I wish someone had left detailed directions for finding our family’s old fishing holes. There were so many, and each was within an hour’s drive of our home, located somewhere in that grassy rolling land between town and foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I do not know how my dad and grandfather knew of these places, nor do I have any idea if we even should have accessed them. But we spent many Saturday and Sunday afternoons playing in those rugged, rural hills that were covered with a sea of grass, where creaky old windmills, rusty water tanks, and an occasional cow or bull dotted the landscape.
Everywhere we went to fish, after parking our car on the shoulder of a deserted two lane country road, we proceeded with a routine that, at the time, seemed perfectly normal, but in retrospect must have appeared comedic in its circus-like precision and execution. Perhaps, it was the years of practice, or maybe my family was just particularly good at trespassing; I am not sure, but we were accomplished in maneuvering over, under and through any pastoral obstacle.
In those days, the places where our fishing holes were found were fenced with barbed wire. The challenge before us was to get beyond the barbed, rusty, metal strings of sharpness to the other side. With clothing, hair, and skin intact.
After all seven of us poured out of the parked car, much like an excess of circus clowns dislodging themselves from a too tiny vehicle, with my grandmother’s emergence the grand finale, we unloaded the trunk. Each of us had a pre-assigned burden to carry, based on age, gender, and strength; my dad passing our items out to us as we circled around the car, and then marched single-file to the fence.
Granddad carried the men’s fishing gear; next was my brother who had his very own rod and reel, plus a huge metal thermos of iced tea; then came my mother who carried the guys’ green metal tackle box and a thermos of water; my sister and I followed with our cane poles and containers of worms; Grandmother carried a large blanket and her sewing box; and finally my dad brought up the rear with the packed picnic basket.
The next part was the trickiest. We all got to the barbed wire fence, with my dad having passed the other six of us so he could be the first one over. I actually cannot recall if he hurdled it, or if my granddad assisted him with a foot lift over to the other side. Since I was further down the line, and usually concerned with keeping the worms in my container cool, or smacking my sister if she stepped on the backs of my shoes, I did not pay that much attention to his deftness in scaling the fence. But, I know he would set the picnic basket down, was on the other side in nothing flat, and then the real work began.
With my granddad on the road side and my dad on the enclosed side, they separated two middle strings of wire, stretched them as far apart as possible, and held them with feet and hands, while each of us first passed to my dad the item we carried, then bent over and stepped through. It was important we did this carefully, because we all knew a skin-breaking encounter with a rusty barb guaranteed an unpleasant trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot.
Having passed safely through to the other side, we reclaimed our poles and or boxes, and waited in a single file line for my dad and granddad to help our grandmother through. Because she was heavy, her size posed a little more challenge than the rest of us, but she always made it. After her, my granddad finally crossed over, with my brother substituting for him in helping Dad hold the wires. We all were safely on the other side of the fence, and resumed our march across the fields to the cool waters where fishing and playing awaited.
Once settled at our picnic spot beside a babbling creek, and having eaten a lunch of fried chicken and potato salad, the men, including my older brother, took off to fish in a quieter place. That left my mother and grandmother to sit and visit, while my sister and I ran around chasing dragonflies, picking wildflowers, or splashing in the creek. I know we never were still, nor were we quiet.
There was one Sunday afternoon when my sister and I were particularly wound up, and directing our overabundance of energy at each other. After several attempts to separate and quiet us, our grandmother finally told us to play in the water for awhile. I believe she thought the cool, babbling creek would quell the meanness and animosity we had been expressing with fists and unkind words.
Grandmother was a storyteller, and had a tale for every occasion. That afternoon, as we sat waist deep in the cool water, splashing each other in the face, and continuing calling each other names that I am certain were not acceptable on any day of the week, much less a Sunday, she told a story of a great fish who knew if children were good or bad, and fought instead of loving each other. It knew if children did not obey their parents or grandparents, and when all hope was lost, that large, scaly, gilled creature would scoop the naughty children up on its back and take them to a land far away, where they would have to stay until they learned to get along.
I knew she wanted us to learn from her stories, and once in a while they did make us think about our behavior. But not that day. We continued battling as we sat face to face in the creek, and hurled awful verbal insults at one another. I always believed my grandmother had a hotline to heaven and that day left no doubt in my mind, because it was during a very hateful barrage of nasty names I was calling my sister, we heard something louder and more vigorous than the babbling waters in which we were sitting. I stopped mid insult, and at the very same moment, my sister and I looked down to see the biggest carp I am sure had ever been witnessed by mankind swim right between us. Half of it was above the water, and it churned and thrust its body from side to side as it blasted through where we were sitting.
She and I screamed louder and longer than any two little girls had before in all of history, as we both shot to our feet, arms straight up in the air, running for dear life, as fast as we could, out of that creek, and away from the evil, childnapping fish. My grandmother and mother sat there on the creek bank watching the whole thing, and burst out laughing at the sight of the barely submerged fish swimming right between us warring girls, probably more alarmed than we were at the unexpected encounter.
They were in hilarious disbelief at what had just happened, and my sister and I were well over the grassy hill and half way back to the car, screaming all the way, before my mother could catch up with us, and bring us back.
We made it through another adventure that day, intact, and learned some valuable lessons. One was to always listen to our grandmother. She had strange, irrefutable powers, and I for one, did not ever want to see her words proved like the carp experience, again. Secondly, no matter how knowledgeable, in control, or entitled we might think we are, there always is someone or something else out there that can bring it all into proper perspective.
My advice? Listen to the words of wisdom someone is willing to share, learn and grow from them; do not carelessly shun their value. Why? Because, one never knows when a giant carp could swim right through the middle of our life, and take us to a place where the lessons will eventually be learned. I, for one, do not ever want to ride that carp to the land of correction.