One Saturday afternoon much later that spring, Peanut and Gene flushed me out of the old Pool Hall which was located on Sixth Street in a rundown building just off the square in Honey Grove.
“We’re goin’ camping out to The Lake,” Peanut announced. “You gonna come, or what?”
“Kinda short notice,” I said. “I don’t know. It’s Saturday afternoon, and soon it’ll be Saturday Night, and I was gonna get dressed up and go ‘Dear’ Hunting.”
“Okay, fine then,” Peanut said gruffly. “You go chasin’ tail, but I doubt you’ll catch any. If you change your mind, we’ll be at the old boat ramp. Just don’t show up empty-handed. Me and Gene got all the gear and food an’ shit, but you gotta bring something if you wanna join us. Them what works, and brings, eats.”
A word about Gene here: He was also a sophomore, like Peanut, but to look at him, you’d think him more a junior, or maybe even a senior on a rough day. He stood about six-three and weighed probably two-ten; a big guy. He had slightly long (in the style of The Seventies) red hair and a rugged looking, yet somewhat boyish face, rolled into one. His speech was slow and deliberate. And rare. But he was not ‘slow.’ He had an intelligence and a manner I found most admirable. Not really what one would call a ‘gentle giant,’ but close. He was never boastful, as Peanut and I were often wont to be. I never saw anyone cross Gene, save for a few idiots from out of town, and much to their misfortune.
“Okay, fair enough,” I said and went back in to my game of Nine-Ball.
The Pool Hall (Euphemistically, it was “The Honey Grove Gaming Center”) was not an establishment that most parents allowed their kids to frequent. It was seedy & sleazy and much gambling went on there. Of course I loved it. I didn’t consider hustling pool as gambling per se. To me it was just a way to supplement my other sources of income: working for a local rancher, building fences, or hauling hay. A vocation, if you will, but also a very pleasing avocation as well.
The building was a ramshackle place, and that is kind. Upon entering one’s eyes had to take a minute to adjust. The majority of the light came from the fixtures which hung closely over the four pool tables, giving the place an almost cave-like ambiance, or perhaps, more accurately, an opium den. The tables were antique: Not the coin operated kid’s toy tables one usually finds in bars these days. These were regulation-size, with three-quarter inch slate: good solid tables, level and with good, reliable banks for those who could make a decent bank or rail shot.
Cigarette smoke would hang in the air, swirled about slightly by a couple of lethargic ceiling fans. There was a juke box; seems like most of the time it was on the fritz. Just as well, for on a Saturday night when the joint was hopping, no one could have heard the music anyway. The place would get rowdy and much (usually) good-natured shit would be talked and wolf-tickets sold and bought and bartered without pause.
There were two pinball machines in a little cubical-like area just to the left side of the entrance, but of course these weren’t the main attraction and rarely got any play. There was a counter of sorts where one could ‘settle up’ for the cost of playing pool (Ninety-nine percent of the activity was nine-ball, a ‘money game.’) Rarely did anyone play eight-ball—took too long to finish and too long for money to change hands. The charge for a game of Nine-Ball was ten cents. In Nine-Ball, the nine and the five are the ‘money’ balls and one must pocket all the balls in rotation, or if opportunity presented, the skillful player could make a combination shot of, for example, striking the next ball in numbered succession into the money ball, pocketing it and winning the money. The usual bet was one dollar on the five and two or three on the nine. If I were able to clear ten or fifteen dollars on a Saturday night, I was happy and sated. Rarely did I lose, but the competition was brutal (there were many very adept pool players in HG back then), and more than once I lost more money than I wish to recount here.
The owner/proprietor of the joint was a one-armed man who was not ‘from’ Honey Grove. No one seemed to know exactly where he came from, and I really don’t recall anyone else ever running the pool hall, but certainly it had been there for some years. This gentleman was a true hustler and a true gambler. (He would bet on which of two cockroaches crossing the floor would make it out of sight first, or on anything else which had an outcome not clearly discernible. And the SOB always won.) But his passion was not hustling pool, betting on roaches, nor even running his pool hall:
He could play golf.
Hard to believe I know, but this guy, using his one arm, could beat the socks off most two-armed golfers, as so many discovered to their amazement and to the lightening of their wallets.
This particular Saturday afternoon, the hall was mostly empty and I was, in fact, just killing time. I started thinking about the camping trip and considered joining Gene and Peanut right then, but changed my mind. Saturday nights in HG back then, were often laden with opportunity for fun, mischief, girls, and Sin. At the risk of sounding somewhat prejudicial, I will state that my town had the best looking girls in Fannin County. The main venue for activity was Main Street, cruising up and down (American Graffiti? Not exactly, but a similar, if slightly scaled down, low-budget version…) or parking on the town square, drinking beer. (And such)
Having grown bored with the inactivity, read ‘lack of action’ in the pool hall; I got into my ’68 Plymouth station wagon and drove the half-mile to my house. I suppose it was about five in the afternoon. As usual, I was almost late for supper. My step-mother was standing over a skillet stirring something that smelled almost good enough to eat, as she alternately took drags off a Benson & Hedges and swigs from a can of Coors. Daddy was sitting at our little dinette table half-watching TV and half-reading a book.
Madelyn appeared and said, “You set and I’ll clear.”
So I set the table and presently we all sat down for our Norman Rockwell.
Happy to have done the setting duties, freeing me to leave as soon as the meal was over, I ate quickly, then showered, dressed and bounded down the stairs from the third floor. But just before I left, I told Gloria not to expect me home that night, as I was going camping out at The Lake. (There are several lakes in Fannin County, Texas, but if you have been kind enough to read my Post ‘Bow Fishing,’ you will no doubt know that My Crowd only considered Lake Coffeemill worth ‘dipping a toe in’, metaphorically, of course.)
