By GLENDA BARRETT
When my great grandmother, Sallie, grew old, she moved in with my grandmother, better known as “Mamaw” to her grandchildren, and for as long as I can remember, the two of them had a real passion for fishing.
One hot summer day, they decided to try their luck at Mamaw’s favorite spot, the Minnie Shook Place, a fishing hole in Hiawassee, Georgia. Sallie, in her 80s, used a walking stick at the time, but managed with Mamaw’s help to climb over the big rocks to get under the bridge to their spot. She finally settled down near the edge of the water on a flat rock with Mamaw a few feet behind her. They unrolled the lines from their cane poles, baited their hooks with a couple of red wigglers and threw their lines out into the deep water. Mamaw reached into her drawstring bag, pulled out her can of Dental Sweet Snuff and put a small dip in her jaw.
She was as contented as could be, until she saw something moving in the grass out of the corner of her eye. As she looked closer, she was shocked to see a snake sticking its head out from under a rock. Then, glancing behind and around her, she noticed several other snakes. Afraid to move an inch, but knowing she had to, and thinking of her mother, Mamaw leaned over and tapped Sallie’s shoulder. Now, Sallie was hard of hearing so Mamaw had to practically yell at her. “Mama! We’ve got to get out of here! We’re in a snake den!”
Sallie kept right on fishing as if Mamaw hadn’t spoken a word. Mamaw touched her shoulder and talked a bit louder. This time Sallie, a spunky little lady, frustrated from having her fishing interrupted, said, “Hattie, set down and be quiet! I’m not afraid of any snakes. Just let them come close to me, and I’ll knock them in the head with my walking stick!”
Mamaw kept trying to persuade Sallie, but found it very difficult because Sallie was getting some good nibbles. When she saw that Mamaw was not going to let up, she reluctantly agreed to move. Somehow they managed to climb back out over the rocks without getting snake bit.
I went fishing with Mamaw near the same place when I was in grade school. Being young and energetic, I would get my lines tangled in the willow trees. Mamaw would lay her pole down and help me free mine. Most of the time, I’d lose my hook, sinker and float, and Mamaw would help get my line ready to fish again.
One day I managed to toss my line out into the deep water and get a bite. Pulling up my line, I was surprised to see a small water snake. I screamed and was about to throw my entire rod and reel out into the lake, when Mamaw told me not to worry. “Hand me your rod, and I’ll get it off for you!” As she prized the snake off the line with a stick, I sat on the bank feeling stunned and disappointed. The incident zapped my enthusiasm for the day, but not Mamaw’s. She kept right on fishing until evening. “It’s getting late, Glenda,” she finally said. “We’d better start home.”
When we ran out of worms late in the day, Mamaw would say, “Glenda, see if you can find a few more behind us under some of those rocks.” Sometimes I’d find a few, and we’d split them up so we could fish a few minutes longer. While watching our lines at the Minnie Shook Place, we had some of our best picnics, consisting of vienna sausage, banana sandwiches and milk.
At the end of the day, we’d usually have a nice string of bream. At home, we’d sit on the back porch and see how many we caught. There was always a competition over who caught the most. In the end, we’d divide them up. We both liked to eat fish, we just didn’t like to clean them. Sometimes, if they were small, Mamaw would give them to her cats, but we always kept the big ones to cook later.
Mamaw and Sallie have both passed on. Mamaw lived to be 91 years old, and Sallie lived to be 96. Sallie always said the doctor told her that the best thing a person could do for her nerves was to go fishing. Seems true, considering how laid-back they were about those snakes. Maybe fishing promotes longevity as well.
I have a grandson of my own now who is almost 4 years old. We’ve pretended to fish from my recliner with his toy rod and reel. It won’t be long until I can sit with him on the banks of Lake Chatuge and make the same kind of memories my grandmother left with me.
A large concrete bridge has been erected in place of the small one near the Minnie Shook Place. Below the big bridge are seven condominiums squeezed tightly together with a manmade beach and a long boat dock in front of them. As I pass by on the way to my mother’s house, I think of Mamaw and our fishing hole. If I could bring her back and show her the changes that have taken place in these mountains, I know what she’d say. She would wrinkle her brow, and with a look of consternation on her face, say, “Glenda, what in tarnation have they done to our fishing hole?”
A native of North Georgia, Glenda Barrett is a writer, poet and artist. Her essays have appeared in Woman’s World, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Farm & Ranch Living, Rural Heritage, Journal of Kentucky Studies and many other publications.