When I reveal to people I have two older brothers, what I really want them to know is these two siblings are 19 and 17 years older than me. They were more like uncles.
This, however, did not keep me from worshipping them. What time I had with them was a luxury. I’d discover other heroes growing up like the Mick, Stan the Man and Hammerin’ Hank. But my true heroes have always been my big brothers, Howard and Jim.
They were known throughout our smidgen of Kansas as athletes, hunters and fishermen. To my recollection they never came home empty-handed.
I was on tippy-toe with arms outstretched toward adolescence when they off-handedly offered me the grand prize for my adulation. Jim was home from Colorado and was in a rash over “settin’-out-some-lines” up on Madison Creek (hereafter known as the Crick).
We stopped at the farmhouse to the west of the Crick and got permission to fish. “Permission” took almost an hour and two glasses of sweet tea. They had to discuss who was related to who and who got married, who died and where they are now, not particularly in that order.
On leaving the front porch we were told by the farmer to be careful not to “hook” any of his cows. A reference, no doubt, to an ominous line he used in the Fall when my brothers asked permission to hunt on the property.
We crawled back into Howard’s ’52 Bel-Air Coupe and straddled a two foot high green median of “somethin” grass down a two rut trail to a crossing of solid limestone well below Streeter’s Mill, our final destination.
It was here we would seine for crawdads and minnows to use for bait. We worked about a quarter-mile of the Crick to fill two minnow buckets with enough temptation for the catfish to come. To be honest, I was rather disappointed we didn’t get to start fishin’ right away. But I swallowed my discontent and kept both buckets at hand for them to fill.
We scrambled back into the Chevy and made our way another half-mile or so up just beyond an ox-bow in the Crick above Streeter’s Mill. It took us two trips to get all the trot-lines, limb-lines, and pole-lines down to the Crick’s edge. Howard had an old inflatable “canoe” of sorts, left over from WWII, we used to float all the paraphernalia down the Crick as we set out lines.
There were spots along the way that I and the minnow buckets disappeared from view. I’d just paddle with my feet until my head was above water and I could reach a shallower place in the Crick. Looking back on it, my brothers were so intent on their business I could have drowned and floated downstream before they turned and asked for more bait.
Lines all set, we drug our tired, sorry selves up the bank and walked back to the Chevy. I went to sleep on the way home.
Around midnight I had this dream I was floating down a river. I was at the mercy of the current and the flat-bottomed boat simply turned round-and-round at an alarming pace. I came to an inlet into a gigantic lake and saw a lighthouse off to my left. The light became brighter and brighter. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Rudely, manhandled really, I was awakened by someone shaking me. It was Jim and he was pointing a flashlight right into my eyes and telling me, “Get up Tenderfoot, we gotta run the lines.”
I slept all the way to Streeter’s Mill. We both walked and slid down the bank. The moon was high and we made our way to the bait buckets we had nesteled away in some underbrush in the Crick. The water seemed icy now. At line after line, there was “action”. We must have caught a dozen catfish. We rebaited the hooks that needed tending and went home with the largess.
Standing out back of the old outhouse, my brothers set up two saw horses with a couple 2/12’s stretched across to make a cleaning table. We skinned and gutted the fish, throwing all of it down a steep embankment; sure that critters would come along and have a feast.
Smelling like fish guts and the bottom of a Crick, I stepped inside the house and immediately went to bed, not knowing I would be put upon again around 6 a.m. to run the lines just after sunrise. Interestingly, we were allowed some breakfast of scrambled eggs, fish eggs on the side and toast. To this day caviar holds no interest for me. Things pretty well went the same as during the midnight foray.
After a couple of days of this routine, we had enough fish for a big fish fry. Friends, neighbors and relatives were invited to the old homestead. Energetically, my brothers revealed my every fault and foible during the trips to the Crick. Everyone loved it. It was then, I think, I discovered fishing with my brothers was so cool I was willing to put up with a bit of laughter at my own expense. I had become one of them.