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On the River

Copyright (c) 2000, South Knox Bubba, All Rights Reserved

When I was a bubba minnow, my Dad gave me a really nice little rod and reel outfit for my birthday. It had  a Mitchell 300 reel and a Gateway Sporting Goods Custom Special rod, and a little tackle box with hooks and sinkers, a few bobbers, and some Doll Flies. He taught me how to cast it out in the back yard one Saturday afternoon. Then he dug up some worms and took me down to Ijams Park and we caught a bucket full of bluegill. It was the greatest time I'd ever had in my whole life.

After that, every chance I got I went down to the boat dock behind Buck Giffin’s to fish. My Dad usually couldn’t go with me, because he had to work a lot. My mom didn’t like me hanging out around the boat dock, because there were “undesirables” around there, “river rats” she called them. They lived in floating homemade shacks made out of old signs, plywood, and tin roofing, perched on old oil drums tied together to keep it all afloat. They tied their “houseboats” up to the banks of the river and were very poor, and some of them drank a lot.

There was an old lady, Mrs. Brown, who was there all the time. No matter how early or how late you came, there she was. She had a lawn chair, a really big tackle box, several rods and reels, and she always had a big old Hill Bros. coffee can full of freshly dug redworms from a worm patch she cultivated with table scraps and coffee grinds.

We talked a lot about things, but mostly about the river, the different types of fish in the river, and the different types of people on the river trying to catch the different types of fish in the river. She always gave me redworms because I wasn’t very good at finding them. She kept three or four lines in the water all the time and always caught lots of fish. Any time I caught a fish, I would always give it to her. She lived in one of those houseboats and I think she needed the fish to eat.

One summer I went away to camp for a couple of weeks. When I got back, the first thing I wanted to do was go fishing down at the dock. When I got to the dock, she wasn’t there. I kept going for many summers and never saw her again. I missed her.

Then I grew older and got married and moved away. One day during a visit back home, I took my wife down to the boat dock to show her where I had spent many wonderful hot summer days getting sunburned, catching fish, jumping in to cool off, and talking to Mrs. Brown. I’m not sure my wife quite understood the attraction, but she humored me.

An older man and a little boy were there fishing at the end of the dock. We walked over and asked them if they were catching anything. They said they had caught a couple of little drum and a catfish. We started talking, and I mentioned how I had fished there a lot when I was a young boy. I commented that it was nice to see someone taking a kid fishing, and asked if it was his son.

“Oh, he’s not my son”, he said. “I never had any kids. I’m a Big Brother, and this is my Little Brother, Mike. We come down here from time to time to go fishing and talk about life, the river, and things like that.” I had always liked the idea of the Big Brother program, so I asked him how he came to get involved.

“You know, it’s funny you should ask. It started a long time ago just down the river from here with this old lady, Mrs. Brown was her name. I was a paramedic, and we got called down here after a really bad storm one day. This old lady’s houseboat, a floating shack really, had gotten loose from its mooring during the storm. It drifted down the river a ways and got hung on a snag about 30 yards out. She didn’t have a motor, so she was trying to push the houseboat off the snag and paddle in to shore. Apparently the exertion was too much, and her poor old heart gave out. Someone on shore saw that she was in trouble and called the rescue squad who called us. She was still alive when we got her into the ambulance, but she didn’t make it to the emergency room. On the way to the hospital, though, she kept motioning for me to take the oxygen mask off like she wanted to tell me something. Finally I did, and this is what she told me.“

“She said ‘My old heart is plumb give out and I don’t think I’m going to make it. There’s this fellow up at the forks of the river that lives in a houseboat near marker five. His name is Rodney. I want you to make sure that Rodney gets all my stuff and my boat. He was a good friend to me and he could use some help.’”

“I promised I would find Rodney and make sure he knew that she was thinking of him and wanted him to have her things. Then she told me one last thing.”

‘Also, there was this odd little boy that used to come fishing at the dock with me. Dougie, I think was his name. He wasn’t much of a fisherman, but he was always nice to me and talked to me and was a respectful young man. I want you to make sure he gets one of my fishing rods to remember me by.’

“Those were pretty much her last words. They couldn't locate any next of kin, so a few days later I made arrangements for the sheriff’s river patrol to track down Rodney and deliver the message and the old lady’s stuff. I kept one of the rods, and went down to the boat dock and asked around for this Dougie kid. I went down there two or three weekends in a row, but I could never find him. So, I kept the rod, and figured I would find some kid who could use it.

"Not long after, a good friend approached me about being a Big Brother. To make a long story short, this is the eighteenth year in a row that I have brought a Little Brother down here to the river and taught him to fish with that rod. If they take a liking to it, I take them down to K-Mart and buy them a nice little rod and reel  outfit. I don’t know if old Mrs. Brown  would be mad at me for not finding that Dougie kid, but I am pretty sure she would find lots of peace in knowing how many kids she has made happy with that old rod and reel.”

My wife and I had a long, quiet ride back to the hotel.

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