In the 1960’s when I was a kid we hunted in the Saline River bottoms of Arkansas. We would drive 10 miles down a gravel road from Ferndale and then another 10 miles down a natural gas pipe line and down through the bottoms to Bob and Neely’s.

Bob and Neely lived in the middle of this bottom land in a house that sat on 3 or 4 foot stumps. It was a 2 room cabin with screen porches that ran the length of the house. The back porch had studs that were chewed by the goats that were put there when the river flooded. During deer season the place filled with hunters. During the night when I couldn’t sleep I would lie awake and listen to ’em snore -talk about sleep apnea!

We went there most weekends to squirrel hunt and what not. They had a pump house where we would pump buckets of water. We would carry those buckets up on the porch just by the door. We would put a tin dipper in the bucket. The dipper was used to dip a drink of water or fill a bottle.

The 1960’s was the early days of plastic. The plastic water bottle and canteen was yet to be designed. If you wanted to carry water with you while hunting you had to have an old metal Army surplus canteen and the webbed belt that could carry it. Most of us used a bottle. That bottle would have been a half pint or pint whiskey bottle, depending on how thirsty you thought you would be. We would fill those bottles at the bucket by the door using the dipper. Then we stick them in the game sack of our hunting coats.

This was before plastic or the popularization of the metal flask. The whiskey bottle was perfect for the job. It was slim and fit nicely against the back side and for the time it was not too heavy. Of course now, we would throw them in the recycle bin and use a plastic version of the same thing.

Picture this: A ten or twelve year old standing in the bottom lands next to a slough with cypress trees, holding a shot gun – a 410 or 20 gauge, slung over his arm. The kid with the gun reaches behind into his game sack and removes a whiskey bottle. The whiskey bottle is filled with a clear liquid. He opens the bottle and takes a swig, closes it returns it to the game sack and then continues to search for a squirrel he might shoot at it. Ah yes! life before plastic! My life and I loved it.

When I was a kid we had this round dinning room table with four ladder back chairs. These chairs had wicker bottoms and came from the funeral parlor in Rison, Arkansas. The table I’m not so sure of its origin. My mom says she played paper dolls underneath the table and that is enough to make it special to me. Those chairs have a different significance.

When I was a teenager I got in an argument with my mom, not an unusual occurrence because I was a long haired teenager with an attitude, but my mom understood that part. Anyways, this particular argument ended with me stomping out of the room. Nothing unusual, except when I rose to stomp out my jean pocket caught in the ladder back chair! That did not deter me. I proceeded to stomp off with the chair attach to my back side! My mom and I both began to laugh at the site of me stomping off with youthful anger with a chair stuck in my pants! Suffice it to say we no longer remember what we were arguing about due to the comical circumstances.

When we were in Waco a couple of weeks ago my mom was sending us home with all kinds of family things like Fiesta ware that was hers and grandma’s. Gene, wanted the ladder back chairs from the funeral home in Rison. I had not even thought about them.

We loaded these chairs in the VUE for the trip back to Hoosierville. My mom explained that the rubber chair ends were critical. She had colored them with a magic marker because she could only find white ones. She said that this was the key to keeping them from sticking in your jeans.

We got them home safely and when I sat in them they did not feel right. Tonight while listening to some old vinyl records I decided the rubber stoppers should be removed. I took the channel locks and pulled those suckers off.

Low and behold those chairs sat like the should. Why! I could feel the pentecost while sitting in ’em. I took to singing along to those old songs from the 70’s like I was channeling someone like Janis Joplin!

I think I will move those funeral parlor chairs up to the guitar room. They seem just right for playing a Mississippi John Hurt tune – like “Blessed be his name” or “Corrina”.

This weekend is the McClain family reunion. It is in Waco and most likely the Arkansas McClains won’t be there. Neither will I as I have opted to go to Texas in July when I can spend more time with my mom. My sister posted on Facebook that we should sit around and share stories about past reunions. So I will share a McClain story rather than a reunion story.

There are many McClain stories. I remember my mom telling about when the preacher came to the house when she was a kid. The grown ups were playing poker on an Army blanket. When the preacher, a Baptist, came they threw the blanket over the cards and money or match sticks and prepared to make nice. That was in the big house not far from the square in Star City.

I have also written about staying with E.K. (Emily King) in his apartment on the square above the drug store. The teenagers were listening to Herman Hermits’ “I’m Henery the Eight I am”. E.K. taught me how to play solitaire dominoes. We also painted some schools and a church.

But there is one story that E.K. told me that no one else in the family knows. My mom even says it ain’t so. E.K. told it to me so I know it is true. And here it is.