“You don’t look dressed for camping,” she said. “You look more like dressed for carousing.”
“Gonna camp at the ‘Proper’ Camping Grounds: High Class Crowd there.” I smart-assed as I hit the back door and split before she could say anything else.
(And I wonder now why she and I never got along…)
Happy and proud of myself for having escaped so blithely, I quickly reviewed what little plans I had for the evening. First of all, I needed to procure some beverage. The legal drinking age had been lowered in Texas from twenty-one to eighteen. (Mainly, I think, because of Viet Nam and the draft age). I wasn’t eighteen, but I had a fake ID that said I was. It was a pretty good fake too. Good enough to get me into the bars in Commerce, and more important for this particular night, good enough to allow me to purchase some beverage from a package store in Ladonia. As wonderful as HG could be on any given Saturday Night, beverage or herb (or both) was always required. (I was hoping Gene & Peanut at least had some herb. The beverage at least, I could provide).
I headed south.
The Mission to Ladonia and back took about thirty-five minutes. I purchased a bottle of Jim Beam, a case and a half of Coors (“In the Bottle”), four bags of ice, and several packs of Marlboros for Peanut. (He loved his ‘Cowboy Killers’ but never seemed to have the foresight to fetch enough along to sustain him. As I recall, Gene loved them too. I didn’t smoke—cigarettes—back then.)
At this point, I wasn’t entirely certain I was actually going to meet them at the Lake, but in case I did decide to, I didn’t want to show up not bearing ‘gifts.’ Besides, the ‘gifts’ would keep for later, if I chose not to go.
I arrived back in HG and things did seem promising: Lots of folks on the square, and a reasonable amount of traffic up and down Main Street.
I parked on The Square.
There were some of the usual suspects parked there already. Across the street, The Grove Theater (The Last Picture Show…) seemed to be popular as well. I opened a beer and turned up KLIF on the car radio. Chicago was singing Colour My World. I always hated that song, so I switched the station, and got Crimson & Clover. Gag! So I just turned the damn thing off.
I saw ‘Nubbin Kileen’ the world-famous hay-hauler, pull up in his Forties’ era flat-bed hay-truck. He climbed out, wearin’ chaps, Holy blue jeans, a beat up old straw hat and holding a hay hook in his right hand, as if it were an extension of his arm, permanently affixed. He looked about spent (or drunk)—or both. He also sported long, filthy hair (still bits of hay stuck in it); he reminded me of perhaps a cheap imitation of Bob Dylan in later years. I sauntered over to talk to him, as he was a legend, and I was hoping to haul hay with him as soon as school was out in a few weeks.
“Hey Nubbin, how’s it going?” I asked cheerfully.
“Mainly just goin’. How yew?”
“Good enough, I guess. You gonna need a good hay-hand in a few weeks?” I asked expectantly.
“Might. One I got now ain’t worth a cup of spit, to tell you the truth.”
“Just so happens I’m available.”
“Yeah Kid, you done told me before. You a good hay hand?” He didn’t seem too enthusiastic.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Ok. Come find me when yer school’s out. We’ll see.”
Well Hot Damn! At least he didn’t say ‘no.’
I wandered about the various cars parked on the square and shot-the-shit with the local color. There was Calvin, Crabby, Jackie, Donna, Gina, (all older, but ‘old’ friends of mine). There were of course, several high school representatives there as well. I think Kim, Byron, Sheila, Bob, and quite a few others for certain, but memories fade and there were much comings and goings and ‘doings’.
Some were drinking; some were smoking; some were ‘doing’.
Just your typical Saturday Night, HG, Texas.
After spending some time on The Square and catching up on the Counter Culture, I fired up my chariot and made a few circuits up and down Main, which meant east to the DQ, then back west to the ‘Two-Mile Turn.’
Rinse & Repeat.
During one leg of my journey, I saw a couple of cars parked at Jack Self’s service station (It was no longer Jack’s at that time, but it somehow managed to retain the name.)
I pulled in to discover Beverly and Linda in one car talking through rolled down windows to a couple of guys from out of town in the other. (Bonham, I judged from the smell.) Beverly was about my age, Linda, a bit younger. Beverly was a slightly slim and petite red-head who was working on a faint moustache. Linda was, shall we say, slightly ‘chunky’ but very cute. She was a brunette with dark eyes and a permanent pouty look. Peanut was a sometime interest of Bev’s and the feeling was mutual.
Linda… well, as I said, she was cute, although she never said much. Beverly often said too much. Hard to believe these two were sisters, but there you go. Maybe they had different daddies, or different mothers, or maybe they were adopted from different orphanages. I really didn’t know much about them, other than they went to school at Fannindel High in Ladonia even though I believe they lived closer to Honey Grove. They could not usually be found hanging out with the crowd I usually hung out with, but they were known about town and I liked them both. Honey Grove did not necessarily have classes, or castes, but there definitely was some prejudice, which boiled up in our little melting pot from time to time. I’d like to say I was guiltless of this myself, but that would be an untruth, although generally I was more immune to the tendency than a lot of folks.
I got out of my car and walked over to the girls.
“Hey Y’all! I said in a mustered up authoritative voice, “Daddy told me to come find y’all and fetch you on home. He says you’d better get your butts back right now, or he’s coming to town to find you hisself.” Then I added ominously, “An’ he been drinkin’ a little bit.”
The two Bonham-ites took that as their cue to exit stage left and promptly did just that.
“Hiya Lance! You’re a funny guy.” Bev laughed after Bonham sped off in a cloud of dust and gravel, heading west.
“What’re y’all up to this evening?” I asked, in my ‘normal’ voice, ever so cool.
“Aw Hell! Ya know ain’t nothin’ to be up to in this town,” Bev answered for them both.
“Yeah, not much to do in this one horse, one-traffic-light town, eh?”
