We got up early on the day of the fishing trip. Grandma was making sandwiches for us, and the neon light in the kitchen woke us up. Spam was the order of the day. It was one of Grandpa’s favorites. For him, the only thing that compared to spam was fried bologna. However, spam really wasn’t a cut of meat. Although the label on the can said it was made from the “finest cuts of chopped shoulder pork,” for my brother and me, it was one step away from eating fish bait. We called it “mystery meat” and were convinced that it had to be made from the leftover bits of pigs’ feet, snout, lips, intestines, tongue and connective tissue, and it all held together like Jello.
Lake Odessa was about an hour from the house. When we arrived it was still early, but the temperature was on the rise. Grandpa and Clarence backed the trailer down the boat ramp and put the boat into the water. While Clarence parked the car under the shade of a tree, Grandpa fired up the outboard motor, and within minutes we were on our way to Bullhead Flat, a spot on the lake where the fish would jump into the boat. I was in the front of the boat and my brother sat directly behind me, next to grandpa. Clarence sat in the back. Once we got the anchor set, we were ready to put in. My brother turned to Grandpa and said, “Bait me up!” which is what we always said to Dad when he took us fishing. Grandpa however said, “No! Everyman baits his own hook” and he handed my brother the cup full of night crawlers.
The waves of fear and shock ran through me like the waves on the lake. The Styrofoam cup live, crawling slime, and it was too horrible to look at. My brother pulled out a worm and handed the cup to me. I imagined a mass of live intestines, spaghetti made with miniature snakes and bird guts slithering around in a bowl, exuding milky-white slime, fighting and squirming, twisting and turning, wiggling in their own muck and ooze. The cup of night crawlers was worse than those half-eaten birds and rabbits that our cat brought home and deposited on the living room floor. It was as if the worms knew their fate: once they were pulled from the nice cool soil, they would be impaled on a sharp barbed hook and thrown into the water. These little monsters would fight to the end, squirming, twisting and turning, doing anything to escape the inevitable. And, when it was over, their bodies writhing in pain, our hands would be soaked with worm’s blood.
My big brother, in the throes of anxiety, gritted his teeth, built up his courage and declared loudly, “I’m going to do it!” His voice echoed across the lake, and two fishermen in a boat across the lake, recalling their own first experience, turned their heads away so not to watch. My brother groaned and grunted until he had skewered the helpless worm on the hook. For my part, I went deaf to my surroundings. There was nowhere to hide. If my big brother had done it, I had to do it, too. I tried to be as quiet as possible so that Grandpa and Clarence wouldn’t know that my skin was crawling and I felt like vomiting.
Once the ordeal was over, I took my rod and reel and casted my line as far out as I could and we waited. The longer we waited, the hotter it got. Clarence kept himself cool by sipping his beers in the back of the boat. After a few hours, he stood up and said, “I’m going to do something I know more about than anyone else in this boat.” He balanced himself carefully, stood up, turned toward the shore, and took a piss into the water. As he stood up, the boat shifted and his favorite rod and reel slid across the seat and went right into the water. I thought a fish had taken the bait and pulled in his favorite rod and reel was gone. Not to be outdone by a fish, Clarence grabbed his second rod and reel, put a treble hook on the line, and spent the next couple of hours dragging the bottom of the lake. He managed to snag two other fishing poles from the bottom, but his favorite was gone.
To be continued…
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle With Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=813
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I grew up a block away from two lakes in Lake County, IL, and I spent most of my summers as a kid near, on, or in those lakes, with roughly half of that time spent fishing. My sister and I would wet the yard early in the evening and at night we’d slink around the yard with flashlights and catch dozens of slick, meaty nightcrawlers (a few would always break in the capture), keeping them in a Folgers coffee tin. If I didn’t have nightcrawlers, it was nothing to sink the shovel in the backyard and find plenty of worms in the rich black soil. (When I sink the shovel in our New Orleans backyard I find bricks, cement, glass and clay and nary a worm). Even as became something of an expert at hooking worms, on some level it always disgusted me.