It seems like the older I get, the more I find myself reflecting on memorable events of my childhood.
Sadly, some of the people I recall are no longer with us, but the memories seem to be as vivid today as they were back then. I guess that is why I always stress the importance of creating and preserving those memories.
I stated before that my parents owned a small cottage on the Mississenewa River. This was back in the later 1940-1950 era well before the Indiana Corp. of Engineers built what we know today as the Mississenewa Reservoir.
There was maybe a line of 15 cottages complete with the ever-present outhouse, and if you were lucky, you might have inside water available. But at first we had to carry a rather cumbersome water bucket with the long-handled drinking cup. I remember that well water being exceptionally cold, but that was all part of growing up around the river. There was a group of us young kids that the neighboring adults called “the river rats.”
In my family, there were two girls, my older sisters Shirley and Carolyn, and then there were three boys, with me being the oldest. Then there was Ronnie, and a few years later, the youngest brother, Jeff, was born. We always enjoyed the time we got to spend at the cottage. My sisters were always talking with the neighbor girls. My brother Ronnie was seven years younger than me, so he pretty much stayed around the cottage. I was always running the river bank with a fishing pole in one hand and a Campbell soup can filled with worms in the other hand. I was always trying to find that “secret spot” where I could sit or row my wooden boat and catch fish. I did not have a motor at that time, but I had oars, homemade anchors (usually window weights), and a can of “roof pitch” to apply to the holes in the bottom of the boat to hopefully stop the water from coming in.
My father was a millwright at Chrysler and had to work a lot of overtime and weekends, but on the weekends that we could, we would head for the cottage. I remember something we used to do that I think today is a “lost art,” and that was hunting night crawlers! Wow, was that fun. I can remember we would go out maybe a couple of hours before dark and take the garden hose and spray the yard around the house. We soaked it rather well. In the meantime, we would gather buckets and whatever else we could find, and we would fill the buckets with soft dirt, ripped-up newspapers, and anything we could imagine would help the night crawlers stay alive. We could not wait until it got dark to begin our hunt.
Many times, my father would be at work, and in the darkness, my mother and I would go out with flashlights. As quietly as possible, we would search all over the yard to find those squishy night crawlers. Most of the time, I was designated “The Night Crawler Finder.” Sometimes, my mother would participate, but my sisters, well, that was another story.
Shirley was the oldest and was rather “prissy” and not too much into fishing or hunting night crawlers. Carolyn was maybe six years older than me and somewhat of a “tomboy.” She liked sports and would fish on occasion.
I remember one time we were preparing for my dad’s vacation and wanted to get as many night crawlers as possible. Carolyn told me she would help me hunt night crawlers. We started watering the yard every evening about a week before vacation time. Carolyn was carrying a smaller bucket, and I was “in the lead” with the flashlight. I was using a military flashlight that had adjustable lenses that would adjust from white to red to green, and the red lens worked great for hunting night crawlers because it would not scare them. (If you ever hunted night crawlers, you know how fast they squirm back in the hole if you spook them.)
I told Carolyn to be as quiet as possible, and don't talk. I saw some night crawlers behind me, and I told her to quietly bend down and grab the worm close to the hole in the ground. All of a sudden I heard a swoosh, and I looked where the worm had been lying. That worm was flat as a two-by-four. My sister had clobbered that night crawler with a crochet mallet!
“I got that one!” she said.
After I saw what she done to that night crawler, I was extra careful about what I said to her because I certainly did not want to make her mad at me while she was carrying that mallet!
Another night crawler “adventure” was much less eventful. I had bought a brand-new fishing pole and reel with some of the money I had earned from my after-school job at a gas station. I also purchased a bunch of hooks, sinkers, stringers, and also a used 1/2 horsepower Mitey-Mite gas engine for my boat. I was so excited to get to the cottage. I told my dad I already had started collecting night crawlers, and we were just three days from vacation time. I spent the next evening collecting more night crawlers, and all I had to do was mow our yard the next day. By the time I got done, dad would be home from work, and we would be headed for the cottage.
The next morning, I started the old push-mower and had just completed the mowing when I saw our neighbor man mowing his yard. I was walking up to him to offer to mow the back yard for him. He never knew I was approaching, and as he turned around to mow another strip, his mower hit a rock. It was ejected from the side chute, and that rock struck me dead center in my right eye. The force literally knocked me to the ground. He never saw me. I managed to get up, and I was crying and ran toward our house with my right hand covering my right eye. There was blood streaming through my fingers and down my arm. My mother met me as I tried to enter the house.
Of course she was excited and trying to figure out what happened. In the meantime, my father arrived home and was trying to figure out what happened. They rushed me to the emergency room at the hospital, and I ended up spending two weeks “flat on my back” with patches on both eyes as the doctors and eye specialists fought hard to prevent me from losing my right eye. They constantly were adding eye drops and what felt like grease and replacing the patches.
Two entire weeks with patches on both eyes seemed like an eternity, but even though the rock caused some serious damage, I did not lose the vision in my eye. I still have a scar to remind me of how lucky I was. Even today as I get eye examinations, the doctors ask me about the injury that happened when I was a fourth-grader.
Not all the memories I had as a youngster growing up liking to fish were pleasant. Sadly, both of my parents and both of my sisters are gone, and it is just me and my two younger brothers. They do not remember much about our father because Ronnie was maybe 7 and Jeff was maybe 2 years old when we lost our father, but they were fortunate to both have fond memories of our mother and two sisters. All of us “kids” are grown, married, and have started our own families. We are now grandparents and great-grandparents, but I still allow myself to reminisce. When I think about my sister “clobbering” that night crawler and the eye injury incident, and the many other memories, I can’t help but get a tear in my eye.
You know what? If I could go back and do it all again and know what I know now, I would not hesitate. But I sure would tell my departed parents and sisters I loved them and make sure I told them more often!