Some of my favorite memories were birthed on the shores of the Chattahoochee River in north Georgia. Now they’re old, like me, but still active, at least on occasions.
I learned how to swim in the Chattahoochee. We were walking along the river, my Uncle Jamie and I, when he asked, “Philip, do you know how to swim?”
Well, I was just a kid, and back then, none of the kids I knew took swimming lessons, if they even existed. Our parents had other things on their minds, like getting by.
“No, sir,” I told my uncle.
“Well, it’s time you learned,” he said, and he picked me up threw me into water deeper than my four-foot-long frame. I assume he would’ve jumped in after me if I started flailing around, about to drown. But he didn’t have to. I semi-dog-paddled to the shore and emerged a novice swimmer. At least a dog-paddler.
Jamie and his brother, Dean, I remember, used to come home to my grandmother’s — their mother’s — house carrying a 15-gallon washtub filled with river water and two or three catfish big enough to rock a two-man bateau. I found out later that they used an old crank telephone and a car battery to call up those monsters, a practice illegal back then and now.
They repented years later and stopped telephoning on the river. Either that, or they got too old to carry the battery.
I remember fishing for cats dang near all night with the family, throwing our lines off a river bridge, each line loaded with a lead sinker big as a quarter and a lunker-size hook with a slimy chicken liver threaded on. We would eat sardines out of the can with soda crackers, all washed down with Coca-Cola. Sometimes we stepped it up to Vienna sausages out of the can.
I don’t remember being unhappy when we didn’t catch a mess of fish — a mess being enough for a good meal or two. We were all together, my family and kinfolks, laughing and eating and casting and reeling, and that was good enough for me.
Once Buford Dam was built and water from the Hooch and its tributaries started to back up to form Lake Lanier, my brother, Ken, father, and I would buy a bucket of minnows on an early morning and catch yearling bass until the minnow supply ran out. And then we’d snag small bream to use for bait. Those bass apparently didn’t know the difference.
Everybody is gone now, everybody but my brother and sister, and we haven’t fished together in years. In fact, I don’t think my sister ever fished. She doesn’t know what she missed.
But the memories are still there, a little shaky at times, maybe even exaggerated at other times. But they are ours, right or wrong.
And if they’ll give me a minute to recall those days before I croak — and my mind is halfway clear — I’ll pass on with a smile on my face.
Phil Hudgins is a retired newspaper editor and author from Gainesville, Ga.. Reach him at email@example.com.