrance of pine, intermingled with that of wild honey-suckle. The air was also filled with the sounds of the litany of nature: the shrill, high-pitched buzzing of cicadas, the humming of mosquitoes, the chirping of sparrows, and the grunts of wild pigs. Reality was present in the form of brown wood ticks and the ever-present water moccasins. I remember the red, juicy wild grapes of Louisiana muscadines. We all shared them whenever we could find them in season. There were days when I caught more memories than fish. The whole experience was almost religious. You could almost feel the presence of God here. This serene image has brought peace and consolation to me many times in the intervening years. This has been a mental retreat from the everyday world on more than one occasion.

Then one day out of the blue came the invitation: "Go fishing with me this spring," Roger wrote in an e-mail.

Time had caught up with me though, and I am now paying the price of my squandered youth. I was a two-pack a day smoker for over forty years. My constant companion these days, besides Mrs. Old Fella, is Brother Emphysema. I take life one day at a time, but this time the temptation proved to be too great to resist.

Being in the outdoors could possibly compromise my respiratory system. Consequently, fishing was something that I had not attempted in over a decade. This invitation came as quiet a surprise and I really was tempted.

"You're going to open up Pandora's Box," I warned.

Regardless of the consequences, I gave in and accepted Roger's invitation. So early one Saturday we headed out for a morning of fishing. A cool front had moved in the night before and made the weather exceptionally pleasant and almost Fall-like, except it was August which is extremely unheard of for this time of year in this part of Louisiana. We fished a short canal most of that morning, trolling down one side and then the other, repeating the process when we were done. Expertly the young fella fished his fly rod. He is really good at raising cane. I stayed with what I know best drowning worms. We caught a few small bream and a couple of catfish. I hung on to a six-pound cat, but lost it at the boat. Roger was trying to pump me up by saying that it was about eight pounds. He's that kind of guy. I appreciated the good thought. We also caught our limit of tree-fish and stumps. But that is all in a days fishing. As an added bonus, the dark-red juicy muscadines of early Fall were in abundance and they tasted as good and sweet to me now as they had so many years and so many thousands of miles long past.

Some things never change. Sharing these wild grapes and just talking, brought back so many good memories about long-ago fishing trips and missing relatives and friends that have gone on to their eternal rewards. These were thoughts that hadn't surfaced in my mind in over fifty years. They somehow gave me a deep sense of loneliness, but comfort at the same time. What a wonderful contradiction. That smell of sardines and raw onions is one that still leaves a melancholy lump in my throat. Hope you get your limit today Uncle Joe. Thanks Roger. I didn't realize how much I really needed this trip. I hope that this won't be our last trip together.

The world has been so caught up on materialism that it has forgotten the most important facets of living the immeasurable value of true friendships. The story of Damon and Pythias, whose names have become symbols for loyal friendship, is a reminder to us of that important principle. The most important and valuable things in this world are not things, but people!

Whether you are swinging an expensive fly rod with the world's cleverest fly, or still fishing with a bamboo pole with a grimy old worm, there is more to fishing than fishing. Enjoy the outdoors. Enjoy your life and share it with a very good friend.

Nick, you have a fine son here. He has a lot of you in him. You'd be proud of the young fella. ~ T.O.F., October 7, 2004

Roger adds, "Fall is just around the corner. The air is cooling, and the leaves falling. The bream and bass and sac-au-lait will be moving into the shallows again soon, and the old fella and I will be there to greet them. The truest treasures in life, as my friend noted, are those that cannot be quantified, cannot be tax-exempt or depreciated. Oh, and don't let him fool you. It was an eight pound catfish." ~ Roger

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