“You said it.” Bev concurred.
“Listen Y’all; there’s a party out at Lake Coffeemill. (Medium white lie—there would be a party once we got there) I am heading there now. Wanna come along?”
Now, I know most good girls in HG would beg off, protesting they could not stay out all night, but I knew for a fact that these two could (and would), if the idea were presented in the right manner.
Bev said, “Uh, I don’t know… Who’s gonna be there?”
“Well, so far just us… and a few other folks, but there should be a good many more by the time we get there. I’ve been riding around town all evening letting everyone know about it. (Yes, another lie) Nothing fancy mind you; just camping out and stuff like that.”
She looked skeptical. “Who is ‘some other’ folks and what kinda stuff?” she asked.
“Well, Peanut and Gene, and I think Bob and some others… You know. Just stuff. Kid-Stuff,” I said, rather over-proud of my ‘eloquence.’
“Peanut is there?”
Suddenly I had her interest.
“Uh yeah, most definitely. He and Gene went out this afternoon to get everything ready.”
“You got anything to drink?”
“Bev, who do you think you’re talking to?”
“Ok,” she said to me. Then to Linda, “Get your stuff and lock up the car; we’re goin’ camping.”
Linda, quiet up to this point (as I intimated: the girl was shy) said, “Ya sure Bev?”
“Hell yes, I’m sure. Come on now.”
The three of us piled into the front seat of my station wagon, Linda seated next to me, and we pulled out of the gas station. I always had the back seat of my station wagon folded down and kept an 84-quart red & white Igloo cooler directly behind the front seat, thus limiting my passenger capacity to two. Bev reached back and opened the Pandora’s Box (I didn’t mind her not asking; they were both my guests after all). She perused the contents, saw the whiskey and the beer, then frowned.
“Hey! Didn’t you get no coke to mix with this Jim Beam?”
“Hell Bev!” I said. “That would never have occurred to me.”
“No good. Get to the DQ before they close so we can get some cokes to mix with this.”
“Yes Ma’am,” As I turned the car around and headed in the opposite direction we needed to be heading.
Got to keep the Ladies satisfied.
While at the DQ, I bought a big bag-full of tacos and burgers along with the cokes (Just in case Peanut and Gene had forgotten to fetch along any meat in the likely event they didn’t manage to catch any fish or shoot any squirrels for supper.)
Prudently, I had decided to take the easy route to Coffeemill this time, so after the DQ we headed back west to the Two-Mile Turn and took FM 1396 north past Allen Chapel & then FM 2029 towards Telephone. This meant we wouldn’t have to cross the Bois d’Arc Bridge in darkness. A bridge who’s benevolence (or lack thereof) I was never anxious to tempt, day or night.
We rode along in the night listening to WLS Chicago on the radio, a station one could usually only pick up late at night. They played pretty decent music then. Not much Bee Gees or similar crap, at least not late at night anyway. Mostly Led Zeppelin, CCR, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, some of the ‘good’ Chicago—mostly stuff that didn’t make me nauseous. Bev played bartender and poured up a couple of bourbon and cokes for her and Linda. I stuck with Coors. The night was pitch-black and I didn’t want to screw up and miss any of the several turns we would have to make. There is nothing darker than a country road in Texas on a moonless night and my navigation skills were never worth a damn. I successfully found the road leading toward Coffeemill. Late at night, it is an eerie drive. The road is narrow with solid trees on both sides, some hanging over the road. It was as if we were entering a tunnel or a cave even. We bounced along this road and eventually came to the turn-off down to The Lake, where I expected to find Gene and Peanut decently and properly camped. As the trees thinned and we neared the boat ramp, I could make out their camp fire. I pulled up and parked beside Peanut’s ‘Jalopy du Jour.’ There was an empty boat trailer hitched to it. Occasionally, Peanut could talk his daddy out of permission to take the old Jon Boat out to the lake.
I saw the glow of two faces in the campfire and could make out two small pup tents in the shadows behind them. They had lit up a Coleman lantern and on the other side of the fire it was hanging from the skinny limb of a small tree—precariously—but adequately illuminating the rest of the ‘camp.’ There were cooking utensils piled up by the tree: pots and pans, a cutting board and some knives on top of a beer cooler, a couple of plastic buckets, some rods and reels, another beer cooler (this one Styrofoam), an axe protruding from another small tree nearby, a rifle (probably a .22), a shotgun, and various and other sundry items strewn about.
“Welcome to ‘Camp Grenada’,” I said to the girls as we piled out of the car.
Peanut and Gene got up to greet us.
“Hey Many-Feet! You done made it after all!” Peanut shouted.
“Who’s that you got with ya?” Gene added.
“Well, y’all told me to bring something, so I brought along these two; figured you boys done had supper, so here I am with dessert.”
Beverly snapped, “That ain’t funny Lance!”
“Hey! That’s Bev and looks like that there’s Linda! Hiya Ladies!” Peanut said with an earnest exuberance as he walked over toward us.
Gene ambled on over as well. “Ya fetch along anything else?”
“Of course,” I said as I pitched the bag of Marlboros to Peanut. “Grab my igloo outta the car there. Oh and grab that DQ bag while you’re at it, would ya?”
It generally took two men to get my cooler out of the car when full of ice and beer, but I knew Gene didn’t need any help, so Peanut, the girls, and I walked over to the campfire and sat down around it. The nights still had some chill in them and the fire was welcoming. Presently Gene stumbled on over with my giant igloo and the DQ bag with the tacos and burgers clinched between his teeth. He set the cooler down with a loud ‘thump!’ and I could hear the beer and ice sloshing around inside accompanied by that tinkling sound bottles make when colliding into each other.
“Hey! Easy there Big Fella; don’t want you bruisin’ the booze,” I said.
