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It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It’s about 11:00 on a beautiful Tuesday morning. I’m sitting on my front porch enjoying a cup of coffee and a good cigar. The temperature just hit 60 degrees and there is not a cloud in a very deep blue sky. I love Texas in the fall.

I just finished writing my column for next Sunday and my computer is still raring to go. It must be the cool invigorating weather. Maybe I’ll write next week’s column as well. While waiting for the spirit to move me I got to thinking about the crisp fall days in southeastern Ohio—the idyllic days of my youth. On a day like today my friends Lurch and Lamar and I, would be trying to squeeze out the last bit of summer pleasure before we had to embark on winter’s pleasure, which involved snow.

I recall one fine October morning in Morgan County, Ohio, when we were about 13 or 14 years old, we decided to make one last effort to catch old Jake, the huge catfish that lived in Rastus Clodfelter’s pond. Rastus had inherited the 40-acre farm from his father and, in the process, took over the family business, which was making high quality moonshine. The farm was on the Malta side of the Muskingum River and had a very nice 6-acre pond that had been stocked with some really big Muskingum River catfish.

Although I don’t know for sure, I understand that in order to make moonshine you start with a vat of grain, add some high quality water and a bunch of sugar to make a mash. Let the mash ferment until the alcohol kills the yeast that causes the fermentation. Then you distill the resulting mixture so that the alcohol boils off and condenses in another vat (Rastus used a 55 gallon drum) and, voila: moonshine. When this process was finished, Rastus dumped the spent mash into his pond. Apparently the catfish thrived on the mash and grew to extraordinary size. Old Jake was one good example of the efficacy of this feeding technique. He was not only big, but seemed constantly happy, at least that’s what everybody said who ever saw him.

Lamar and I had both hooked old Jake who snapped our 20 pound test braided line like it was thread. On the day in question, we decided that we would up the ante. We found some trot line material that was about the thickness of clothesline. We tied on a 100 pound test wire leader and a hook that looked to be big enough to hang a side of beef. We collected a bunch of night crawlers that were about a foot long when they stretched out. We used a Clorox jug as a float. We were ready to take on old Jake.

We loaded our gear into our bicycle baskets and headed for the Clodfelter farm. It took us about 45 minutes to get there because most of the trip was uphill. Actually, when leaving Malta, everything is uphill. Rastus had an old wooden boat that his grandfather had built long before any of us were born. It was pretty rotten and, as usual, was filled with water. We bailed out the water and launched the craft. There were no paddles so we used old brooms to propel us to the deep part of the pond. We put 4 or 5 of the foot long worms on the big hook and threw the whole thing overboard. We attached the end of the line to an eyebolt in the front of the boat that at one time was an attachment for an anchor rope. We took turns watching the Clorox bottle float and bailing the water out of the boat—one float watcher and two bailers. The boat leaked really bad. (In southeastern Ohio, as in Texas, “bad” is considered to be an adverb although we didn’t talk about it much. Apologies to language person Nancy Wilson.)

Nothing happened for about 30 minutes except we were getting tired of bailing. Then without warning the Clorox jug just disappeared. Lurch was watching. One second it was there—the next second it was gone. Lurch was too surprised to say anything for a bit. During that “bit” of time old Jake decided that diving deep didn’t work well because the Clorox jug kept urging him to the surface. So he followed the path of least resistance and came to the surface and with a huge splash took off for the other side of the pond. Lurch was holding on to the front of the boat where the line was tied. The boat was very rotten, old Jake was very big and strong, and the front of the boat, with Lurch attached, took off after Jake while the rest of the boat containing Lamar and me stayed where it was—for about 8 seconds, whereupon it sank to the bottom of the pond. All three of us were good swimmers and weren’t in much danger. But it was cold and we weren’t at all comfortable. I treaded water for a moment to watch Lurch, who was being towed like a fallen water skier behind the Clorox jug that was behind old Jake. Then Lamar and I swam to the closest bank and watched the spectacle. Lurch appeared to be having a lot of fun although it was hard to tell for sure with all his screaming. To his credit he refused to turn loose of the board that used to be the front of the boat, at least for a while.

However, on his second pass by the bank where we were standing, Lurch gave it up. He let loose of the board and slowly swam to the bank. Lamar and I pulled him out of the water. We laughed because Lurch looked so funny and then cried because old Jake got away. But then we noticed that old Jake didn’t really get away. He was still hooked and swimming around the pond, albeit with less enthusiasm than when he had Lurch attached.

It was obvious we were still in the hunt. What should we do next? That will take some thought and planning and I’m out of space. I’ll tell you later how we actually captured old Jake and proudly transported him home to a hero’s welcome.