My husband recently met some older folks in a nearby city and invited me to come back with him for a visit. He suggested I make a homemade apple pie for them in exchange for an evening hearing about their lives. As we approached their home it was growing dark but we found our way to the driveway and to the back porch, where they had the light on because they knew we were coming. Their house showed signs of wear but as we were welcomed into the dimly lit kitchen, they greeted us warmly, and looked delighted at the pie I offered them. They promptly invited us to come in and talk with them.
The older fellow had been an ocean fisherman for decades. He told tales of sailing out so far that he could not see land. He described being on his boat alone and carefully watching storm patterns. He had a twinkle in his eye when he told of his son and then ten years later his daughter, meeting him on the dock after school and spending the afternoons and evenings out on the boat with him. Ocean fishing was seasonal, so to make ends meet he had a job closer to home in the winter months. He worked at a nearby factory where he watched seeds on a conveyer belt and picked out any foreign objects as they passed by. I could not help but think of how tedious that job would be, especially after fishing the ocean for months being tossed on the unpredictable waves.
The couple talked about the house we were visiting in that evening and stories of the very room we sat in. This had been the old fellows house in his growing up years. He told us that the room behind us had been where he, his parents and brother all slept. Then the small room to the left of where we were seated had been the quarters of the four hired men who helped work their land. This kind man had been born about a block up the street at the location of the original homestead. The land he had lived on his entire life had been given to his great grandfather by the United States government during the time they gave 640 acres to anyone willing to live on and farm the land. What a heritage.
I found that he was a fisherman from the beginning as he shared stories of fishing in the creek that ran near the place we were. As a boy, one of his jobs was to catch the baby mice that ran out from under the haystacks in the middle of the field. As the stacks were being moved, he was right there to grab the mice by the tail after which he put them in a jar. Later on, when the haying was done, he and his cousins would go to the stream that twisted through the family land, carrying their fishing poles and mice, still scurrying about in a glass, to catch some fish. They attached these small, live mice onto their fishing poles with rubber bands and used them to catch bass. I had never heard of this fishing technique or of anyone being able to catch a mouse by the tail with bare hands.
This old fisherman had a respect for the land and what it could realistically produce. He told of fishing most morning in the creek near their home with his grandfather in the summer. He described that every day they would catch two bass, whether they caught them early in the day or if it took all day long, they always caught two and then went home. He said after years of this practice, he finally realized why his grandfather only let him catch two a day. It was because if they caught more than that, the creek would be fished out and they would loose that supply of protein to their diet. During the depression when these bass were their main source of protein, they sometimes supplemented their diet with spam.
Because of his life on the waters, this aged fisherman learned to appreciate the checks and balances of nature. He learned that paper mills upstream could pollute their creek water although miles away. He learned that he had to sail out into the ocean further and further each year to be able to catch as many fish as he had the previous year because they areas closer to the shore were being fished out and the increase in pollutants found in the water had killed off some of the fish. He also learned to use what was available to him and his family, when it was obtainable; to save whatever they could for leaner times.
That day had been a busy one for me and I ended up spending a lot of my time making the apple pie I gave our new friends. I do not regret it however, as it was worth every minute because of the lively stories I heard in return and the witnessing of history before my eyes.