There was a time when we still had a real spring. It progressed slowly, the days slowly becoming, incrementally warmer and longer.
Not like it is now where we go from winter to summer with about three days of spring.
I was younger then, stronger, healthier with a lot more endurance and a lot less gray in my hair and beard. It was a time I sought a creek and a hidden lake. I had a boat I could load and launch by myself and it fit in the back of my truck. I had a big, good quality tent and all the equipment and knowledge required to camp in the back country for an extended period of time. It was also a time of which I seldom speak.
It was 1984
It was, in many ways, the worst year of my life. Jeanne and I after nine years of marriage and two children, had separated.
I lived part of the time in an apartment, part of the time at Cove Hollow Boat Dock on Center Hill and a great deal of the time, camping in the back country and boiling crawfish in Louisiana.
Jeanne and I got back together and have been together now for 44 years. I’m not sure what made me think back on that year, this morning. I am writing this at 2:30. I woke up about 30 minutes, ago in severe pain. It happens now and then, bad pain in my back and legs. So I sat down to write.
I was way back in the hills. It took nearly 45 minutes of careful driving to negotiate the steep hills and rutted road. It took a couple hours to get the camp as I wanted it-tent up, equipment and supplies safely stored, everything cleaned up and firewood cut.
By mid-afternoon, I was ready to explore.
Nestled among the hills and hollers one could find remnants of an old home place. As always, as I slowly walked by one, heading for the spring, I thought about who might have lived there.
There was always something about the place that made me feel uneasy. It was a gathering place for big rattlesnakes. I shifted the weight of the .357 Magnum on my hip and made for the spring.
The water was ice cold and the two 5-gallon buckets, heavy. The last of chores was complete. Time to fish. Floating Rapala on one rod, spring lizard on another. By sundown, supper was in the boat with a backup fish or two for breakfast.
I sat in the dark, no lantern lit and enjoyed the sound of the fire. It had been a good supper-fried fish, fried potatoes with onions, sliced tomato and ice cold beer.
Now I sat, glass in hand and began to count the number of times my resident whip-poor-will mocked me. At just over 400, I went to bed and slept. At dawn, I would again be on the water.
In 1984, I would often spend a week or more, alone on that hidden lake. Over the years, from that same camp, I killed deer, ducks, turkeys and caught hundreds of bass, shellcrackers and crappie. It was, to some extent, my second home.
I crossed the river at Natchez and then, took the back road across the swamp.
In 1984, the back road was paved and became Highway 28. As I sped along, I recalled how it was when it was just a mud track across the swamp. I was heading for Kingsville, LA, my boyhood home. There was a crawfish boil in the making.
Uncle Lloyd Dyess, Uncle Lester Paul and his son Happy, had the equipment loaded.
They were actually, no blood kin to me. I called them “uncle”, out of habit.
In less than 20 minutes, we were on the water of a swampy, lovely lake with five or six names, depending on who you asked.
Twenty-crawfish traps out, in two boats, we went fishing.
By mid-afternoon, we had over 100 pounds of crawfish in heavy salt water to shock and purge them and 30-something bass filleted.
The big crawfish pot was heating over the gas burner. It was time to rinse the crawfish and add the corn, potatoes, lemons and onions to the water.
The big skillets were ready for the fish, buttermilk/egg wash ready. Big bags of seasoned cornmeal for shaking the fillets, ready. Time for a drink and some stories.
More so than my biological parents, those two men raised me. It was to them I went when I needed my compass realigned.
My son’s middle name is Lloyd, named after Uncle Lloyd.
Uncle Lester and I fished together until he became unable to get around good in 2012. He passed away in 2016. Uncle Lloyd died in the late 90’s.
Back then, I drank often, and often, I drank too much. I quit on June 10, 2010. But when I look back on those days, especially the days of 1984,
I think most…I guess, of the hours I spent staring into campfires with good friends around me and a drink in my hand. I would like to have a couple of those days again…all except for the drink.
But I sure wouldn’t want to go through another 1984. Huh. Just came to me. With one exception, all of the people who got me through that year are gone.
Pshaw. Just memories of an old man. And next week, I’ll be 75.