of the timbered land lived an always uncertain future as the banks of the
muddy Salt Fork River were subject to crumbling into the ever moving
waters. On occasion during spring rains giant pecan trees were dropped
into the raging floods as easily as a child's straw plopped up and down in
an icy cold drink glass. The up rooted major trees rolling and tumbling
along the depths of the swirling eddys made a statement as to its power.
On the other hand when again the slow stream was quiet and moving gently
along there was nothing as peaceful. The large wide sand bar there became
a place for weiner roasts, picnics and a play ground for their family.
In an isolated shack of a
house at the beginning of the timber an elderly old hermit like man lived
and we shall call him Tom, for in fact, this was the only name they knew
for him. Tom was probably, close around the age of 79. However, if one had
to guess his years they would say more to fifty or fifty five years. He
was muscled in about his arms and chest with a leanness telling of the
good life he had lived. He was a small crop farmer and committed no crimes
against his body. One never saw a lamp lit in his little shack. He was in
bed before the dusk of evening turned to darkness.
Tom had fished the river in a
small boat in many different ways, once with nets, another time with rod
and reel, still another time with a poled gaff looking something like a
devil's pitch fork all set with sharp prongs not to allow a fish to slip
off once he had thrown it and pierced the darting creature.
Like a hovering good angel he
always seemed to be in and around the area of the wandering meandering
river and the family with their children who lived across the road from
him. The children were advised and warned of the dangers of the lands so
they were inculcated with the need to exercise care in the way they lived
there. They knew when they lifted the large melons from their place on the
vine it was necessary to roll them over first, carefully. Sure enough
under each melon was the large black spider with the red hour glass on it.
The water mocassin snakes were as deadly as any prairie rattler even if
they did keep to themselves in the edges of the river. Even when the river
was moving slowly and peacefully along the children were warned that there
were deep holes into which they could all at once step. Sometimes, at the
bottom of these holes there was the fine silt like quick sand which could
grasp them and pull them into it. At one point where two rivers came
together they were told seventeen persons had perished there in the depths
of the turning tornado like whirlpool. The area was so deep when that
person was pulled under by the twisting waters they sometimes became
confused by the swirling and darkness of the waters maybe swimming down
deeper to perish.
There was another danger they
were told about and in their child like mind they rather doubted this
story since it was something like a monster tale because it spite of all
the dangers the beauty of the country could not be denied. It was peaceful
and removed from the busy community made that way simply by the rough
timber there, remote because of the way the river turned and held the
land. The monster story was that to tell of the unusually big fish to live
under the ledges of the banks of the river. They were the Flat Head
Catfish. Fishermen told fish stories about the creatures of how they could
actually pull a boat when caught and so many others the children became
somewhat skeptical of the fishermen's credibility.
With a happening to be
compared to the jerk of a fishing line the children were once and for all
convinced of the truth of the stories told. This was a particularly lazy
Sunday afternoon. The little family was enjoying a picnic lunch on the
sandbar. Their baby sister played on a blanket spread there and they waded
along the shallow banks. As the water pulled and tugged gently at their
feet the mystery of their sinking into the sand and having the tiny waves
playfully lap at their toes the wonder of what was a bit farther on out
was denied to them by their mother's close supervision.
Farther on down the river Tom
was practicing something they had never seen before as to his fishing
skills. He was what was called, "noodling." This is a practice
of a swimmer diving under the water to the depths of the rivers banks.
Apparently, these are where large fish rest during the day. He would
disappear under the water and in a little while come up out of the water
holding a sizable fish in his hand.
"Dad," their mother
called to her husband. "You know, I think Tom's been under water too
Their father was instantly
alert and up to the high bank of the river. He ran along the edge and when
he came to the place where Tom was last seen. He dived into the deep
water. The churning of the water where he was told them, something was
happening under the water. All at once the two men surfaced. Tom was
holding with every bit of his strength to the mouth of the huge fish and
their father was holding to the tail of the creature. Between the two they
wrestled the huge monster to the shore.
Needless to say, the children
were from then on, believers in the presence of the giant fish living in
the waters of the Salt Fork River.
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