Posted by: morrowsl | July 21, 2013

My Morning Cup – 7.21.13

photo(404)My father’s father was a fisherman.  Not the commercial kind, but the kind that fished for his supper.  My daddy was also a fisherman.  The kind that enjoyed the sport immensely and could put a fish or two in the pan for supper as well.  Both men loved to fish more than just about anything else, except maybe playing 42, and both pulled up stakes and moved to the water as soon as they were able.

My grandpa Ragland, or John Brown as he was known (family trivia here – he was named for the abolitionist; all of his siblings were named for famous people as well), was a gruff old man as long as I knew him.  He liked to chew tobacco and spit it in a Folger’s coffee can that sat, not between his green leather rocker/recliner and the wall of his living room, but on the other side of his chair where surely some unsuspecting kid’s foot would find it.  He loved Fritz Von Erich and “The Claw” and would argue till he was blue in the face that “rasslin is real”, cussin’ like a sailor at his black and white television.
Grandpa was a carpenter and I still know of at least one building in our hometown that he helped construct.

My daddy, Jack, was a mild-mannered kind of guy who smoked Camels without filters and drank coffee every day, several times a day, even when it was blister hot outside.  He loved to tinker with mechanical things, could do just about anything he set his mind to, made home-brewed beer well before it was socially acceptable to do so, had a surefire technique for catching crappie on a fly rod and a stinkbait recipe that kept the neighborhood dogs slobberin.
Daddy was a mechanic and I can’t find a trace of him anywhere in that town, no matter that I can see him in my memory on any street I turn down.

Grandpa lived to catch catfish.  He had trot lines stretched across the Brazos River at one of its wider points near Kimball Bend Park, and checked them daily.  He kept an aluminum v-hull in a boathouse on the river to ferry him back and forth between his lines.  At some point he started displaying the bigger catfish heads on the fence posts along the highway.  I think I would find that a bit too bizarre and at the least horridly morbid now, but back then it was just a sign that fishing was good!
Every photo album or box of pictures to be found on the shelves or in the closets of any family member will include at least one of Grandpa with a huge catfish or one of that boat filled to capsizing with kids.  Going out on the river with him was a thrill, especially if he was full of Schlitz.

When he retired to the river, John Brown set the standard for gatherings in our family.  Every one of us was expected to be in the headcount on Christmas Eve as well as the summer reunions on the hillside across the way from my grandparents’ house.  Those summer trips were usually the only vacations my family got.  While my friends were heading to exotic spots in The Rockies or Yellowstone or even the Gulf Coast, we’d be packing for a week’s stay in a little one room cabin on the Brazos River.  We’d all cram into Dad’s pick-up or, later on, the station wagon, and bicker and fight and sleep our way through the hour drive.  Down a two-lane highway past the field of communication antennas in Cedar Hill and the cement plant in Mansfield, turning twice in the small town of Cleburne, more two-lane highway then the road would open up some and start to curve until finally the “Little Red Trading Post” would pop up on the right and we’d know it was just “over the river and through the woods” to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  At the time I felt cheated.  But, looking back, I’ve come to realize that everything I know about my parents, grandparents, siblings, cooking, playing, fear, excitement, joy, sorrow, and fishing, I learned on those trips.

Daddy had a knack for finding fish when nobody else was catching them.  As a kid I was taught to sit still and wait for the fish to bite.  We were brain-washed into believing that they were just below the surface of the water and knew a snot-nosed kid was on the other end of that mono-filament line trying to entice them with a near-drowned minnow.  How many hours did I sit, hypnotized by the motion of that red and white bobber bouncing on the surface?  Eventually we got old enough to forgo the corks in favor of a segment of line threaded between two fingers, waiting on that gentle tug that signaled a bite.  I understand now that the lesson wasn’t to see or feel the fish biting, it was to be patient and quiet and still.  I would watch my daddy working his line in and around the brushpiles he’d made by sinking last season’s Christmas trees beneath the water, tied with rocks and opened cans of cheap dog food.  Sometimes he’d get hung up and lose his tackle, but usually he’d finesse the hook or lure through the obstacles he couldn’t see and suddenly the pole would bend and a shiny silver fish would break the water’s surface.  The lesson was perseverance.

Back at the cabin, Mom would fry fish in one iron skillet and potatoes with onions in another, make cornbread and open a can of pork-n-beans, pull a jug of sweet tea from the little fridge along with pickles and green onions and maybe some lemons.  We ate till we were stuffed and fell asleep in the cold damp air of the swamp cooler, sunburns just beginning to itch, to dream of swimming in the dark cold of a deep channel river.  The lessons were being happy with what you have and making do.

As the years went by I learned to fish the way my dad fished.  Minnows gave way to jigs.  I never learned how to “see” under water like Daddy seemed to, but figuring out where the fish hang out became the object of the game and all those years spent being patient and quiet paid off.

My grandparents eventually moved back to town and are now buried next to each other in a little cemetery that overlooks a wide paved road.  I can’t imagine either of them is happy about that.  Mom and Dad retired and spent twenty years on the lake that was formed when the Brazos River was dammed up back in the early 1950s.  My kids had plenty of good summer fun there and I hope it was enough.

For me, any chance to get back to that water and spend even an hour with a jig is a little slice of Heaven on earth.  If I can manage to have my family along, even better.  If we can spend a few hours eating our catch and watching the sun go down over the lake, I can almost be transported back to age ten, sitting in a lawn chair, shoulders stinging and hot, mosquitoes singing in my ears, the lights from my grandparents’ house just visible over the next hill and the sounds of my parents packing the car for the trip back home.


  1. Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Yours are the only blogs I read. I have to admit for other people if their posts are more than 2 sentences long, (Don’t read). Love you. Karen

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