He set the bag of food on the ground and said, “Damn ‘Feet, what all ya got in there?”
“Just your basic Beam & Beer,” I said, as he opened the cooler, peering inside.
“Well, I guess now we can stay ‘til Monday, if we’re a-mind to; we’re stocked up real good,” he said in his usual deadpan.
Gene had an appetite that was famous. I have personally witnessed him go through two DQ Dudes, a half-dozen tacos, two orders of fries, and wash it all down with two chocolate milkshakes at the Dairy Queen and then ask me if I were going to finish the onion rings I had left neglected on my plate. I also knew that he was permanently banned from the ‘Wednesday All-You-Can-Eat Catfish Nights’ at the other local greasy-spoon in Honey Grove.
His eyes lit up as he opened the DQ bag.
We passed around the tacos and burgers and beers, laughing and joking as we ate and drank. At that moment, sitting around that fire, there was no place on Earth I’d have rather been.
Immediately after the food was finished, four cigarettes were simultaneously (spontaneously?) ignited around me.
“Hey, am I the only one here who cares about his health?”
Beverly reached into her jacket and handed me a joint.
“Here Darlin’. This won’t hurt ya none.”
I lit the joint, took a drag and passed it to Linda, and watched as it made its way around to the rest of my ‘two-fisted smoker’ friends.
Growing mellow, yet still energetic, we laughed and joked some more around the campfire.
“So tell me Guys,” I broached. “What’ve you done all day, besides set up this camp and drink beer?” (Peanut had provided what beer they had, but they were desperately ‘low’ when I arrived with the Girls, in the nick of time, so to speak; not unlike the cavalry, or more accurately, and properly, The Texas Rangers)
Gene chimed in, “We set a good trotline, ‘bout a hundred foot. We been catching some brim and used them for bait. Probably should run that line tonight, but I suppose it’ll keep ‘til morning, if it has to.”
Gene gravitated toward ‘serious’ when it came to campin’, fishin’, and huntin’. Not that Peanut and I didn’t; we were just a bit more ‘lazy-faire’ and casual in the execution of same.
“Still got any of those brim left?” I asked. “You know, for re-baiting the trot line tomorrow.” Trying to show Gene I could occasionally be somewhat serious when ‘talkin’ ‘bout fishin’ and such.
“Yeah, we got some in a brim basket, tied to the boat over yonder,” he answered, pointing into the darkness in the general direction of the boat ramp.
“We used the basket instead of a stringer.” Peanut elaborated. “Don’t want no moccasins eatin’ up our bait.”
“Yeah, lots O’ moccasin ‘round here,” I said. And Peanut and I laughed, sharing our private ‘Moccasin Memories.’
Linda and Bev said almost in unison, “I don’t like snakes!”
Gene, Peanut, and I laughed, also in unison.
I put my arm around Linda, who had actually become somewhat glued to me since we first got into my car, and said, “Don’t worry Honey, Peanut will protect you; he ain’t scared of snakes.”
More laughter from Peanut.
Gene rolled his eyes.
I had noticed a VW van parked a ways down when the Girls and I had driven in, but had forgotten to ask about it.
“Boys,” I said, “Anybody else camping here right now?”
“Two guys and two gals, probably college preppies,” Peanut spat. “They tried to set up close to us here, but we ‘discouraged’ ‘em off. Now they are down the end of the camp grounds over yonder,” as he pointed into the night, in the opposite direction Gene had pointed to about the brim basket.
We smoked another joint and drank a few more beers and we were all getting sleepy.
So I said, “We’re turning in. ‘G’night, Y’all.”
I wasn’t really sure about the other sleeping arrangements, and I really didn’t want to be the one sorting that out, so I just took Linda by the hand and led her to my station wagon. With the back seat down and the Igloo cooler removed, there was plenty of room in the back for us to sleep out of the chill. I always kept a quilt rolled up in my car for just such an occasion. We situated ourselves in the back of my car. I assumed Bev and Peanut would crash in one tent, and Gene, well, looked like he was gonna be ‘Odd Man Out’ in the other tent.
Sorry ‘bout that Gene…
I was awakened by the sound of an ax repeatedly and incessantly striking hard wood: “Thunk! Thunk! Twap!”
Bleary-eyed, I gazed out of the car. There was Gene, vigorously going at it. Beside me Linda stirred, moaned, opened her eyes slightly, and then pulled the quilt over her head. I crawled out of the car and stood barefoot beside it, shivering in the early morning air. The sun was up, but not by much. I judged it to be about six o’clock.
Damn! But it was a fine morning! The air was clean and fresh with not a cloud in the sky. I searched about and found my socks and boots. I saw Peanut’s head poke out from inside his tent and I’m pretty certain he looked worse than I felt. But youth quickly mends bleary-eyed, hung over young souls. He squinted in my general direction and disappeared back into the tent.
Gene continued his travail and I walked over to what was left of the previous night’s campfire, squatted down and poked about absent-mindedly in the remaining embers with a small stick. Gene walked over and dumped on some wood, scattering ash and creating a small cloud of ‘fire flies’ attacking my face, saying nothing.
I stood up, walked over to the Igloo and fished out a bottle of Coors. The icy cold water shocked my hands. I sat down on the cooler, opened the beer (The hair of some dog), and began trying to wash the cotton out of my mouth. I looked over and saw Peanut standing one-legged in front of his tent, now struggling with his boots. He fell backwards on his ass and cussed under his breath. He continued with his boots whilst seated there ignominiously. There was no sign of his ‘Pocahontas’.
After successfully donning his footwear, he ambled over to the now smoldering fire.
“Move your butt; I lost somethin’ in that cooler last night,” he said as I stood up, opened the cooler and handed him a beer.
“This what you’re looking for?” I asked.
