I was the last chance.
My folks were the parents of three teenage daughters when, out of the blue (or pink?) I came along. Another stinking girl. I have mental pictures of my dad, age 47, going from the hope of hearing “it’s a boy!!” to “oh, well”.
I was the last chance for him to have a boy to hang out with and enjoy time together. A son, a kindred spirit, a little Benton. He had three teenage girls. Just wrap your brain around that fact for one moment. At least once a month you KNOW my dad wished he had sons.
No complaints were spoken to me, though. Daddy embraced me as his trusty sidekick in all things Benton. He worked in his wood shop, I “worked” in his wood shop. “Can I stand by the wood stove, Daddy? It’s so pretty and warm.” He did carpentry jobs in other people’s homes, I handed him tools and gave him valuable advice. “Let’s go home. It’s hot in this house”. He took me to work with him in his large Caterpillar road maintainer from time to time. “But you can’t go in the Engineer’s office, Bunny. He has nasty pictures on his wall calendar.” Thanks, Daddy.
And then the fishing, oh the fishing.
We river fished a lot, setting and running lines. The best bait was live crawdads. So of course when it came to preparing for our river fishing, I asked where you buy crawdads. “You don’t buy bait, Bunny. We dig worms in the yard, and we get crawdads from creeks and small streams” Okay. Let’s go.
So I assisted my dad on the hunt for crawdads one time. Just once. I would imagine that Dad’s other fishing buddies were not available to help him with this task. Why else would you drag a clumsy 11 year old girl with you?
Though I was/am not a frilly girl, I didn’t have appropriate attire for the task ahead of us. Anyway, that’s what Dad told me when I appeared at the old ’48 Chevy truck in slacks and a blouse and thin soled shoes.
My dad was small in stature. I don’t know his exact height/weight, but by the time I was in sixth grade we were about the same height. Like, 5′ 3″-ish. Being a little on the pudgy side, my weight might have been not too far from his either.
As a result, the decision was made that I would wear one of his bib overalls. And, his work boots. Did this clothing selection seem awful to me? No, no it did not. In fact, eleven year old me thought it was great fun. The fit was loose over my slacks and blouse, but I embraced the opportunity to wear Daddy’s clothing. The boots weren’t terribly large either.
So we headed out to a spot east of town on the Wells road. Probably about half way to Wells there was a railroad bridge with a smallish stream running under it after a big rain. We parked the truck and my journey to crawdad harvesting commenced.
Dad pulled a large, probably 8 foot netted seine from the back of the truck. I’d seen the seine before in action from afar, never really knowing how it worked. But I was about to find out. Yes, I was.
Dad visually assessed the two sides of the stream and determined which side was best for his little Bunny girl to work the seine. “Take the west side, it looks like less vegetation and mud.” Okay. Then what?
Brief training by dad was given, and I was assigned to hold the wooden edge of the seine while he held the opposite wooden edge on the opposite side of the stream. Then we would simply submerge the netting and walk along the stream, dragging it easily under the railroad bridge where we would then harvest a hopefully large crop of crawdads for his live bait container.
It wouldn’t be necessary to be in the stream at all. That’s what dad led me to believe.
Right away I learned that the seine was heavy once submerged in the water. I struggled to hold the wooden part partially upright while keeping the netting in the stream. “Just try your hardest, you can do it. I’ll be on the other side doing the bulk of the work. All you have to do is hold on and walk the same direction as me”.
We plodded along, me struggling with the net. Periodically I would step into a cow print. You know, where cattle step in mud and leave a large hole. But with dad’s sturdy boots, it was in and out quickly for the most part.
Until I stumbled. And fell. Not into a cow hoof hole. No, into something much more insidious and nasty.
A cow pattie. A
large humongous cow pattie. Fresh. Gooey. Utterly disgusting, even for a non-frilly girl.
Dad seemed unfazed by my condition and watched as I very quickly stood right back up out of that smelly pile of manure. Pretty remarkable feat for a pudgy girl with little to no athletic skills.
Though the lower half of me was covered in poop he told me to plod on and we’d deal with it at the end of the stream. Which seemed really awful to me, but I obeyed his instruction.
There at the end of the stream was a boom harvest of live crawdads. I was in non-frilly tomboy heaven picking up the large wonderful fun crawdads by their bodies while avoiding their impressive scary looking pincers that were in perpetual motion, trying to find something to pinch. Daddy had taught me that even if they pinched, it didn’t really hurt. I learned from experience. No big deal. I was so ecstatic that I forgot about being covered in repulsive feces from the waist down.
Dad instructed me to wash the poop off as well as I could in the stream water. The muddy stream water. Which I did. We returned to the truck with our full live-bait container and wet seine. Undoubtedly we reeked. Everything about fishing involves a certain amount of stink. Add cow manure to it and you get an exponential increase in gag-inducing emanations.
But mission accomplished. Bait for river fishing. Not without bumps and bruises and trials and tribulations. But, yes, mission accomplished.
In my mind’s eye I can see my Dad sitting behind the wheel of the old green ’48 Chevy pickup as we drove away, with one arm resting on the open window next to him and one on the steering wheel. He would be looking straight ahead and humming loudly, a sound that sounded like a brass instrument. I loved the sound. I sat on the bench seat right next to him. My “name that tune” skills would identify the song he was humming. “Side by Side” was a favorite. “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny. But we travel along, singing a song, Side by Side” Often I would start singing the song he was humming.
A 58 year old man with his 11 year old daughter. Not son, daughter. One last chance for a son turned into a girl whose best days, best memories, involved sitting next to her Daddy in an old pickup. Side by Side.
Why did I name this post “Through”?
Right now at this particular time in history I’ve got to be honest. I’m sick of the pandemic. Sick of Coronavirus. It seems like perhaps we’ve fallen into a massive, immeasurable pile of cow manure and we’re stuck. Struggling to endure something that has turned into a nightmare.
But yesterday in church the pastor said these words: “Nothing happens to us that hasn’t been filtered through the hands of God.” And then he said God will carry us through every single dark time, every single bad chapter, in our lives. He promises to not leave us. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. ” Ps 23.
And the memory of this crawdad hunting event has been on my mind lately as I’ve been actively choosing to seek out good thoughts, good memories, anything to distract my mind from The News and the gloom/doom that would love to pervade our minds.
Yes, a memory of being covered in bovine feces is better than thinking about COVID-19. 😂
God provides a way through every difficult season. Count on it. In the words of my father: “All you have to do is hold on and walk the same direction as me”. Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, Father God.