July descended on the mountains, and Dog Days set in hot and dry. Still, we enjoyed cool, crisp mornings that slipped through our open windows during the night and woke us with bright rays of sunshine that cut through the dark. Those first few moments of consciousness on these mornings made me feel safe, warm, and like I belonged in this world.
I enjoyed that feeling until the very last second I could, then I was fully awake. I looked to my right, and as usual, Libby still slept. Even at this young age, Libby was the night owl we heard “ hoo-hoo”ing in the woods, and I was the bob white that called its own name, “Bob Whiiiitttte, Bob Whiiiitttte!” early each morning. I woke up raring and ready; Libby woke up slow and grumpy.
I let my bare feet hit the cool hardwood floor and crept over to the window where I put my arms on the sill and my chin on my arms. “Good morning, World!” I thought. “What do you have in store for us today?”
Mom dropped us off at Maw and Paw’s house on her way to work, and Libby and I bounced down the stone steps, through the opening in the hedge, and down the well worn path to the porch. As we ran up to the porch, we heard Maw singing “Farther Along” as she swept the same concrete floor where she taught both Libby and me to skip as she sang “Skip to My Lou.”
“Stop right there!” she barked crossly. “You young’uns got grass all over your shoes, and I jist swept it all off this porch! A body can’t keep a thing clean aroun’ here!” Libby and I stopped short and took off our sneakers, leaving them on the huge gray rock slab that Daddy had put there as a step up to the porch.
“Sorry, Maw,” I said, as Libby and I ran across the porch on feet that sported thin, white cotton anklets. I had no more than got the word “Sorry” out of my mouth than I followed up with, “Any biscuits left?” And with that the storm door slammed shut behind Libby and me. When we reappeared on the porch, both of us carried a biscuit dripping with wild strawberry preserves. We sat down on the porch steps and ate our biscuits, being sure to share just a little with Paw’s shepherd dog, Bunky. As we finished up, Libby looked up at Maw and beamed, “Mmmmm, Mmmmm! Maw, you make the bestest biscuits!”
Paw came out of the house about this time, his old, crumpled, and sweat stained fedora covering his bald head. Today was stock market day, and that meant he was headed to town. We watched him slowly make his way up the path and through the opening in the hedge.
Paw had no more gotten out of sight than an idea hit me. “Hey, Lib,” I said excitedly, “you wanna give Maw a present for puttin’ up with us all the time?”
“What can we give her?” asked Libby
“You wanna catch some crawdabs?” I asked. Now what use Maw would have for crawdabs, I couldn’t guess. We didn’t eat them, that’s for sure. Still, it was a good excuse for us to get in the creek!”
Libby’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yeah!” she squealed for she knew that meant getting to wade in the creek. We weren’t really allowed to do that when Daddy wasn’t around, but he was all the way in Valdosta, Georgia on the flue-cured tobacco market, and we figured what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
“Maw!” I shouted. “We’re going fishin’.” This may sound like a lie, but it really wasn’t. We were going fishing, just not for fish. We sneaked around the house, and making sure Maw didn’t see us, I picked up her barnyard boots. I gave them to Libby and then took Paw’s, too. Both pairs were far bigger than our feet, even with our sneakers on, but that didn’t bother us. The worst thing was their smooth bottoms that had no tread to grip the slick, wet rocks, but since the water wasn’t more than six to eight inches deep where we would be, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we did slip and slide some.
We would need more than just the boots, though, so we sneaked around in the kitchen until we found two of Maw’s pint size canning jars. Then as we headed around the side of the house, we snagged one of the milk buckets. Our hands now full, we practically ran around the back side of the house and down to the creek. Maw didn’t have a clue.
Our destination lay on the other side of the bridge where a rugged path led down to the creek. With our hands full of “equipment,” we eased down it with care. Once at the creek’s edge, we set the bucket and pint jars down while we slipped on the boots. Libby crept into the water, and I came in right behind her carrying the two glass jars. I sure didn’t want to take a chance on Libby dropping one and getting cut. I would have gotten all the blame for it because I was older and should have known better.
Now, catching crawdads requires no small amount of skill. They are easily spooked and can move quite speedily, jetting backwards with their pincers in front to defend themselves and leaving a trail of underwater dust in their wake. But Libby and I had almost perfected a system for catching them. We missed one on occasion, especially if it skewed sideways, but all in all, we were pretty good.
I waded slowly into the still and shallow water. The creek bed was pure art and beautiful to behold. The myriad of smooth rocks of all different colors of brown, gray, and white glimmered and gleamed and shifted depending on how the light hit the water. Just as I was almost completely mesmerized by their dance, I caught another kind of movement in the corner of my eye.