“Yup. Gracias,” he said and sat down on the other cooler by the fire.
We continued sipping our beer while watching Gene chop still more firewood. He brought several arm loads over, dropping them beside us, and with each load, glared at us more intently.
“Guess we need to feed that boy, ‘fore he gets testy,” Peanut said as he tossed aside his now empty beer bottle.
Peanut was what one might call a ‘Gourmet Camp Cook.’ He proceeded to busy himself with a frying pan, bacon, some potatoes, and finally some eggs. The bacon and potatoes, he skillfully cooked together, then poured the mixture onto a plate and made quick work of scrambling three or four eggs in the grease which remained. He added these to the plate and yelled to Gene who had gone off to check (I suppose) on the brim they had left in the basket the day before.
“Yo, Gene! Come… an’… get it!” Peanut yelled over his shoulder, somewhat mockingly.
Gene appeared, and after handing the plate to him, he returned to his cooking duties, but slightly less hurried and slightly less harrowed now.
As he was cooking up more breakfasts, I went to rouse the girls. Linda was still out of it, but I managed to get her out of the car. Sleepy-eyed, she joined Peanut in the ‘kitchen’ as I went to check on Bev. Beverly was stirring, but still not fully conscious, but eventually she came to join us, sitting down by the fire and lighting a cigarette.
After we all had a bit of breakfast, Peanut served up some coffee he had been boiling on the edge of the fire. We laced it with bourbon and sugar and it wasn’t half-bad. In fact it was, as Gran’ma used to say, ‘Larapin.’
Gene announced with some authority that it was time to run the trotline.
We all walked toward where the Jon Boat was ‘moored’ on the bank, half in, and half out of the water. Peanut grabbed the .22 rifle, Gene grabbed one of the buckets, and I grabbed a beer.
Trotlines in Texas are for catching catfish—nothing else. This is their purpose; however they also and with too much regularity, catch snapping turtles, water moccasins, and fishing boat outboard motors.
Peanut boarded first and sat down astern; Beverly followed and sat beside him. I got in next and sat down amidships. Gene shoved us off and jumped into the bow as the boat slid into the lake.
Linda said, “No thanks. I can’t swim,” and walked back toward our camp.
Just as well, the boat was probably overloaded enough as it was.
Gene got us turned around using the paddle and we eased out toward a dead tree about fifteen yards offshore where the trotline was tied. He snagged it and we began running the line. Clorox bottles were attached and floated at intervals ending at another dead tree about thirty yards from the first. It would not be necessary to paddle anymore, since we could just pull the boat along the line, checking and re-baiting (and hopefully unhooking… fish) as we went along toward the other tree.
“Feel anything tugging on the line?” Peanut asked Gene.
He pulled up a decent sized catfish on the first hook in the series and so it looked to be a promising run from the start.
Gene de-hooked the catfish, carefully avoiding the needle sharp pectoral spines which can cause much misery to the neophyte or careless trotline runner. Peanut reached over the side into the brim basket retrieving one of the palm-sized still wiggling fish. He pitched it to me.
“Cut that in half so Gene can re-bait the hook,” he said.
“Be happy to; hand me the knife,” I replied.
“You didn’t bring no knife?”
“No,” I said. “I thought you, being ‘James Bowie’ ‘an all, always kept a knife on ya.”
“Well shit!” He shot back. “Do I have ta do ever’thang? Gene, you got a knife on ya?”
“Nope, got no knife neither,” Gene said in monotone.
“Well I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-hell!” Peanut said. “Now we gotta paddle all the way back to camp and get a God-damn knife.”
“No need,” I said, and proceeded to bite the head off the brim and hand the headless thing, still wiggling in its dying throes, to Gene. “There ya go Podner, cut bait or fish; your choice.”
I thought Beverly was going to lose her breakfast and Gene and Peanut were going to laugh themselves overboard.
“Many-Feet,” Peanut managed to choke out between his laughter, “You are-one-crazy-son-of-a-bitch!”
Historically, when the three of us got together, whether it be in a honkytonk ‘Cross the River’ in Oklahoma, or in a bar in Commerce, or camping here at Coffeemill, things always tended to turn a little bit ‘crazed and demented’.
Anti-social, unacceptable behavior that we would not exhibit individually became de rigueur when we three were together. We had recently been ‘perma-banned’ from two bars in Commerce for some of our antics, but as Commerce had many bars (no less than a baker’s dozen at any given time), we really didn’t care much. Bars came and went with regularity in Commerce during The Seventies, with only a few (The Showdown, Bar G, Electric Circus, The Mug, and The Icehouse) ever sustaining any longevity. The two we were thrown out of actually didn’t last long after we could no longer frequent them. Looking back, I’d have to say these bars may have made it, if they hadn’t banished some of their best customers.
We continued running the trotline and I continued to ‘cut’ bait. The run was going along swimmingly and we had about ten pounds of channel cat on our stringer when Gene said,
“Uh, I think this line’s snagged.” Then added quickly, “Nope. It’s movin’ now; somethin’ big an’ heavy.”
“Well, pull it up then!” Peanut yelled.
Gene stood up, tipping the boat dangerously to starboard, and put his back into it. The business end of the biggest snapping turtle I had ever seen broke the surface and Gene, full of adrenalin and obviously not thinking, hoisted it into our little boat.
This turtle was pissed off.
It started thrashing about and managed to unhook itself.
Now we had a situation.
I don’t know if there are many animals more dangerous to have on-board a small Jon Boat than a pissed off snapper; possibly perhaps a cotton mouth, or a bull-shark, or a Tasmanian Devil, but none else come immediately to mind.
Peanut grabbed the rifle and was about to shoot the damn thing when Gene and I both yelled,
“Don’t shoot it!” (Neither I nor Gene trusted his aim in the rocking & rolling Whirling Dervish the boat had suddenly become).
