One of the first chores was to lose the shoes. Walking was a little painful at first when I walked on gravel or stepped on one of those tiny tar bubbles that seeped up through the roadbed under the blazing summer sun. But after a few days, it felt like I was walking on clouds.
The beauty of going shoeless is that you never had to waste time untying shoes strings when you came to a creek. My pace never slowed. By July the bottoms of my feet were tougher than leather.
The next thing I did was to head to the creek to survey my fishing spots and to cut cane for fishing poles. Finding just the right fishing pole was an art.
You needed one that was long, or else the other guys would call it a girlie pole. But you didn’t need it too long because some of those strip pit bluegill, bream or crappy would snap off the end.
Next I’d make a minnow basket (trap) out of old screen. A minnow basket is usually about two feet long and as big around as your thigh. It has a cone shaped muzzle with a small opening that fits into the basket.
When you put some crackers or bread crumbs in the basket and drop it into a fast flowing creek, the minnows enter the basket through the cone muzzle and they can’t get back through the tiny opening. Wallah! You had bait for cane poles and trot lines.
My brother Neil learned the hard way that you can catch other things in minnow baskets too. Once when he went to check his minnow basket, I heard a commotion — cussing, thrashing and splashing.
When I ran down to the creek to see what was going on, Neil had a basket full of cottonmouth moccasins. There were two big ones as big around as my arm and four smaller ones.
Each time he’d lift the basket out of the water they’d coil and strike at anything that moved. Just seeing all those snakes gave me cold chills.
These days I rarely kill a snake unless it’s poisonous and comes into my yard. I’ll dodge a snake on the road if I can, but cottonmouths are evil creatures. It was not a happy ending for the ones Neil caught that summer.
Even with the threat of snakes, I spent most of the summer with my friends on the river and creeks around Sloss. When it got too hot to fish, we’d hit the water in our cutoff jeans, and swim until our fingers wrinkled like prunes.
After a refreshing dip, we’d find a clearing and let the warm sun dry our skin. By September, we’d be brown as hickory nuts.
It seems that kids today spend a lot of time indoors. There are more distractions, more things to keep them entertained.
But personally, I can’t think of anything more fun than spending the summer near the water with your friends.