Lessons of a fishing childhood in the Mountains Colorado, in the post-World War One era, teaches our writer, Claudia Irene Morris, a lesson of hope and perseverance for life.
I, like many other children growing up after the war to end all wars [World War I], found we had fewer cares to concern us like our parents before us. We were oblivious to the underlying currents of our society that appeared calm on the surface but for some, the disadvantaged, could drag you under and sweep your future away. We were always told that, even though we struggled, we were better off than most and I believed that and at times felt guilty that we had so much when others did not.
My attention turned to finding the best hiding places in the forest, making great friends with the animals, and climbing to the top of the canyon ridges to see what was beyond my world. We were sheltered from the suffering as much as my mother could shelter us. We were sheltered from the suffering in our own country. The remnants of disparity that persist to this day. Some have food some do not. Some have shelter some do not. Some have water to drink, some do not. Even if you have children this seems to matter not.
My parents struggled, persisted, and never gave up hope. They found us a place of safety and did their best to swim against the current, pushing us to the surface so that we may survive and just maybe, thrive. My father passed before realizing his dream of all ten of his children graduating, from high school, not college but that little push through the current helped all of us survive. He also left us a legacy of valuable lessons from the Tree of his Life. I bear the fruit of those lessons as well as the seeds.
Many of those lessons came from our time with him in the Wet Mountains of Colorado, in America.
I remember pushing through the thick and taller than me willows to get to the creek. It wasn't too deep, not away from the beaver ponds, but it ran cold on your feet as you danced gingerly over the rounded polished stones. The light made them a bright speckled brown sunset color floating in the purest of pure water streaming down hobbit-sized waterfalls beneath the granite boulders that lined the banks.
We had to wade in pretty far, leaving our shoes with no socks on the edge of the creek. Mama would have gotten after us pretty big if we came home after messing up our only shoes, smelling like fish and mud. She didn't take kindly to breaking the rules. Especially the rule to come to a running when we heard the cowbell. Mostly it was so we wouldn't spend all day and all night down at the creek or in the forest. She probably enjoyed her time alone when she had it, raising ten kids, quiet was like a chorus of singing birds.
She never came down to the creek, "too muddy!", she would call like a crow in the cold morning air. "But that mud is where you find the best stuff down there, like a million dollars’ worth of gold and things like that!", I said with little britches defiance. "It's also where the fish live!"
Plenty lived in the hardscrabble creek. Beavers, Rainbow Trout, Brookies, and Crawdads. All kinds of water bugs that used to scare my sister out of the water. Not me, I waded into the eddies that swirled around the big boulders. That's where the fish meetings happened. All the fish would swim around each other, maybe tellin' fish stories or something. Then they would start swimming around my ankles, around and in and out. I was fascinated that they weren’t afraid of me even when I put my hands down into the creek that by then, had swallowed up my toes in sand. That was my first lesson in trust.
I had a hard time fishing after that but we did. I think that was the only real meat we had for supper and I made sure to say a special thank you prayer each time under my breath and napkin.
We were down at the creek one day as I remember to this day. Just like any fishing day, I waded into the water taking deep breaths from the cold grabbing every toe. The snow-melt had turned the creek even colder that summer and the clouds were dark so the sun wasn't dancing along the round rocks that day. I put one hand in the creek making a little cave for the curious fish to peek into. Then with a swoosh, I grabbed the back of the fish with my other hand and threw it up on the bank of the hardscrabble!
My brother would be waiting, staying dry of course, to catch the floppers before they made it back to the creek. Then he would throw them into the bucket of water that we would slosh all the way up the hill to mama. That day we had ten pretty good size fish in the bucket when we heard the cowbell. She was ringing and ringing like she was mad or something.
We scrambled out of the hardscrabble creek and ran up the hill with our prize fish splashing nearly out of the bucket. Wasn't long after all of us were back when the flash flood came down the hardscrabble canyon like the freight train my grandfather used to drive, ripping through the silence, echoing off the canyon walls a deafening sound of fury and fear.
My mama's cowbell saved us and became a family treasure. We were wet from the rain, soaked through with fear, a crying chorus of kids. Then my daddy spoke up, normally with a soft voice, this time a bit louder to bring us to attention.
He was a kind and gentle soul, a Baker by trade, a father by commitment, a servant of the lord. He won the victory medal for his service to our country in World War II and also won the victory medal of my heart. I worshiped God and emulated my father just as much. He was my world beyond the forest. He made us all feel safe, even on that fateful day when the crystal-clear dancing water in our little creek became a torrent of muddy, raging, water, rocks, trees, and destruction. Gone; all of it, except in my memories.
Once we all settled down, my father asked about our good catch in the bucket, "My, my", he always said before anything. "That's a fine catch indeed today. Looks like you saved the whole school". We will not eat these fish tonight. No, we will save them for a special chore". I felt confused and sad and still frightened and most of all hungry when I peered into the bucket that was once going to be supper. The fish were still meeting, swimming in their circle, not really as scared as I was.
When the water settled and cleared in the creek, we made our way down with our father, down through the giant mud mountains of sticks and logs and rocks that were once the beaver pond and found a quiet place by a large boulder. There was good water there. Enough water and stream running to make a good schoolhouse for our fish. With a gentle dip into the water, my father let them go back to the hardscrabble creek, after the storm, after the devastation had passed. They quickly swam together and gathered into their meeting again. We all cried and prayed that they survived and so did we. That was my first lesson in compassion and sacrifice for others. And that gave me the greatest lesson of all. The lesson of hope.
Our history is wrought with despair but through it all we have survived by the thread of hope and have stayed above the currents enough to survive. Never let hope go down-stream my friends, stay afloat.
God Bless Each and Every One of You, Until we meet again.
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