Beverly stood up and started screaming. I kept my eyes on the turtle since he was facing me, snapping at my ankles. I kicked him with the heel of my boot, but that just pissed him off more. I grabbed the paddle and tried to push him away. He locked onto it with a crunch. I pulled back but as snapping turtles are prone to do, he held it fast. I succeeded only in pulling his head out a ways from his shell, exposing his neck.
“Why doncha just bite his head off Many-Feet?” Peanut snapped from behind me.
“Very funny asshole!” I shot back, earnestly preoccupied with my tug-of-war with the turtle.
At least he was now engrossed with the paddle and not my leg. It was a bit of a Mexican Standoff.
“Gene, grab this thing and throw him back!” I yelled.
“Don’t think so.” he said.
“C’mon! Do it before he figures out this paddle ain’t what he wants for lunch.”
Gene stood back up, grabbed the rear part of the shell and heaved the turtle over the side, almost capsizing the boat, and all of us with it. The paddle sailed off with the turtle and both quickly disappeared.
“Sheeit!” Gene said, sitting back down. “That’s the biggest damn snapper I ever seen.”
Bev had stopped her shrieking and we all just sat there a second, catching our breath.
Presently Peanut said, “Well, that’s the only paddle I brought. Gonna be fun trying to get back to shore.”
“Tell ya what ‘Nut,” I said, “you jump in and tow us. You’re a good swimmer ain’t ya?”
“That paddle cost me ten bucks,” he lamented, only about half-serious.
“Might as well finish up running this line while we’re out here,” Gene offered.
We did indeed finish running and re-baiting the trotline and claimed a few more channel cats and a couple of mud cats (which we threw back—for the turtles). That sorted out, Gene pulled us back along the line toward the shore. Once we got to the tree and the ‘end of the line’, Peanut slid over the side without preamble and while holding the bowline with one hand and backstroking with the other managed to get us the rest of the way to the shore.
We beached the Jon Boat and unloaded ourselves and a few of the larger catfish, which Gene took over to a picnic table and began to gut and clean. Probably that would have been frowned upon by the park service…
Peanut and I headed for the cooler and some refreshment. Beverly went to find her sister and did–fast asleep in one of the tents. She hustled her out and led her over to me and Peanut, yammering on all the while about the damn ‘turtle encounter’ and how we all could have drown or worse.
“Hey Bev!” Peanut said. “Don’t tell her ‘bout how Many-Feet here bit the heads off’n them brim. She won’t never kiss him agin.”
“What’s a ‘brim’? Linda asked me, as they sat down next to the now dead campfire.
“Never mind Honey,” I said, glaring at Peanut.
I busied myself with building another fire while Peanut poked about, gathering what he would need to cook us all a fine channel-cat dinner. Gene came over with one of the plastic buckets full of catfish fillets, still somewhat bloody. He took them down to the shore and rinsed them off. When he returned he set the bucket down in front of Peanut, grabbed a beer, and announced that he was done ‘a-workin’ and that he was hungry: Starvin’ like Marvin, in fact.
Now, this was a rather large surprise.
Peanut had accumulated all his camp-fire-catfish-cooking necessities and staged same next to the ‘not-yet-ready fire’.
“Need to let her burn down a bit,” He said.
Seated there around the fire with a little time to kill, Bev fished another joint out of her pocket, lit it, passed it around as we all sat there developing a major case of the munchies. Gene grabbed the Jim Beam and some left-over coke-a-cola out of the cooler. Chivalrously he prepared two drinks for the girls. He sat down and took a swig from the bottle; then handed it to Peanut, who after taking a swig, passed it to me.
“Ya know,” Peanut reflected, “We shoulda kept that turtle. Coulda sold it for about ten bucks, or at least gotten our names in the paper for catching a world record snapper.”
“’Nut,” Gene said, “You’re crazier than Many-Feet. Why don’t you go on back out there and capture it? Maybe you can get your paddle back while you’re at it. No way was we keeping that thing.”
“Jes sayin’” Was all he said as we all stared into the fire.
With the fire now burned sufficiently down into some cooking coals, Peanut began working his magic. He assembled all the items for the meal on top of the beer coolers and began cooking. We were to feast upon fried potatoes, skillet-baked biscuits, some re-heated pinto beans he had brought along, (with Jap-a-lean-O’s, naturally), some apples baked in foil, and of course, fried fresh catfish coated with yellow cornmeal, too much Lowery’s seasoned salt and not a little black pepper.
We left him to it.
Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Piland was a character like none other: Possessing a smallish frame, medium blond hair always askew and asunder, Paul Newman blue eyes, a perpetual boyish ‘possum’ grin, and a wiry build replete with a hard-wired energy. Yet looks can be somewhat deceiving: he was tough as nails and feared nothing, or no one. There was no Brahma bull he wouldn’t attempt to ride, no man he wouldn’t attempt to fight (if provoked—him usually doing the ‘provokin’—“That sonuvabitch done pissed me off…”), no tractor, truck, nor heavy machinery he wouldn’t attempt to operate, instructed or not. Good that he never had access to an airplane, for he would have, no doubt, tried to fly it.
And actually, he did fly, by and by.
He flew through life in a manner most men would never, could never, understand.
Everything about Jimmy was over the top. He embraced life with a lustful, youthful exuberance. If there were a ‘Webster’s God of Definition,’ you would find under ‘Joie de vivre’ a photo of Peanut and the definition would read simply,
“Now Run tell that!”
From the early Seventies until the late Nineties, I called Peanut my ‘Best Friend’ even though there were many years during those years when our paths did not cross, and sometimes when they did, ‘colliding’ would be a better-served word.
I fell slave to my wanderlust and left Honey Grove for many far-off places and adventures. Peanut never once to my knowledge, left HG, save for those three summer months we lived together in La Porte Texas working together in an asphalt factory.