One December I was taking E.K. back to the nursing home in Star City. When we got to Pine Bluff I chose to a different route down an old state road. We had just passed Pine Bluff when we changed course. As we were traveling along E.K. (Papaw) said he had not been on the road for along time. He said he remembered it fondly. He then precedes to tell me that he used the route when he was younger because it was less traveled than the other routes. He said that was handy because he had filled the trunk with liquor during prohibition. He was running the liquor down to Star City and a less traveled road was an advantage for such activity.

When I returned home I went the regular route -the one by the old cotton gin where Sport, the lost hunting dog got a spell of diarrhea and we lost my dad’s favorite goat horn used to call the dogs. When I got home I told the story to my mom. She said it was not true, but then of course a father would not tell his daughter everything he did. But, he sure would tell some of those tales to his grandson. Thanks E.K. for the memories.

Frog Gigging

In the summer time my dad and his buddy Bill Lemon liked to go frog gigging. My dad would purchase these “devil pitchfork” things and attach them to long poles. You would hold these poles like spears and reach out and stab the frog. You had to keep holding the pole so you could pull the frog into the boat.

He would wear a head light attached to an elastic band with wires that went down to a battery. This way you could see what you was gigging. Also the little beast would be tranquilized looking into the light until it met its end and ultimately ended up in a burlap sack sitting in a jon boat.

I remember this gigging experience because one night my dad took me and mom with him. We were on the Saline River down by Rison where JW, my granddaddy lived. My dad carried his 22 pistol cross arm style just in case a snake got in the boat. All in all it was a little bit spooky being on the river at night. It was also one hell of an adventure!

My dad and Bill had decided that we were going to have a “frog leg” party. Their plan was to gig a mess of frogs and then we would dip in a little fish fry mix and fry ’em up. Serve with some butter and beer, for the adults and coke for the kids. I remember it was some good eatin’. After moving to Indiana and working in Whiting I discovered that frog legs was some fancy restaurant food up at Phil Schmidt’s, the butter bowl as I called it.

To prepare for this party my dad and Bill had to gig enough frogs to fill several burlap sacks or tow sacks as we called them. This required several weekends of frog giggin’ and probably a few draws on the Old Crow or Old Taylor whiskey bottle.

These trips took place in a jon boat on Fourche Creek which ran just down from our house and by a park. In fact it ran from University Avenue (once known as Hayes Street before my time) through this area where a guy had a ranch with an airport. I remember it twisted and turned through an area that was not in the city limits. The road twisted and turned crossing the creek several times. It was a route from Asher Avenue and Woody’s Liquor Store toward Geyer Springs where we lived.

On one trip that summer that I recall Dad and Bill took EG Murphy from across the street, he was a fireman. They floated down near Benny Craig park and decided to get off the creek and set out for home. They were walking along the railroad track carrying the aluminum jon boat. They got tired and sat it down. All of sudden the railroad gates nearby starting flashing and dinging and going down. They quickly grabbed the boat and got of the tracks. No train came so they started walking down the tracks again. When they got tired they sat the boat on the tracks and the gates and lights went off. Once again they quickly got off the tracks, but no train came. Low and behold the sensor for them railroad gates were magnetic and when they sat that jon boat on the tracks the gates went down.

When they got home they had a full tow sack full of frogs and a story to tell. We laughed about that story while we was fryin’ the frog legs and chowing down.

When I was in high school, sometime after floating the Buffalo River with the BSA, we took a winter float trip.

Frank Hart (I could use both names because he has not touched a computer since they first came out with them and it is highly unlikely to ever view this post) called me up and asked if I wanted to float Cadron Creek.

The question wouldn’t have been so amazing except that it was like January or February and even in Arkansas it was cold. I couldn’t imagine taking the risk of swamping a canoe in frigid waters. Of course now that I’m a Hoosier I know that waters in Arkansas in February is comparable to Lake Michigan in July!

I agreed that it would be fun and we scheduled a weekend. I showed up at Frank’s and there was not a canoe in sight. Instead there were two flat bottom boat type crafts. They looked just like a Ouachita flat bottom boat. The only difference was the bow and stern was pointed like a canoe.

This type of craft would best be called a pirogue, like “Jambalya filet gumbo, me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou”. Of course we had paddles and the water was colder and deeper than the bayou.

The trip, as float trips go, was pretty uneventful in terms of rapids. It was neat seeing some icicles hanging from the bluffs, albeit small bluffs like the ones you can see in the Ozark foothills just north of Toadsuck. For those unfamiliar with Arkansas that would be near Conway, but why say Conway when you can say Toad Suck?

