Before Mother married my stepfather, two of my uncles filled in the gap left by my father’s death and took me hunting and fishing, teaching me all the things Southern boys usually learn from their fathers: how to be still, quiet and respectful in the woods; how to find the right places to fish and how to have patience; how to set up a camp, build a fire and put it dead out; how to clean game and fish efficiently and effectively, etc.
My Uncle Herbert took me on my first fishing expedition when I was five, along with his son, my cousin Tom. We were fishing from the bank of Caney Creek. There are a lot of Caney Creeks in Arkansas and Louisiana, but we were at the one down near Calion. Uncle Herbert taught me how to pull a nice red wiggler out of the coffee can and stab it in just the right place with a bream hook. When he adjusted my cork based on the depth of the creek, he said, “Curtis, watch that cork and when it moves real good, jerk it up.” (He always called me by my brother’s name).
Well, I was pulling the line in much too often to suit Uncle Herbert. He said, “That’s the current moving the cork, son. Wait till it goes under.” So I waited and waited. At length, Uncle Herbert said, “You got one on there, boy, pull him in.” I replied as I complied, “It didn’t go under.” Notwithstanding, I landed a nice red-ear, much to my uncle’s satisfaction. He showed me how to clean it on the spot. The next one I landed, a mighty four-ouncer, I was on my own. Even though I didn’t clean the fish exactly as Uncle Herbert had demonstrated, I had a frying pan worthy dab of meat to take home along with the big old red-ear.
Herbert was married to my mother’s sister. The other uncle who took a daddy’s role in teaching me about outdoor things was my mother’s brother A. J. We didn’t call him Uncle A. J. because he just wanted us to call him A. J. (His name was Alonza Jay so I don’t blame him for using his initials). A. J. was the one who taught me to hunt. We started with squirrels. He had a son exactly my age and I liked my cousin very much. We were more like brothers than cousins. When we started the squirrel hunt early in the morning in the hardwood woods south of El Dorado, A. J. and my cousin went deep into the wilderness. I didn’t. I just sat under some white oaks on the edge of the woods. But the squirrels came to me and I shot them, three or four nice fat fox squirrels.
A. J. and my cousin shot a lot that morning but came back with only a squirrel apiece. When they saw my bounty, A. J. said to his son, “This would have been a good day to still hunt.” Then and there, he demonstrated how to clean squirrels without getting hair on the meat.