He was the original at ‘Home-Boy’. He loved living in Honey Grove, or in later years, at the end of about eight miles of bad Texas road, safely (for the residents) outside of the town.
Every time I found myself back in HG I felt compelled to look him up. Sometimes he was doing well, sometimes not. We had a talent (mostly thanks to him) of finding adventure in even the most mundane of circumstance. Just the simple act of driving to Ladonia for beer one day in ’93 turned into adventure, as we had to take the back roads because, he simply said, “The laws are out for me.” We crossed many ‘Bois d’Arc’ bridges during that trip and got stuck in the mud more than once, and actually got shot at as well, well…another story…
One Saturday night in The Seventies, I was parked at Jack Self’s service station, talking to some high-school friends when we saw a cop car slowly driving past, lights flashing, and hard following, there was Peanut in one of his ‘La Bomba’ vehicles, with another cop car bringing up the rear, lights also flashing—quite a ‘parade’.
As he slowly passed by, doing about ten miles per hour, Peanut yelled out the window to the assembled group,
“They’re fixin’ to hang my ass!”
Apparently he had some minors with him and some beers and…
That was classic ‘Peanut’. He did not say that with any malice, nor did he say it with any sorrow. He announced the fact just as it was: “They’re fixin’ to hang my ass…”
That was how he lived his life:
“You pay your money and you take your chances, an’ if you don’t, well then, forget you!”
Peanut could ‘talk shit’ with the skill a thespian who after years of training might bring to Hamlet, if lucky. With Peanut, luck had nothing to do with it; he was natural. There was no better ‘shit-talker’ in the world. He could reduce you to laughing jelly with one phrase or even just a goofy look. In our small-town world, talking shit was one of our primary forms of entertainment, and perhaps could even be considered an art. Though most would discount the art form.
Not I. Most of my best ‘shit-talking’ I have stolen from him.
Peanut could be incredibly childish at times. Once during high school, the two of us drove to Houston to attend the FTA (Future Teachers of America) convention. We were members—believe it or not—but only for the chick opportunities…
Since he had never been to Galveston (or Houston for that matter), I decided that I needed to show him around my once and future stomping grounds. We arrived in Galveston the night before the convention in Houston was to begin and I took him down to the beach in front of Seawall Boulevard. Peanut had never seen the ocean (Not even The Gulf—hell—no salt water at all). It was winter-time and not much going on. We got out of my station wagon and started walking down the beach, combing. We came upon some jelly-fish washed upon the shore. Peanut pulled out a knife and proceeded to repeatedly stab the dead creatures, exclaiming as he did, “Da! Da! Da! There ya go! Now what?!”
He was greatly amused.
But then, that was ‘Peanut’.
Other times, he showed a great deal of maturity and worldly wisdom.
Some years later and after a particularly rough night of us drinking and cussing and fighting each other (And me, getting into a bona-fide fist fight with one of his kin), he said to me,
“Many-Feet, you need to get that poison outta your system. Not sure I can help you. Sometimes the old bulls, they just cain’t run in the same pasture no more…”
Peanut proudly served up the catfish dinner, and let me bear witness: it was the best. We sat around the campfire over our hard-won repast and complimented our chef (in our ‘way’) between mouthfuls.
Bev said, “Damn it, Peanut! Where’s the turtle soup?”
“Hey Bev!” he said, “I got something I been meanin’ to give you..” as he stood up, reached deep into his jean’s pocket, and pulled out with grand flourish, his middle finger, aiming it squarely at her nose.
Beverly, not to be outdone, turned her back to Peanut and, over her shoulder, announced, “Hey, ‘Nut! I have somethin’ I been savin’ for you too, Darlin’” And then deftly dropped her pants and mooned him, and a full moon it was…shining there in the daytime.
We carried on in this fashion for about an hour or so, finished our feast, lit some Marlboros and joints, and drank some more beer and whiskey. Along about four o’clock, we decided it was time to think about going home. ‘Home’ to our respective hearths. Back to ‘Civilization’. Back to our Main Mundane. The very thought of it depressed us all, though we did not verbalize that depression. Clearly, we had, the five of us, been born too late. Being well-suited to ‘Lake Life’ as we had become, we had somehow developed intro kindred spirits during our brief adventure, even given the fact that, as adventures rate, this one was about average on ‘The Peanut Meter.’ Yet… we’d had a great time; had ourselves a little adventure, but mainly had gotten somewhat far away from the madding crowd, if just for a night and a day. One must take one’s adventure whenever, wherever, and in whatever quantity one finds it.
Peanut, Gene, and I decided…since camping is a ‘man’s game’, to do up the fire-burned dishes and pots and pans, while the Girls were tasked with loading up the cars. (Getting the boat on the trailer was not yet on our event horizon…but by and by, we’d get around to it…)
We gathered up all the dirty pots, pans, skillets, plates, greasy knives, forks, spoons, and whatever else looked like needed ‘warshin’, and schlepped them to the shore.
We sat there in ankle-deep water, our chores stacked up around us, and not unlike what I can only imagine the black slaves did in the early 1800’s, commenced to sing while we washed and worked.
(Having no proper soap, we were seated in the water, using lake sand to scrub clean the dishes et al)
Peanut began with his famous rendition of…well, guess it wasn’t so famous, as I cannot remember it now.
I tried something approaching Brother Dave Gardner.
The duo beside me was not impressed.
Gene however, was somewhat semi-famous for having ably memorized, and more ‘significant’, become competently competent in reciting ‘The Signifying Monkey’.
Peanut and I begged for a command performance.
Gene gave us an ‘aw shucks’ look, said ‘Okay’ and thus he began:
Way down in the jungle deep
The lion stepped on the monkey’s feet
Ever’ evenin’ ‘fore the sun go down
The lion kicked the little monkey’s ass
All through the jungle town.
