I got a job immediately upon returning home from the service to avoid the temptation, slight as it was, to re-up. It was a grunt job, minimum wage at a shoe sole factory that had just moved to my town from up north. Why they moved further away from their shoe markets, I do not know. Anyway, that job played out in about four months because the company was having financial trouble, so I decided to take a long-deferred vacation.
An old man named Randolph had a boat rental place on the Champagnolle Creek close to where it empties into the Ouachita. Another recently discharged vet and I packed some camping and fishing gear and rented a boat from Randolph, who was most assuredly a free spirit. From the looks of his feet, he had never worn shoes and a pedicure, even a self-inflicted one, was apparently never an option. All his boats were identical: 14 foot aluminum boats that looked as if they had been in a war. Nevertheless, he asked, “What kind of a boat are y’all a-looking fer?” My friend replied, “One of these will do,” sweeping a gesture over the dozen boats docked there.” Randolph spit a stream of Red Man and pondered his boats for a little while. “Well, sir, I can rent y’all this here 14-footer fer eight bucks a day.”
We got him down to five dollars, loaded our stuff, and took off paddling up the murky creek. The woods were thick and seemed to get thicker, so when we saw an open place and a little sandy “beach” we pulled in, set up our tarps and built a fire. At first, we started fishing in the creek, but only encountered little bait-stealers. I got bored and took a little walk back through the woods between the creek and the Ouachita. Behold, I found a nice little lake or pond back in there and my first cast rendered a fat bulge-headed blue-gill. I called for my friend and we mopped up. We cleaned a nice stringer full of bream and cat and fried up the best camp supper I remember eating.
That evening we set out a trotline in the creek and caught mainly trash fish: grindle (slap-jack), mud cat and turtles, but a few pubescent channel cat barely big enough to eat. I slept pretty well after figuring out that the shuffling noise at the edge of camp was a rooting armadillo and woke up bright and early for another go at the newly discovered lake. We dragged the 14-foot Randolph boat over to it and found some really great fishing spots. We harvested a lot of goggle-eye that day and encountered several water snakes, sunning on logs, acting like they were beautiful.
We stayed three nights, the best $15 we ever spent. When we got home, Mother told me the shoe sole factory had called two days ago and wanted me back. When I phoned the boss, he said it was too late—they had hired a replacement for me. Then I got a job as clean-out crew for the American Oil refinery, hard work rewarded only by sweet memories of camping and fishing.