Friday, February 20, 2009

Grandma Heavener and Cane Poles

This is an old picture of my Grandma fishing many years ago. My Aunt Nancy had it stored away and my cousin Carolyn found out about it after reading this blog. She scanned a copy for me, touched it up with photo shop, and sent it to me for this story. I vastly appreciate it.
Grandma was much younger here than when I knew her and fished in the river with her and her cane-poles, but other than that, not much is changed.

Grandma Heavener

I was hit this morning with a clear, vivid image of my Grandma Heavener. I don’t know what triggered it, but it was suddenly in my mind; a picture from a long time ago on the banks of the Catawba River near Marion.

My Grandmother was a great woman. She could be very serious when the need be, yet at times she would be a fountain of joy and laughter. I saw both sides at various times and for various reasons. Being a boy with more energy than my brain could control, I often found myself on the serious end of the stick, but my favorite memories of her always include her laugh and her smile and those twinkling eyes that only grandparents seem to have.

The picture in my mind today is of Grandma fishing.

We lived right on the banks of the Catawba River above Marion and Grandma and Grandpa lived right up the hill from us. It was a walk into the yard at the time for us and about ten minutes for them to walk to the river bank.

Grandma liked fishing. She and Grandpa used to have a box built against the back of their well house which was full of rich brown dirt, and worms. Virtually every time they caught a worm it went into the box for use when they went fishing. They would feed the worms with old bread and news paper and such, which would decay into the soil and provide food. My cousin and I would occasionally raid the box if we wanted to go fishing and needed worms in a hurry. Most of the time, we went up in the hollow and scratched them out for ourselves, and left theirs alone. A few times I even went and dug worms just to put back in the box.

My Grandmother had cane poles; good limber canes with a length of fishing line tied on with a hook, a sinker, and a bobber. I used to think those canes must be ten feet tall, but now I’m older and I think eight or nine feet would be about right.

I remember my grandma coming to the river wearing an old dress, an apron, and a straw hat, or a bonnet made of cloth tied around her hair. She was carrying her cane poles, usually two or three, and some worms in an old tin can. I don’t recall her having a fishing tackle box at all, but she had some spare hooks and sinkers just in case. Sometimes she had a few slices of white bread to use for bait, along with the worms.

There at the river there were two huge old trees that hung out over the water, with roots that formed a small shelf next to the river. The water there was about chest deep to a ten-year-old, (namely me), and undercut the roots just a bit. There seemed to be an endless supply of bluegill, sun perch, and what we used to call pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin Seeds were small bright orange perch that we never thought much of at the time, but they were fun to catch. Occasionally a catfish or a sucker would be caught from that pool.

Grandma would bring a seat, one of those old lawn chairs with the aluminum frame and cross-woven nylon or plastic ribbons, or something like that. She would set it up, make sure it was stable, then sit down and start on her cane poles.

She would bait the first with a half a worm, unless it was small, and then lifted the end of the cane high into the air letting the hook, line, sinker and bobber swing in a nice arc out over the water. With perfect timing she would drop the end of the cane allowing the rig to softly plop into the water slightly upstream just out from the two trees. She would then repeat the ritual with each of the other canes in turn.

While she baited the other canes, the first one would drift in a slow arc down the river till the line began to reach its limits, and then swing slowly toward the shore near the roots of the trees. I vaguely remember that she would leave one or two just floating and waiting there, while one cane she kept in her hands. The line on this cane was dropped closer to the tree trunks to drift right along the edge attempting to temp the fish hiding up underneath. She would drift it down, lift the cane and move it back up, and drift it again.

Most of the time, it wasn’t long till one of the bobbers twitched, twitched again, then started bouncing along the surface. Grandma was delighted and excited. She enjoyed catching the perch and sun fish as much as any fisherman ever enjoyed catching anything. She would pick up the end of the cane carefully and try to time the bounces. Soon the bobber would lunge for the depths and just as quick, Grandma would set the hook and quickly lift the wriggling fish right out of the water. She didn’t waste a motion, but swung the fish straight into her hand, unhooked it, and dropped in a bucket next to her seat.

Often, as that one was being unhooked another bobber would start dancing across the water so that she had to drop the one and grab the other to land it. That made her happy indeed. With her fish in the bucket, her hooks once again baited, and the lines dropped back in the water she would resume the cycle and fish as long as they were biting.

I often went down to the river when she was there and sometimes would take over on one of the canes, sitting in the dirt, barefoot and cut-off shorts, fishing without a care in the world. Grandma would tell me stories and about things she remembered. I wish I had listened better.

Being a boy and terribly impatient, I couldn’t resist lifting up my cane from time to time just to check if something had gotten my bait. That didn’t set well with her.

“Put that pole down and leave it alone until you get a bite! You won’t ever catch a fish if you don’t leave your bait in the water!” Or something similar to that. Most of the time I caught a few, she caught several and we had a good time. We enjoyed the time and when it was all over I helped her carry her chair and bucket of fish back up the hill to her house. We would put up the cane poles, dump any leftover worms back in the box, and then I would wander off on a boy’s whim to roam the mountain or swim in the fishing hole we just left. I don’t recall ever seeing her clean the fish.

I miss her, but good memories go a long way.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/20/2009