One day, the little monkey gathered his wits;
Said ‘I’m tired of this ole ass-kickin’ shit.’
(Note: From The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism by Henry Louis Gates Jr. 1988. The origins of this sometimes toast, sometimes poem, I do not know; probably no one does, although some scholars suggest from Yorùbá Mythology.)
And on and on…Gene had it goin’ on.
Peanut and I (sophomorically) loved to hear Gene recite that. Where he learned it, I don’t know, and it never occurred to me or to Peanut ever to ask. Some things one just don’t ask (or tell). Nonetheless, it was uncharacteristic of Gene to ‘perform’ for anyone, so when he could be persuaded to recite ‘Signifyin’ Monkey’ for us, it was just one more example of that kind of signifyin’, significant, and appreciated bond the three of us had.
We finished our chores and met up with the girls as they just finished theirs. Two last things to sort: bring in the trotline and trailer the boat.
Of course bringing in the trotline also meant running it again, and we still had the problem of having no paddle. Gene solved this quite elegantly: Using brute strength, he liberated a plank from one of the picnic tables, and then using the axe, shaped it quickly into something that would pass for a crude paddle.
Back to sea…
We ran the trotline without major incident; harvested another ten pounds of channel cat, and thusly satisfied, headed back to camp. We got the boat trailered and were ready to head back to HG. Peanut and I had no interest in the catfish, so we bequeathed our share to Gene, who had a momma ‘could cook catfish like nobody’s business.’
“Sure Gene; ‘vite us on over when they done…”
The Girls and I loaded ourselves back into my Chariot. Gene and Peanut boarded theirs. We passed by the lame-ass camp of the college campers. I do believe I heard one of the women remark, “Thank God!”
“Yeah, ‘Thank God’. Thank Your God we didn’t have time nor inclination to steal your store-bought camp food.” I thought to myself as we drove past them. Maybe next time…
Drove the girls back to their car and deposited them there. I kissed Linda goodbye and could tell she was not happy.
“What’s the matter, Darlin’?” I asked.
“Nuttin’” she answered.
“Must be something.” I said.
“Okay. See ya around.”
I went on home. Late for supper again. Gloria said something about my appearance, but I wasn’t listening. I went up to the third floor, took a shower, went to bed and slept.
After we had all settled in with our coffees and doughnuts graciously provided by Hunt County we began our deliberation by comparing notes from the previous day’s testimony. It didn’t take me long to figure out that not everyone had the same impressions of what had transpired. Therefore the first order of business was to pull everyone closer together on the ‘facts’ we could agree upon:
The defendant, ‘Mr. Johnson’ was definitely at the scene at the time in question, approximately ten p.m.
He gained entry into the trailer
The girl, ‘Miss Shelton’ was in the trailer
The defendant did take the shotgun
The defendant was intoxicated when he was arrested
All three of the principals knew each other
Miss Shelton’s testimony was that she had been asleep on the couch when Mr. Johnson kicked in the door and upon discovering her in the house grew violent, found the gun and proceeded to yell while pointing it at her and threatening to “Blow her f*#king head off!” if she didn’t stop screaming. She further testified that he began searching the living room looking for drugs all the while keeping the gun on her.
She said Johnson kept screaming, “Where’s the f*#king dope! Where’s the f*#king dope?” Then she said after a few minutes the owner of the trailer, ‘Mr. Rogers’ came in, shouted at Johnson and ran over to her, yelling at him to “get the f*#k out of my house!” The defendant grabbed the bottle of whiskey from his hand and ran out with the gun, got in his truck and sped away, slinging mud and gravel. Rogers called the police and approximately ten minutes later they arrived.
Johnson claimed that Rogers had given him permission to borrow the gun and to come by his house that night to pick it up. He said there was no altercation.
This was flatly denied by Rodgers. It had come out during testimony that the defendant had a record of violence, which we were supposed to ignore, as the objection from the defense was sustained. It had also come out that the defendant had a back full of tattoos which displayed things like ‘cop killer’ and other unsavory images. The objection to this from the defense was also sustained, but not before Johnson had turned his back to the jury and pulled up his shirt. We were also supposed to ‘un-see’ the tattoos. Of course, I don’t think we were able to fully comply with either of these admonitions.
It had also been revealed that both the defendant and Rogers had been involved with drugs in the past.
It quickly became apparent that this was a simple case of ‘He said, She said, and He (Rogers) said’. So that is how we were to approach our deliberations. Who did we believe?
Rodgers had testified that he had been home with Miss Shelton up until approximately one hour before the alleged break in, but had gone out to purchase some whiskey before the stores closed (at nine p.m.) He ran into some buddies and stayed gone much longer than he had intended. He testified that when he finally did return sometime around ten p.m. he walked in on the defendant pointing the gun at Miss Shelton. He described her as visibly shaking and crying hysterically.
The defendant testified that when Rogers arrived he was walking out of the house with the gun he had been given permission to borrow crooked under his arm and that he had not threatened Miss Shelton or had even harsh words with her.
After the police questioned Miss Shelton and Rogers they went off in pursuit of the defendant and arrested him at eleven thirty-five. He had the shotgun in his possession and the bottle of Wild Turkey, which was about three-quarters full. He was taken to the Commerce City jail and booked on DUI.
The next day he was transferred to the Hunt County Jail and charged with the additional charges of assault and robbery.
We were shown photos of the trailer door, which did appear to have some damage, but we were also shown (by the defense) other photos of the general disrepair of the entire trailer. It was difficult to discern with certainty if the damage to the door was from someone kicking it in or just from general wear and tear and neglect.
These are the basics of the testimony.
Tomorrow I will get into the finer details and the heated deliberation.