A big red crawdab with dark speckles running over his body had just come from under one of the rocks. I knew I couldn’t move my feet or he would be gone, so I stabilized my knees and slowly lowered the jar gently into the water behind him. Now, all I needed to do was lower my other hand down in front of him just enough for him to take notice. Almost immediately, he started to move backwards, and then, as my hand went down in the water a little further, he shot backwards in a flash–right into my pint jar. I brought the jar up and out of the water, hurriedly turning it upright before he could scurry out Just about this time, Libby sang out, “I got one, I got one!”
Back to the bank we stumbled in those too big boots, carrying the jars of water with their prizes inside them.. Once there, we pulled the milk bucket from the shade of some nearby weeds and dumped in both crawdabs. With hopes high for more success, we awkwardly made our way back out into the creek.
In no time, we had both caught another crawdab and then another and another. Walking back and forth to the bank to the milk bucket was getting quite tedious. We had not expected to be so successful, and fueled by the excitement of it all, we couldn’t stop. So, instead of walking back and forth over the slick rocks, we decided to bring the bucket out into the creek. I was just almost back to the bank when the inevitable finally happened. I slipped one too many times on those slick, flat rocks, and my ankle creeled. The top of the too big boot on that foot slid down below the surface, and in rushed the ice cold water.
Oh, my, it was cold! But wait! I felt something in that boot other than water. Fear ran through my veins, and then pain ran up my leg. Something had bitten me–hard. I kicked that boot off so fast and powerfully that it landed half way up the bank, and there, hanging onto the back of my ankle for dear life was yet another crawdab. This one never made it to the bucket, though, for I jerked it off my ankle and threw it half way across the creek before I even realized it.. He landed with a resounding splash. Libby laughed and laughed and laughed. I just gave her a dirty look as I made my way on up to the bank with one boot on and my sneaker on the other foot soaked through and through.
As I picked up the bucket, I did a quick count. The best I could tell, we had about 30 crawdabs in there. What had started as some fun in the creek had turned into the best crawdab day we had ever had. Then, suddenly, I had another idea. For whatever reason, these were supposed to be Maw’s crawdabs, so why not go all out? Maw was 59 years old, so what if we presented her with 59 crawdabs, one of each year she had been alive? I didn’t have to convince Libby.
For the next long while, we ridded the creek of enough crawdabs to possibly upset the ecosystem. When we finally wore out and left the creek with our jars and milk bucket for the last time, we headed back for the house. Based on the count we kept in our heads, we had exactly 59 crawdabs–give or take a dozen or so.
We ran back toward the house as best we could with a milk bucket half full of crawdabs. “Maw! Maw!” Libby and I called excitedly as the water sloshed around in the bucket. Maw came running out of the house, the spoon she was using to mix up a cake still in her hand.
“What on earth is wrong? Is one of you’uns hurt?” she stammered in a panic.
“Oh, Maw!” I answered without answering her question. “Look what we got!”
“Yeah!” beamed Libby. “We got 59 crawdabs! ”That’s one for every birthday you had!”
Maw, obviously in awe of our great crawdab catching abilities, stood speechless as she looked into the milk bucket. Somehow she didn’t look quite as happy as we had expected her to be, though. Suddenly, she found her voice.
“Look what you done now!” She dressed us down in a hurry. “That’s one of our good milk buckets, an’ you mean to tell me you got it full of crawdabs an’ creek water! You didn’t even ask if you could take it! You know better! You know those buckets has to be clean or they won’t take our milk!”
“But Maw,” I persisted, “this was a present to you. Don’t be mad.”
“Well, you go right back down to that creek an’ throw ‘em back in. Then, you bring my bucket back up here. They’ll be a tub a water waitin’ fer you to scrub it in. That’s what you can do fer my 59 years. You young’uns’ll be the death uv me yet!”
Now we were the speechless ones. We trudged back down to the bridge with our heads hung low. From atop the bridge, we poured the crawdabs, water and all, back in the creek. We sure had had fun plotting and scheming just a little earlier this morning, but Maw had knocked the wind out of our sails in a hurry.
Our fun that morning had come at a price, but we would recover. Unfortunately, this would not be the only time we would disappoint Maw. We were never mean or hurtful, really; really, we were just normal farm kids doing the things that normal farm kids do. Maw put up with us, as grandmothers usually do, and she even seemed to understand that we just had to do these things we dreamed up. Without her understanding, I would not have nearly as many wonderful memories as I do. I will always be thankful for her patience with us and for allowing us to be kids.