Toad Suck is the site of a ferry crossing on the Arkansas River near Conway. I am a little fuzzy if it is a real place or not, but I do know that they have a little celebration called Toad Suck Daze -Frank sent me a hat and T-shirt from the celebration.

I think the whole thing is related to the fact that ferry operators took most of their pay for the crossing in trade – corn liquor. The way I figure the ferry operators are related to the inventors of the personal PC. I mean really! Who comes up with the mouse and it’s associated roller ball that must be cleaned. “Excuse me, I must clean my mouse balls!” Or the SCIS – small computer interface system- commonly referred to as the scuzzy cable. Yep, not such great leap from ferry operator to geek!

Of course I am bird walking! This float trip was unique because of the time of year. It was a bit of a risk because of the temperature and beautiful as a result. That pirogue thing was neat too for a non-cajun kid. Which makes me think of a different story on the Lake Ouachita. I tell it later.

When I was in junior high or high school and was in the boy scouts our troop, #382, took a float trip on the Buffalo River. This was our second 50 mile experience, a few years earlier we hike from Little Rock to Hot Springs along the Old Hot Springs Highway.

I forget exactly where we put in, but the plan was to float from there on down to where the Buffalo met the White River and then on down the White River somewhere below Calico Rock – always loved the name of that town.

Anyway, it was a nice summer day when we put our canoes in the water on a very calm part of the river. Mike Wood was my partner in the bow of the canoe.

Just a short float from putting in we hit our first rapid. The river split into two channels, separating around an old railroad trestle. Mike and I stuck to the right and barely missed the trestle. After we made it through the rapid the water was not nearly so swift. But, it was fast enough for stuff to float by, and soon it did. First, a pack and then a sleeping bag! Yep, someone had swamped. We started to collect the stuff and look for little heads sticking out of life jackets. We didn’t see any so we beached the canoe and hiked up stream.

There we encountered a fiberglass canoe that was broken in half stuck near the trestle and an aluminum canoe wrapped around the concrete pillar like a candy wrapper.

Seemed that Frank Hart and his partner didn’t make it far enough to the right!

The other event of the trip was a rain storm on the White River just below Calico Rock. In those days our sleeping bags were filled with polyester stuffing and flannel lined. Most of them were red or plaid on the inside and green cotton on the outside. They were practically useless in the rain. The other downside was the next morning the troop woke up with an outbreak of the “red man” disease. Seems all the red linings had stained our bare chests and legs red after they got wet.

Right after that rain storm all kinds of things were floating down the river. Bentley, who was addicted to Coca Cola and had not had one for a week saw a Coke box floating down the river. He ed permission to fetch it. Mr. Tenney told him to put his life jacket off and in he went. Of course he and the Coke disappeared around the bend. We hopped in the flat bottom with the motor, the bonehead (Mr.Tenney and his nickname for us scouts) craft and headed down river to fetch Bentley. We found him, but the Coke box had been empty when he found it.

We also crossed the river and went caving. There were hundreds of bats on the ceiling of the opening and when we left the cave they starting swarming, what adventure.

All things considered it was a great trip and the first of many float trips to follow.

Sam Wood was the father of my friends back in the day. He was hard of hearing. This I remember. I do not recall him saying, “Stepped in what?” when he didn’t hear. I do recall that such a saying would fit his personality.

I also recall receiving an invitation from him and his son, Mike, to float the Mulberry River. I was in college at the time and drove down to meet them. It wasn’t far, just a few miles on down the “pig trail”, an alternative to US 71 from I 40 to Fayetteville.

That float trip found us only swamping once a piece for the two canoes that represented our party. But it did put us all in position of confronting recreation and life.

On that trip we encountered flood stage waters. The river route steered the river runners into waters off the main flow. We encountered many folks pulled to the side with lots of anxiety.

A canoe had capsized and become trapped underneath a fallen tree. The paddler was trapped between the canoe and the tree without room to breathe. When we arrived the rescue workers were attempting to retrieve the body.

This incident made a striking impression on Sam Wood. Perhaps more than it made on Mike, his son, or myself. But then again, this incident has never escaped my memory. Perhaps because of the loss of life or perhaps because of Mr. Wood’s reaction to the loss of life.  We stood in the rain until Sam said, “It’s time we get off this river.”

As I think about my own loss of hearing and recall this story along with Sam’s girls’ recollections of “Stepped in What” I can’t help but recall this wonderful man and how he valued life and youth.

So here’s to Sam Wood, to float trips, and all the things he taught us -value life and be safe. “Stepped in what?’