Posts made in March, 2005

Meanwhile Down on the Green River

Posted by on Mar 29, 2005 in All things natural, Dad | 0 comments

I thought I might tell you about my father, as charming an old scoundrel as you are likely to meet in the part of the world he inhabits, which is rural western Kentucky. I mention the fact that he lives in the western portion of the state since it is a point of pride for those who are reared in this beautiful, but financially depressed area. No matter how bad thing are there, at least they can boast that they don’t come from eastern Kentucky. “We’re from down home”, my daddy says, mimicking the easterners slightly more redneck accent. The expression he puts into the statement says it all for him, but those not “in the know” will miss his insult.

The differences my dad sees between east and west might puzzle you even more if you visited the western Kentucky area where my Dad was born in 1914. His father was a farmer who owned “the finest mules in Grayson County”. His mother, with her third grade education, scrubbed floors, did washing, and took in “boarders” to keep food on the table when her husband became ill with TB. Dad was only 14 in 1928 when his father died. After the burial on the hill above Uncle Jake’s farm, my grandmother packed her two sons and all her furniture in a road wagon and moved the family 20 miles to the metropolis of Beaver Dam. My dad and his brother perched on the back of the mule drawn cart, their bottoms bouncing on the mirror of their mother’s bureau with each turn of the wheels thru the dry streambed they used for a road. The admonishment they received for breaking the mirror was soon forgotten when they arrived in a world where “light” bread was sold in bags, already sliced, and such tropical delights as bananas and pineapple were sold in the general store.

The combination of poverty, a tough but harried mother, and a lack of paternal guidance had put wildness into the boy who came to town. Dad will tell of his younger days of stealing watermelons, working as a bouncer in a “road house”, getting in fights, and riding the rails (boxcars) to Louisville with a bit too much pride at having survived the ordeal. His salvation came in the form of a singular woman who was destined to tame his wayward character. Not that she ever completely succeeded, but lord knows, Mama tried. She accomplished more than anyone else thought possible, least of all my dad, but in some areas she was out of her depth. He did turn into a respectable businessman and a pillar of the Baptist church. By the time I knew him his most obvious vice was fishing. I know, it doesn’t seem like a vice, but the obsession my Dad brought to the sport is still beyond belief. He’s aware of his problem and did determine one time to “cure” himself of the desire by saturation. He had sold his body shop business in 1956 and took up fishing as a full time occupation. He would rise before dawn; grab a sandwich, head to the river or lake of his choice and fish there till after dark. If they were biting, he lost track of time, causing my mother to drive to the bank of the river, pace and wring her hands, believing him drowned. He repeated this every day for 6 months till he finally realized we were all sick of fish and he was never going to tire of catching them.

He and Mom started a new business together and by working 14 hours a day 6 days a week for 35 years they accumulated a fortune. Mom had an amazing instinct for business and Dad was the consummate salesman, which proved to be a winning combination. After 58 years of marriage Mom died and Dad proved who had been the brains of the operation by selling off the business and estate with equal amounts of haste and poor judgment. With some of his money he bought a luxury houseboat and moved to the river to fish for the rest of his life. To the complete astonishment of his children he spent a great deal of his fortune on loose women and other foolishness. None of the excesses of our own rebellious youth prepared us to see the Sunday school superintendent dressed in tight shoes, headed off to a dance on Saturday night. He’s too old now for any more of that. In fact, the walk up and down the ramp of the boat is too much for him. Despite his numerous health problems, we can’t get him off the boat. He’s convinced that the only reason everyone doesn’t live on Green River on a houseboat is because they’ve never learned to fish. He holds this belief even though he could never even get his own bride to show any interest in the sport.

If you like, you can visit him near the Rochester Dam any day of the week. He will be happy to entertain you with stories of his youth, told so masterfully that you never tire of them. You’re welcome to spend the night and listen to the chorus of brim butting their heads against the bottom of the boat in search of barnacles. The ever changing tabloid of the river is at it’s best at dawn. Dad will be there on the front deck when you awaken, waiting with a pole and bait. You can hear the grin in his voice when he asks you, “Did anyone every teach you how to fish?”

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