Lessons From My Dad & The Marsh


My dad passed away 11 years ago (Aug. 30, 2010) and so I have been doing a lot of reminiscing. I thought I’d share a few of our good times and lessons that I learned from one of dad’s very favorite places – the marshland in south Louisiana.

Dad took a job with Cabot Corp. near Franklin, La. in the fall of 1969. I was stupid and quit college in January 1970. I loaded up all of my things on January 28, 1970 and moved to Franklin. In our family if I wasn’t going to further my education in college, then I was definitely going to further it in the workforce.

On the weekends it was time to go fishing. And since it was winter time, the best fishing was in the marshland. Dad had told me about the fabulous bass fishing in the marsh and so I was pumped. It was about a 40 minute boat ride to the edge of the marsh where we tied the boats.

Lesson #1 – Dad had warned me about the major dangers in the marsh. In warm weather it was the cottonmouth water moccasin snakes. During the winter it was falling through the marsh. Yep, you heard me right. As we unloaded the boats that first morning dad called me over to an open area a few steps away for a demonstration. “Watch the ground.” I thought that was a strange statement. Then dad hopped up and down just a little a few times. The ground literally rippled almost like water. Seeing the ground waving scared me so much that chills raced up my spine and goose bumps popped out all over my arms. “If you aren’t careful where you step, you can literally fall right through this spongy marshland, completely out of sight. It isn’t like falling in the mud. So be very careful and only step where I step. Do you understand?” I said that I did. I didn’t a single step anywhere that dad didn’t step for the whole 1 mile walk to the marsh ponds. We had a great time. After my third or fourth trip to the marsh I was feeling pretty confident about knowing my own way. (Can you hear a OOOOPS coming?) That morning I started to take off on my own. Dad grumbled, “Mike, you wait for the rest of us and you carry that paddle sideways so that if you fall through the marsh at least you will only fall to your chest and we can help you out.” I waited and followed dad. I thought he was going much to slowly and so when he chose the path to walk around a large clump of marsh grass, I took a tiny shortcut. Two steps later I fell through the marshland up to my arm pits. In fact, the only reason that I didn’t fall completely through was my arms were outstretched to each side like a “t”. I don’t think I had ever been that scared before. Everyone raced to my rescue, told me how to use the paddle to push myself up and get out of the marsh. The rest of that day dad didn’t have to remind me to walk where he walked. In fact, I don’t think I left his side very far that day even after we got to the ponds. If I had just stayed where dad had walked nothing bad would have happened. That proved to be an important lesson for more than just fishing in the marsh.

Lesson #2 – The temperature warmed up enough that everyone quit going to the marsh. One Saturday a friend and I went fishing by ourselves. He had heard me talk a lot about the great fishing in the marsh and wanted to go. I explained the rule about the temp and the snakes. He began to mock me and the marsh saying, “Yeah, right. I’ll bet you made up all of those stories.” (young males can be so stupid) “All right, I’ll show you. We’re going to the marsh.” So we unloaded the boat and took off. 40 minutes later we were there. We loaded up our tackle boxes, rods and paddle. We hadn’t taken 3 steps when BAM! I almost stepped on a cotton mouth and we could see 3 more from where we stood. Now what would even moderately intelligent humans do in this situation? That’s right. GO HOME! But we proved that we weren’t even moderately intelligent. (young males can be so stupid) We both had on hip boot waders and so we didn’t think too much about a leg bite. We started walking again, watching much more carefully this time. After we had seen about a dozen snakes, I went to step over a clump of grass and almost stepped right on a cottonmouth’s head. That made me mad. So would a stupid young male who is angry do? Bet you can’t guess. I had an H & H spinner bait already rigged on my line at the tip of my rod. I decided that I would slap that snake with my rod. SLAP!  SLAP! SLAP! OOOOPS! (You knew that ooops was coming, didn’t you?) On that third slap I somehow hooked that snake right behind the head with those 2 H & H hooks. Want to guess how the snake responded? He EXPLODED in rage. He was squirming all over the place. I had a light action rod so I couldn’t do much with him; he was way bigger than I first thought. That’s when my brain finally kicked into gear. I cut the line, donated my fishing lure to the snake and took off for the boat as fast as my friend and I could go while avoiding the snakes we had already passed. And NO I didn’t make that mistake again. Sure would have been a whole lot easier just to have listened to dad. Oh, well.

Lesson #3 – On another trip to the marsh it was a really cold day. As we were walking the mile to the ponds, I mildly stumbled and fell to the ground. What I wasn’t thinking about was that now my gloves and hands were wet and the temps were COLD! Dad asked me about my hands and I said that I was fine. All I could think about were the bass. I wasn’t remembering that ever since I was a kid and had gotten a little frost bite on my hands, they quit working when I got really cold. Of all the days to have a problem, it would have to be the one when the bass were striking on every cast. I had caught several when my fingers began not to work. I still tried to fish some more. Then all of a sudden I couldn’t move any of my fingers, I couldn’t feel anything in my hands and I couldn’t see any of the men I had come with. I have to admit I sure was scared. I didn’t want to have to holler for dad, but I didn’t see any option. “DAD!” Suddenly those brown eyes came around a big clump of marsh grass. He had been keeping an eye on me. He looked at my hands and fingers and immediately began to build a fire out of some newspaper that he always carried (just in case) and some grass and twigs. Only the newspaper was dry, so it took some real doing to get the fire going. But, thank God, dad was always good at things like that. Dad made sure I didn’t get my fingers too close to the fire since I couldn’t feel a thing. The blood finally began to flow back into my hands and some feeling returned. I wanted to stay so that I wouldn’t ruin dad’s fishing trip that day. But all he could say was, “Are you crazy. We’re getting you home where it’s warm.” I worried for so long about ruining that day, until one day dad told me that one of his most special memories was taking care of me that day in the marsh. Hearing him say those words still brings tears to my eyes. I love ya’ and miss ya’, dad.

Lesson #4 – One day we were out near the marsh, but were fishing from the boat. We had caught a lot of bass that day when lunchtime arrived. We both broke out our sandwiches and chips and drink. It was a sunny day and we were just letting the boat drift while we visited. About that time dad said something that I can still hear in his deep voice. “Mike, I wonder what the poor folks are doing?” My dad had picked that question up from his dad. Now please understand that my dad grew up in what would now be considered a severely impoverished time. His family was honest to goodness, real hillbillies; trying to make enough to eat on a harsh piece of land outside Yellville, Arkansas during the Great Depression. That day dad reminded me that his dad used to ask him that question when he was a kid. “He would always ask, ‘So Leo Bill, what do you think the poor folks are doing?’ Then I would always ask him, ‘but dad, aren’t we poor?’ That’s when he would always remind me, ‘Son, any man who has food to eat and a place to go fishing is a rich man.” For most folks it is easy to forget what the words “rich” and “poor” really mean in the world. But for me, I have some extra help. I just close my eyes and slip off to one of our fishing trips and hear my dad ask, “So, Mickel-deuce, what do you think the poor folks are doing?” Thanks dad, for teaching me what “rich” and “poor” really mean. I still get a little mixed-up sometimes, but only when I haven’t stop to listen to your voice again.