The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Friday, March 26, 2004

Old-time fishing hole

By Rick Ryckeley
Fayette County Fire & Emergency Services

After a spring shower at 110 Flamingo Street, the air would be thick with mist rising off of the swamp down at the bottom of the hill in the backyard. Everything smelled fresh and clean. I believed it was Nature’s way of giving the world a bath when it got really dirty. At least it didn’t have a mom scrubbing behind its ears.

Spring showers soon led to the unzipping of dark, angry thunderclouds and frog-drowning downpours. Afterwards the ground would be spongy with water that squished between the cautious toes of barefoot little boys searching as they plodded, gazing down at the black mushy dirt for any sign of their prey emerging from holes gasping for air: Big, Purple Night Crawlers.

Early on in life, I learned sisters don’t like certain things. Among these are squirt guns, spit balls, brothers, Bazooka bubble gum in their hair, hair pulling, the arms and legs off Barbie dolls replaced with the arms and legs of a G.I. Joe army man, being held down and given a cherry belly by her brothers till she throws up (Parents don’t like that either) and worms of any kind, especially Big, Purple Night Crawlers.

After 30 minutes of hunting, we had packed the one-pound blue and black Maxwell House coffee can I carried with two pounds of black mushy dirt filled with squirming Night Crawlers, hand dug by my three brothers and me. Then we’d scamper up the hill to the house, collect our fishing poles and tackle boxes, and say bye to Mom as she handed each of us a small brown paper bag lunch consisting of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, Fritos Corn Chips, one Little Debbie oatmeal cookie with the creamy white stuff inside, and a frozen RC cola.

Our mom was smart. She knew by lunchtime the RCs would have thawed somewhat, leaving more of a RC slushy than a soft drink. It was just the thing to cool us boys off after a hard morning of fishing.

Bubba Hanks, Goofy Steve, Neighbor Thomas and Preston Weston most always joined us up at the fishing hole. It was a short walk up the small dirt path to the right of the swamp around the lake to Cripple Creek. A little ways up Cripple Creek was our fishing spot, a pool of freezing blue-green water we called “Ice Box.”

We’d start fishing at ten. By eleven the Little Debbie cakes were gone, by twelve the sandwiches were gone and by one the only thing left of the frozen RCs were a few icy chunks in the bottom of the cans.

By two, we gave up fishing and doubled-dog-dared each other to be the first one of the year to jump into Ice Box. Bubba took the bet, did one of his famous cannon ball dives, and scared the fish so bad we didn’t catch a single one that year. The spring water was so cold that by the time he jumped in and swam to shore, his skin had already turned blue and his legs had gone numb. Then, with half-frozen fingers he pulled himself slowly out of the water and onto the bank, where he promptly collapsed!

We all thought he was dead, but when James poked him with a stick, he jumped up and threw Mark and me in! The rest of the day was spent jumping in or being throwing in. Those summer days I’ll never forget.

Childhood memories like the fishing hole are places we all can go. A place we travel to when the troubles and stress of being an adult seem too insurmountable, a happy place, a safe place where only the memories of the good stuff about growing up reside. And by watching other children play, those memories can come flooding back, like a spring downpour at 110 Flamingo Street. That is, if you let them. No one can take those happy memories away. They’re yours. All you have to do is choose to remember.

Take the time to talk to your grandparents; the older you get the more precious they become. Just like childhood memories, they’re treasures also. Too many of us forget. When I was young, Dad would say, “Son, always keep your childhood innocence.”

As often they would, his words of wisdom eluded me then. I’d just look at him with the blank stare of not understanding. I understand now.

I went outside to wash the truck the other day, turned the corner and smiled as I watched The Boy entertaining himself throwing rocks at a metal trashcan lid he had hung up in a tree. Embarrassed, he stopped when he saw me. I walked over and placed my arm around him and said, “Son, never forget that the boy stays inside the man no matter how old he gets.”

He just looked at me with a blank stare that was oh-so-familiar to me. “Guess this is going to end up in one of your stories, huh, Dad?”

“Yep, guess it probably will.”

I have many fond memories of my brothers fishing up at the fishing hole, and I learned many important things during those five summers spent at 110 Flamingo Street. Fish like small bites of cooked hot dogs better than the arms or legs off of Barbie dolls, Goofy Steve turns purple faster than anyone else when he jumps in the frigid blue water of Cripple Creek, Bubba Hanks makes the biggest splash whether he does one of his trademark cannon balls in the pool or the fishing hole, and moms don’t like to find things in little boys’ pockets when they do laundry.

When moms check pockets, they don’t like to discover skipping stones, hooks, fishing line, weights, bobbers, un-chewed Bazooka Bubble gum (in or out of the wrapper), nor worms of any kind, especially Big, Purple Night Crawlers.

[Rick Ryckeley is employed by the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services. He can be reached at]

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