by Louise Knapper
I could always find worms for bait under the walkway bricks or under barrels. Grandma emptied her used coffee grinds under the brick and barrels because she felt it would increase the bait size and quantity. I always looked for the long fat ones. Then I jumped into my over-alls, threw my pole over my shoulder and headed down to the bayou.
Leaving early was a must in order to get my favorite spot under the old moss clad oak tree. Another reason was that my little old friend, Mrs. Mattie, was an early riser and she liked the same spot. We spoke softly, just above a whisper, because we didn't want to frighten the fish away. Boy, Mrs. Mattie was a good fisherwoman. She took a load home each day.
Now, today would be the day I would catch the ole catfish that had been playing with me for quite some time. He had been nibbling at my line for days but I was prepared to stay all day if necessary.
Everything was quiet and peaceful except for a couple of vultures circling above, trying to locate the decaying cow down the road a piece. I knew they would have a field day once they found it.
Waiting for a bite, I caught some minnows for bait, but finally my line started to move. I slowly eased it up to the bank and jerked it up into the air. The big catfish plopped back into the water and my line got caught in the oak tree. I lost him again.
Mrs. Mattie was my friend as well as my fishing buddy. She brought along goodies for the day. I loved her fried fatback with syrup and biscuits, and sometimes she brought her famous Pralines. After our snacks, she would relax and chew her tobacco and just wait for a bite.
Mrs. Mattie was a kind, humped-back lady who lived down the road from us. There was never a time I can remember seeing her without her apron. She could bake the best sweet potatoes in the world . . . as well as make the best coffee.
I remember on a cold winter day seeing her place sweet potatoes under the coals in her old wood-burning stove to bake, while placing the coffee pot on top to brew. I can still smell the aroma of baked yam and ole Luzan coffee. I liked her coffee because she loaded it with condensed milk, making it creamy and sweet.
Now her husband, Mr. Ed, was a horse of another color. He was mean, evil, hateful, didn't like children and seemed mad at the world. He’d get furious when we visited Mrs. Mattie. We could hear him yelling to Mrs. Mattie, "Yell come them ole chillins; what they want?” Her reply would be, "Lord, Mr. Ed, you alda be shame of yo sef.”
Mrs. Mattie continued to invite us over and remained my fishing partner until Mr. Ed got sick. She could no longer take care of him alone, so his daughter came down from Monroe, Louisiana, and took him home with her, where he later died. Mrs. Mattie finally moved away with her sister, where she later died. I lost my friend as well as my fishing partner.
The minister chosen to deliver the sermon at the Springhill Baptist Church homecoming was usually one known as the best preacher in the area – one who made the old sisters shout up and down the aisle. It was usually either Son Brown or Benard Ervin. Son was especially loved by the ladies as well as loved for his preaching.
Each year we looked forward to our church homecoming. Homecoming was a time to get together with church members as well as family members, especially those that had moved away to the big cities. This was a time when the great cooks and the not so great cooks prepared their favorite dishes and served the congregation.
Tables were placed on the lawn under the shade trees and covered with checkered tablecloths, while boxes of food were pulled from trunks of cars and the back of pick-up trucks. When everyone's table was laid out and ready for serving, a line formed, and we were then served from the table of our choice. Fried chicken, potato salad, coconut cake, lemon pie, potato pie, home baked rolls – you name it, they brought it
Mrs. Alma R., aside from being the best cook at the local high school, was known for making the best nana puddin and pound cake in town, so everyone made a rush for her line.
All sorts of great food and drinks were there, but as a kid I waited patiently for the arrival of the snow-cone man, my cousin Hayman. He had every flavor you could think of. He never attended service but always managed to arrive just before dismissal. On those hot, sultry days most of us kids looked forward to seeing him, no matter what.
Louise Knapper writes: “I am a native of Waterproof, Louisiana, a rural village in Northeast Louisiana, but I've lived in Los Angeles, California, for the past 40 years. I have always loved to write but since I retired from LAUSD, I find myself writing as a pastime as well as for the love of it. “GOING FISHING WITH MY FRIEND” and “SPRINGHILL BAPTIST CHURCH HOMECOMING” are excerpts from my first book project titled BACK WHEN. I am also a self-taught folk artist and have created original prints, postcards and photos depicting life in Louisiana as Dotsie's Creations.
Read another of Louise's stories here at USADEEPSOUTH.com.
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