My Best Day Fishin’…Ever

I looked forward to retirement more than many, I think, because I longed for a day of leisurely fishing not rushed by weekend chores and family commitments. And it’s not like I don’t live close enough to good fishing holes to make it easy for me to get out there. A number of man-made lakes and outstanding fishing creeks are located less than an hour from my home in East Tennessee.

Crappie run well here in the spring, so one Saturday morning a fishing buddy from across the street and I hooked up my 17-foot skiff just after daybreak and took off for Clear Creek cove on Tellico Lake. The ‘creek’ runs as a current about 30 feet below the surface off the main reservoir built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1979.

After our drive across the Fort Loudon Dam bridge that morning and our arrival at the Clear Creek boat ramp, the boat engine started right up on the second crank after sitting idle through the whole winter. In just a few minutes, we were off the trailer, through the highway overpass, and on our fishing hole for a promising day.

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‘Little Suzi’ and the ‘Noculation

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi traveled downtown to see her doctor with her mommy, Wilma.  For this visit, they did not travel the several city blocks there on a bus or in a cab, as they usually did. Instead, they rode in a car that Suzi’s mommy borrowed from her friend Nancy (her best friend from high school days who now lived only one block away).

“We’re running a little late for Suzi’s pediatrician appointment,” Wilma had told her friend over the phone at noon on this beautiful but hot summer day. “Suzi isn’t back from helping her granddaddy tie stakes to his tomato plants next to his backyard shed. I need to borrow your car if we are going to make it to the doctor’s office on time.”

“Well, my little Denny is still taking his nap,” Nancy told her friend, “so why don’t you walk over here to my house and get the keys and drive yourself?”

“That’s wonderful of you,” Wilma replied gratefully. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

And so Suzi’s mommy put on her red lipstick, picked up her black clutch purse, put on her sunglasses, tied her new sky blue silk scarf around her hair—to block the wind from the rolled down car windows—and walked briskly up the block to Nancy’s house.

“Thanks so much, Nancy,” Wilma said on the front porch as her friend handed over the keys to the four-door Buick parked on the street outside. “You’re a life saver.”

It was just a week before school would start for Little Suzi in the first grade at the red and white brick schoolhouse only two blocks away from their small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue. And so Suzi’s mommy needed to get her child’s inoculation record up to date to show the school nurse on the first day of class.

“What’s a ‘noculation?” Suzi had asked her invisible friend Albert after hearing her mother talk about it to Miss Nancy on the phone earlier in the week.

I don’t know, Albert told his friend, but I think the nurse sticks medicine in your arm and then gives you a lollypop if you’re good. Can I have one too?

“A ‘noculation?”

No, a lollypop!

“Sure,” Suzi told Albert. “You can have mine if the nurse won’t give you one of your own.”

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‘Little Suzi’ and Tony the Pony

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi saved a small part of her lunch every day to feed it to her new friend, Tony, the pony who lived in a grassy lot between two tall houses on the city block between her school and her happy little house on Azalea Avenue.

In a lot surrounded completely by a farm fence exactly as tall as Little Suzi was a tiny grey barn. For a long time, Suzi thought it was an empty barn left over from the olden days of the town. She often imagined the pigs, goats, and chickens that must have lived there years ago. Little Suzi wished the animals were there still and that she could feed them and take care of them in the barnyard.

In her mind, Little Suzi saw pigs wallow, baby goats jump up on their mothers’ backs, and sheep dogs herd lambs back to the pen. All these things she had seen in books her mother read to her when she was even more little than now. All these things she saw in her imagination.

While she stood at the fence beside the sidewalk, Little Suzi absent-mindedly took a red apple from her lunch bag and began to take small bites. She hadn’t had time to finish her lunch at school because Albert, her invisible friend, wasted too much time putting up their paints and glue. Of course, Albert never actually ate any food. He kept Little Suzi company while she ate quickly so that she could sit up close in front of the teacher for story time. That’s why she often had an apple left over from her lunch. Apples take a long time to eat.

It was exactly the apple from her lunch on this particular day that Little Suzi was eating when she first met ‘Tony’ the pony. Of course, he did not introduce himself to Suzi and Albert when he came clip-clopping slowly out of the shadow of his small barn. Suzi and Albert waited excitedly by the fence.

“I wonder what his name is?” Little Suzi said to Albert. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Piano Lesson

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi learned to play the piano by taking lessons from the very same teacher who taught her mother, Wilma, to play beautifully when she was a little girl. Wilma learned to play piano so skillfully and so beautifully that she and her teacher often played duets during recitals. Sometimes they even played “Rhapsody in Blue” on two different pianos at the same time!

