It’s the small things that make this time of year so special.
Small, maybe, but important things. The kinds of things we tend to take for granted, and far too often overlook, things like seeing rows of bright yellow daffodils standing tall on a sunny day and swaying in the breeze, and smelling trees full of sweetly-scented dogwood blooms, or biting into freshly-picked, plump, new crop strawberries.
There’s a universal wisdom and eternal optimism that resides in the daffodils and dogwoods and all of nature this time of year that serves to reassure; a comfort in the certainty that spring does indeed follow winter – and always will; a trust that a man can find a unique solace in, a surety that the possibility of better and brighter days really does lie ahead.
Spring is the sweet fragrance of a fresh new season on many levels blossoming right before our eyes, delivering upon a promise as old as man himself.
Because as any sage southern sportsman can tell you, when the dogwoods start blooming you best get your cane pole out because that also means the redbreast and big bull red-ear bream are beginning to hit their beds. And go ahead and spool up some new Stren on your Zebco too, because some of those big mama bigmouth basses are cruising around the shallows looking for a spot for their own little ones, as well.
I was pondering these and other thoughts the other day as I sat in an outdoor rocker beside my folk’s pond up in the Boykin section of Marlboro and watched my dad out in the boat doing a little fishing, catching a mess for a friend of his. Circumstances had kept me shore bound for that day, but that only allowed for the locks to open and a flood of memories to come washing over me.
In background, that old three-acre spring-fed pond was built, as I understand it, back in the 1940’s by my granddaddy, mama’s daddy, Guy Stubbs, and his help, using two-man crosscut saws to clear the timber and mules to haul the logs out, so it has been around quite a while. And I wish I had a dime for every hour I’ve spent on or around it. I can remember fishing around that pond as a mere child; I grew up fishing there.
As I got older, I was often taken up to my grandmother’s home in that area to spend time after school or during Easter break or summer – and I usually ended up at the home of Maggie Ross, the grandmother of my cousins Carla and Lisa McCormick, who lived just down the road a bit and just up the hill from the pond. Maggie’s house was a fun place to hang out, a true country home where something was always on the stove – her specialty for us kids was “ghoulash”, and something was always up. She was fun to tease and you could jump out from behind a door and scare her, a tough little woman with thick wire rim glasses who would in turn screech and holler and try to hit you – and then grin.
Her husband, Roy, who passed before I got old enough to know him, had been a master carpenter who also built custom cypress boats, so Maggie had outbuildings I could explore, plus a pecan orchard where I could hunt woodpeckers with my BB gun and lots of stuff a kid could do.
Not coincidentally, Maggie was also one of my favorite angler buddies of that time, and we usually seemed to find a way to find ourselves on a fishing expedition down to the pond. But fishing with Maggie wasn’t like your normal run-of-the-mill, let’s-go-get-some-earthworms-and-go-fishing, fishing trip. Nope…no way. You see, Maggie believed that if you really wanted to catch a bream, then you were kidding yourself if you weren’t fishing with catalpa worms. Turned inside out. Fresh, if possible, of course. But served frozen from a Dixie cup filled with water, if not.
But catalpa worms. Or pretty much just stay home.
And once she got to the pond she’d start what I guess would today be known as talking smack – to the fish – about what they were in for, how bad a “whuppin’” they were going to get, how she was gonna be “snatchin’ their lips off.” And it’d never stop. Every fish hooked, it seemed would be belittled with scorn for having gotten caught, “Ha! There’s that rascal!”…every one dissed for having fallen for the dreaded inside-out catalpa worm. Heaven forbid she have a fish steal her worm and be labeled a “durn bait snatcher,” or worse yet, then immediately be caught and lambasted with ridicule. And for goodness sake don’t let it be a turtle – or “terr’pins” – as Maggie called them; those things would make her have me haul the anchor aboard and move us along. She did hate a “terr’pin”.
Maggie was a trip.
But I’ll never forget that she would take time to take me fishing.
And I’ll be forever thankful that after I’d gotten older and Father Time had gained a few yards on Maggie, I had the opportunity to return the favor if but only a meager few times. And although her body was forsaking her and she shook so severely that the boat shivered, and her hands trembled so badly it was difficult to tell when she was getting a bite – and we didn’t even have catalpa worms to use – nothing really slowed her down. Maggie was fishing. And I think she enjoyed just being out there for the short time we were able to stay on the water. She even seemed at peace with the fish.
I treasure those recollections now. Because Maggie is gone. And we lost Carla and Lisa’s mom and dad, Allie and R.C., just last year. And to be honest, sometimes there’s a sadness, an emptiness, I feel when I visit the pond, a place I once sought out solely because it brightened my days and offered a refuge from the insanity of modern life.
Sad, but life happens. And we have to move on.
But we don’t have to forget. And it’s said that no one really dies if they leave us with fond memories, so tonight I’m feeling blessed reminiscing about all the love that I was shown on one tiny little patch of land over the last half-century, one tiny little dose at a time.
They say don’t sweat the small stuff.
I say Thank God for the small stuff.