If the old man knew he was being watched, he gave no sign. There was nothing special about him, nothing that would catch your eye. In fact, he was rather nondescript. His white hair was a little long, in need of a combing and his bib overalls were standard issue, Big Smiths or Oshkosh. Something about him caught my attention.
He settled on the same log he had been sitting on yesterday. It was positioned just right to allow him to lean back against the bent cottonwood. The force of the stream at full pool had slowly bent the trunk into an ideal backrest.
He stretched his legs out then fished in his bib pocket for something. Shortly, he came out with a can of snuff. I wasn’t close enough to see for sure but I thought it was either Garret or Tuberose. He quickly peeled a willow twig with a thumbnail, chewed on it for a minute, then, dipped it in the can and tucked it into the corner of his mouth. He checked his line just once and turned to look full at me.
“You been watching me for two days. I aint use to it. Might just as well come on over here and ast me what it is you awantin to know.”
Caught out, I had little choice but to comply. I propped my spinning rod against the log and sat beside him.
It’s not that I really want to know anything. It’s just that I have been watching you fish and got kinda curious. You come early in the morning with plenty of bait, catch maybe 20-trout and throw them all back but maybe one or two. Sometimes you bait one hook, sometimes two. I see you dip snuff but never see you spit. Everything you do is smooth but slow. I never see you hurry. I think I use to see you fish down around Betty’s Island when I use to float by in the boat. Now, you are up here.
The old man turned the handle on his Zebco one time. Then, he leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees.
“Hurry! I’m 78-years old. Whyinell should I hurry? That’s what’s wrong with the way you young fellers fish. Run from here to there, hurry up and cast, get the fish in quick as you can, hurry up and cast again and run some more. Dang foolishness.
What are you. Maybe 35 or 40? When I was your age, there wadn’t even a dam on this river. It was about the same level all year and it was full of bass, suckers, and cats. They wadn’t no trouts at all till about 30-year ago. Now, they is all you can catch.
See, the thing is, at my age, there aint that many places I can fish. ‘Rhitis has about got me where I can’t scull a jon-boat no more and I can’t ‘ford no fancy rig. So I fish off the bank and there aint that many places I can get to the water. So, I come here to fish.”
We watched the fog slowly blanket the river. The old man freshened his snuff stick.
“This here log, I knowed it as a tree. The river was a good two foot below the level it is now and this was a strong ole tree. Fortunate for me, I reckon, the river got ‘er in the flood of 84, I think it was. Makes a good seat for these tired old bones. This log aint agoin nowhere so I don’t reckon I need rush to get here. Stupid ole trouts, they’ll bite all day so they aint agoin to rush me none. Sides, I aint fishin here for fish anyways.
I buried Ella four year ago. Miss the smell of her baking biscuits and the rattle of that old washin machine. Find myself talking to her and knowin she aint there. Aint healthy. So I come here to this old log and pass the days of spring and summer. Days is long, aint no reason to hurry.
I fish with two hooks cause I don’t have to bait as often that way. When them slick ole trout is really bitin, I only bait one hook. You also might notice, was you to look close, they aint no barbs on them hooks. Makes it easier to turn one loose. I only keep the ones that swaller the hook and aint goin to make it. That’s most usually, only a couple or so. I don’t eat trouts. They’s a Yankee feller from up north somewhere that lives sideyard to me and he likes ‘em. Nice guy, he heired the place from his uncle but he aint no fisherman so I give em to him.”
The old man reached over and with a flip of his wrist, set the hook. He held the rod lightly in his left and reeled in a 15-inch rainbow. When the fish completely quit struggling, he gently lifted him out of the water and released him without so much as touching the fish.
“Aint hurt. He will do just fine. Prolly I’ll catch him again tomorrow. Stupid fish, them trouts.
Now. I been dippin snuff for nigh on 70-years. No sense in putting it my mouth then spittin it out. I still got all but two of my own teeth and for me; it is a little late to be worryin about cancer. What I worry about is winter.
In the early fall, fore it gets too cold, I squirrel hunt some. I surely love me a mess of fried squirrel with eggs of a morning. Don’t you? Sometimes, if it is a nice day and not too cold, I’ll deer hunt some. They come into the field behind the house now and then. But in the cold of winter, when it gets plumb missable, I can’t hardly leave the house. Those are bad days.”
The old man leaned over and pulled the tops of his socks over his ankle-high brogans. He wiped his nose with the left sleeve of his grey work shirt and paused to freshen his snuff stick. I took the advantage to study his gnarled hands and bent fingers. They showed the scars of a lifetime of farm work and cutting firewood. A life spent mostly outdoors.
“See kid, most of my friends are gone. I’ve outlived pert near all of them. What ones is left are getting pretty feeble. All my kids and grandkids have done moved off. One of them, my second daughter, Lucy, she wants me to come live with her and her man in Wisc-dam-consin. Now wouldn’t that be the pit of the peach? Me in the same house with a bunch of folks from up north! Pshaw! Good folks but still… Seems they is always in a hurry and they talk funny.
So, winters is bad. Can’t fish. Can’t hunt. Can’t work in my mater patch. Mostly I just read some old books and sometimes the Bible. So, I try to stretch these days out as much as I can.
Aint no need to hurry, got no place to go. No need keep many fish, nobody to eat them. No need to catch too many, gets to be too much like work and I aint got no need to spit.”
I wish now I had spent more time with the old man. I wish I had found out where he lived. I might have gone to visit him come winter. Maybe I could find him yet, take him some squirrels or a mess of catfish. It will be winter soon.
Maybe I had better hurry.
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