Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Dad would have been 95 today.

I always think of Rubber Band Trotlines whenever I think of dad.
And then I think about the time we set one up at Toledo Bend Lake when I was a boy.
Then I think of the old man I met down there, years later when I was grown , who told me of some of the legends around the lake, like the haunted bridge, and the bubbles of natural gas that attracted huge schools of crappie, and the giant catfish down there, big as Volkswagons.
But my blood ran cold as we stared into the fire and he told about a man and a boy who had caught hundreds of fish, here, right off this point one night on rubber-band trotlines.
It’s a creepy feeling, hearing something like that and knowing he is talking about you and your dad, and you decide to just keep it to yourself.

When the legend becomes a fact, just stick with the legend.

I don't know where Dad came up with a Canoe. Nor do I know where he came up with the "Rubber Band Trotline" either.
Twice a year my mother’s family would get together at Toledo Bend Lake. We would camp on an old road that now led to the lake in either direction. There was a dirt path wide enough for a car that you now used to get to the road.
Moms family was made up of Southern Baptists; and they were hardwired to the bone Baptists that did not believe in doing anything on a Sunday but go to Church. All cooking and shopping was done on Saturday. It was even against State law to buy anything on Sunday... the "Blue Law".

So it was during the fall get together that Dad, big Bruce and I loaded the Canoe and set out for a point and an Island, a good mile away where my Dad would show us how to set up a Rubber Band trotline. Actually, there were to be three.

Let me now describe the Rubber Band Trotline for you. First, you must find and aquire 1/2 inch rubber band stock that comes in 100 foot lengths {available at most Army-Navy Stores}. Then you need about 100 feet of Trotline with as many hooks as you can get on there.
Now double the rubber over to make fifty feet and attach to the trotline You now have 150 feet and you will need to find a stump approximately that far from the bank. Tie the rubber band to the stump and take the trotline to the shore. There should be a little tension on the line. And you should be able to pull the trotline all the way in onto the shore and bait the hooks. The increased tension, provided by the rubber band, pulls it back out into the water towards the stump. Tie it off on a green stick poked into the mud.

With my dad in the stern, Bruce stationed amidships, and myself in the bow with a quick "heave to" we glide from the safety of the firmament onto the glassy surface of Toledo Bend. My Mom, and Bruce’s wife have arrived to see us off. The look of worry on their face makes me wonder if "Edmond Fitzgerald" may be scrawled on the side of the Canoe.

'Stevie, are you sure you don't need a Jacket?".
"I don't think so mom, I'll be awright"

Its a sunny 76 degrees. I glance to Dad who has managed a thin grin. I watch as his cigar rolls from one side of his mouth to the other and the grin never changes. How does he do it?

"Bruce, you boys be careful out there!" shouts Jean.
Jean is the love of Bruce’s life. She is wearing white Clam-Diggers, a flowered top and a crazy straw hat. Looks like a cross between Betty Boop and Minnie Pearl.
"Aw, Jean, I've been doing this all my life" says Bruce.
"You be careful just the same"
"Yes, Mother" Bruce says. They have been married for years, have three kids, and his pet name for Jean is "Mother".

We arrive at our destination, midway between a small island and a point of land. We successfully tie off two of the rubberband trotlines. I am starting to get pretty excited, as is Bruce. My Dad was always coming up with pretty cool stuff and this was looking like a real winner.

Bruce is my dadas best friend,  about 6'5" and weighs in at a good 300 lbs and so far has been pretty good ballast for the Canoe. But when Dad asked for a knife (he had misplaced his) and Bruce stood up in the middle of the Canoe, there was real concern in dads voice as he said;

"Bruce, I don't think you should stand up in this canoe."
"Aw, I have been standing up in Canoes all my life, Jack!

I,  for one, was pretty certain that Bruce had never been in a canoe at all and that we would all soon be very wet.
Sure enough, we rocked once to the left then once to the right- I glanced at Dad who had that Cigar clenched in his teeth- and the canoe turned over and I found myself underwater, slowly rising to the surface.
Now I can see the sky and the bottom of the Canoe.
I can see Bruce break the surface and gasp for some air.
Slowly , very slowly rising to the surface, I see my Dad 's hat, then his nose, and then there is that Cigar. It's still clenched in his mouth and I see him give a few puffs, and there a little smoke, and then a few more puffs and PRESTO! clouds of cigar smoke. Its like magic! He has been fully submerged but that  cigar is still lit!

We made it to shore. We lit a fire from Dads cigar. We stripped down to our underwear and hung our clothes to dry. We heard the rumblings of motors and cars on a gravel road that led right up to us. It was my Mother and Jean and Mom's Southern Baptist Family. They had gotten word and come to check on us.

I am sure they would have stayed away had they known what we were not wearing.
Except for a pair of wet tighty-whiteys, Dad, Bruce and I are bare-beamed and buck naked.

The caravan of cars slowly parades by with those Baptist Bitter Beer faces gawking out the window.
Finally the car carrying Mom and Jean pulls up and stops. Jean climbs out of the car and hollers at Bruce "Just what do you think you are doing there Brucie Boy"
Bruce looks down at me and grins "Just tryin to get dry, Mother"
Jeans got her hands on her hips now and yells at Bruce "Don't you know you can't just take your clothes off any ol' where, light a fire and think you are going to get your clothes dry?"
Bruce looks down at me again and winks "Been doin' it all my life, Jean!"

Man, we did catch some fish that night.


West Texas Insomniac said...

This is, as my dad used to say, a whopper of a fish story. You had me tickled, then on the verge of tears, thinking about fishing with Pops. Good times, sir. This is already one of my faves. Thanks, brother.

bulletholes said...

I posted this way back in 2006. It was actually two parts. I put them together and cut it in half. Still could use about 200 words trimmed off. It would be better for it I think.
Somewhere I have a negative of a picture of my dad tying his line on in the back of a boat. You don't niotice at first, but he is wearing a suit and tie....with that cigar claqmped in his mouth. Always that cigar.