“Don’t forget to use the bathroom here before you leave for Miss Virginia’s house, Suzi,” her mother told her every Tuesday afternoon before her lesson. “Remember, you can’t stop in the middle of a lesson or Miss Virginia will just send you back home!”

As if that weren’t scary enough, Little Suzi had to walk a whole block down Magnolia Avenue along a crooked old sidewalk shaded by giant magnolia and maple trees all the way to Miss Virginia Lee’s tall, dark old house perched on a low hill surrounded by a black wrought iron fence, like the ones you see around graveyards in the city.

To keep her company on the way, Suzi always brought along her imaginary friend Albert. As Little Suzi clutched her thin “Piano for Beginners” book under her little girl arm, she and Albert walked the long block from her house to Miss Virginia Lee’s house. There weren’t many other houses on the block in those days, so Suzi was glad for Albert’s company.

Suzi held Albert’s hand (or was he holding her hand?) so that she could be brave and not scared to walk all the way to the tall house on the corner, up the tall steps from the street to the iron fence, and then up four more high stairs to the front porch of the grey and white house. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Halloween Candy Bones

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi loved Halloween night almost as much as she loved Christmas morning. Little Suzi and her invisible friend Albert every year started thinking about their Halloween costumes long before the leaves on the oak and maple trees turned bright red and orange in the fall, long before farmers brought their yellow pumpkins in from the fields, and long before her granny would ask “What do you want to be this year?”

Every Halloween since she had been old enough to go trick-or-treating on her own, Suzi’s grandmother, whom she called ‘Granny Dear’, made her a new hand-measured, hand-sewn Halloween costume. But to Suzi’s dismay, Granny Dear didn’t believe in scary costumes.

“It’s not polite to scare folks,” she said every year. So until now, Suzi had to dress up in only cute, sweet costumes: a Dalmatian puppy one year, a floppy-eared rabbit the next, a Raggedy Ann doll after that, then a Cherokee Indian princess, and, last year, an angel with a halo and wings made of wire coat hangers and wrapping paper.

And, of course, Albert teased her every year by saying, When are you going to stop wearing those ‘baby’ Halloween costumes and dress up like a real ghost or goblin so we can scare somebody for once?

Albert was lucky. He could dress up in any scary costume he wanted. All he and Suzi had to do was imagine his outfit and, poof, there it was! And Granny Dear didn’t complain about how scary Albert’s costume might be, because only he and Suzi could see it.

I think I’ll be a pirate with an eye patch and black beard this year! Albert excitedly told his friend one Friday in September right after school. The teacher had shown the class a picture of a harvest moon, and it reminded Albert of Halloween right away—he was smart like that.

After school, as they walked home from the red and white brick schoolhouse on Laurel Street to Suzi’s small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue, Suzi and Albert imagined scary Halloween costumes: ghouls, goblins, werewolves, vampires, devils and witches!

“But Granny Dear won’t sew me one of those costumes,” Little Suzi told her friend disappointedly. “She says it’s not ‘propriate for little girls to try to scare the neighbors and their little children. She says it might give them nightmares.”

I wanna have a nightmare! Albert offered enthusiastically. Can we have one for Halloween night? You could get a scary book from the library. Maybe the one we read last year about Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman?! We had some really good nightmares after that one! Continue reading

‘Reservations Knot Required’: Locking through with the Tennessee River Boys

Squatter, M&M, Montana, Skipper

 “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”—Benjamin Franklin (attrib.)

If ever you’ve been on a quiet lake in summer, late in the day when the sun is low on the horizon and your body and mind are at peace with the world, you might be privileged to witness the spectacle of thousands of shimmering diamonds of reflected sunlight dancing across ripples of waves on the surface. It’s a soul-mending suspension in time like a liquid dream. But let me stop you right there, because my dream of a trip down the Tennessee River began with a discussion about bologna and beer, not a crock of wimpy poetic stuff.

I had only contemplated the idea—just the possibility, really—of taking a long-range river trip before I got too old or too lazy. I started thinking about it after I discovered through my lovely, dear wife (she may be reading this over my shoulder right now) introduced me to Jack, the spouse of a former teacher colleague of hers. The introduction was well-intended as our wives knew we had a love of boating in common, but they later regretted it, because at every opportunity from that point on, we discussed boats and taking a boating trip ad nauseam. Jack and I had our first serious phone conversation about a trip down river several months after our first meeting. It occurred at the very end of winter at the height of our cabin fever and went something like this:

“How many days would it take to go from here all the way down the Tennessee and back, do you think?” Continue reading