Friday, August 15, 2014

A Saturday in August....1847

 Elias stopped while putting a night crawler on his hook and looked up long enough to watch the geese flying south in their customary arrow-shaped pattern, honking back and forth boisterously and flying just over his head beneath a clear blue sky. The hot sun on the water before him drew lots of bugs which helped attract the fish, and made him glad for the coolness here under the tree branches along the bank of the river. He looked back at his hook, finished baiting it with the fat worm and cast it into the river, watching it drift around in the eddy. He sat, leaned his back against a cottonwood trunk and relaxed. He dug his toes into the damp mud feeling happy and quiet after finishing his day’s work. This was his favorite spot, where the river eddied and formed a kind of pool and the bigger fish lay quietly in the depths. He eyed the cottonwood branches over him, thinking that this was the perfect time of day, the sun slanting its last hot breath across the river before fading into the hazy purple of twilight. Small water noises and the droning of bugs were all around him.
          Elias held his new pole with pride. He had turned ten last month, and his father had given him this pole after work that day. Elias knew his father had no time to spare, but the gift was his way of letting him know he was proud. His father had cut a good cottonwood branch, shaped it and set it up with string and a real hook. It was a reward for doing his work well. For a while his thoughts drifted back to that wonderful day, then he sat up and checked that his line was still free and bobbing along in the current. Satisfied, he settled back and grew drowsy with the humming of insects in the early evening.
          Today had been one of the rare ones where he had worked in their sawmill, getting lumber ready to sell. Elias enjoyed those days. He liked the smell and feel of raw wood, he liked working with his father, and it was much cooler working inside. Father said they had the only sawmill in all of northwestern Ohio. These days there were more and more people buying land around them and they all needed lumber to build houses and barns. The town needed their lumber too as more buildings went up. He knew he was old enough now to really help and that felt good.      
         Other days he worked out in the fields, where father grew oats, corn and hay. Father bought this land for farming just before Elias was born and he had told him many times how fertile their soil was and how he could grow about anything. On most days, though, he worked with his uncles, cleaning out the barns, working with the cows, pigs and chickens, or hoeing weeds in their large garden. Whatever the day held, Elias liked best to be working alongside his father. He liked being the only son and being needed.
         Suddenly Elias jumped to his feet as he felt his line jerk sharply. It felt like he had a big one, and he pulled up hard on the string to firmly hook the mouth. This was the moment he loved, when the fish tried with all its strength to win the battle of wills. He let the fish fight him for a while, and then he slowly backed up to bring the fish to land. It flashed at the surface then jumped a couple of times, and Elias could see that he had caught a blue catfish. His mouth watered as he thought about fried catfish for supper. In a short time Elias emerged victorious, and the fish flopped about on the grassy bank. Pulling his hook from the fish’s mouth, he put more bait on it and threw it back into the river. He turned and noted with triumph that the fish was one of the bigger ones from the bottom of the eddy, a good catch by any standard. Tossing his fish further up the bank, he slid back down to his spot against the cottonwood tree, and all fell silent once again. Elias was free to return to his thoughts. 
           One thing Elias didn’t like about staying on the farm was being away from his mother while she was sick, and he frowned as he thought about it. He missed mother, who was at their small house in town. He knew father felt the same. In winter father and Elias spent every night in town, and sometimes part of the days. But during spring and summer the work and chores were never ending at the farm. Father drove the two of them into town whenever possible, and they always spent Sundays with mother and the girls. Once in a while father would leave Elias in town to help mother with the chores there. This burden had become larger and larger for Elias of late, as mother was able to do less and less. Now his thoughts became worried ones, thinking about mother and how she had grown weaker, and as often before, he asked God please to make her stronger.
           Suddenly he started, as a hand came to rest on his shoulder. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t heard father approaching. He looked up into his worried face, and knew instantly that something was wrong.



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