One of the hardest things to learn in life is how to be a grownup. We teach our kids, but we don’t let them hang around when it’s just the grownups talking. We’re afraid somebody will say something inappropriate, maybe. Or they’ll get bored and we’ll all have to set our own conversation aside to keep them entertained.
I now think that’s a mistake. Hanging around other kids was fun, but it didn’t teach me a thing about being a grownup. But twice a year, the men who counted money at Woodlawn Baptist would slip away for a weekend of fishing at George Norton’s place on Lake Martin.
Dad had pulled me out of school early (much to the disapproval of Minnie Holman Elementary Principal Sam Green) for the annual Count for Christ Sunday School Class of Woodlawn Baptist. (Mr. Green warned Dad that it was an unexcused absence. Dad just said he didn’t care, and that was that. If he wanted to check me out to go fishing, he’d do it, and he did.)
For a couple of years, I was the only kid on the outings, and the men accepted me because I was around them a lot. They let me fetch rubber bands and such every Sunday morning while they were counting the money, which suited me because it got me out of my own Sunday School class. I knew them all well. Earl Brown, father of Anne, one of my sister Linda’s best friends. And Bob Bowden, whose son Bobby I never met because he was already grown up and working somewhere as a football coach. George Norton, of course, Johnny’s dad. Hoy Taylor, who worked at City National Bank and gave me my first loan when I got married. John Urquhart, owner of John’s Photo, and his grown son, Johnny. Dad spent the last years of his career working for the Urquharts.
We’d pulled in an hour or so earlier and gotten our sleeping bags into the cabin, and somebody was cooking on the grill. One of the men threw a T-bone on my plate and I thought he was kidding. We didn’t eat steaks at our house for some reason, and I assumed the steak was to be divided among others. But nope, it was mine.
Dad just winked and said, “eat up.” I’m pretty sure I ate the whole thing, along with a big baked potato. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a piece of meat more.
Late that night (maybe in the wee hours of the morning) came the second “first.” Around 10, we took three or four boats out onto the lake, dropped anchor and tied the boats into a circle. The men brought everything they could get their hands on that would shine, and they hung it out over the water to attract the crappie. We probably had five or six Coleman lanterns strung out over the water, and a few “sealed beams” (basically, headlights) sticking down in the water.
We all reached down into the minnow bucket for a shiner and baited our hooks, fishing just off the bottom. The fish came quickly enough. And they kept coming. And the temperature dropped.
And dropped some more. Soon, I was shivering, and praying that I wouldn’t catch another fish so that I wouldn’t have to dip my hand into that cold bucket of water for more bait. One of the men noticed me shivering. “This coffee’s nice and hot, little Carter.” He turned to my dad. “How about it, LK?”
Dad smiled a bit and nodded, and he offered me a cup. It was black and bitter, but I didn’t care. It was warm, and drinking it made me feel like a man.
Those little fishing trips were always a time to learn – about fishing, of course, but also about life. They have me a concentrated couple of days when I could see how grownup men interacted, and that may have been the most useful learning experience of my life.