My First Fifty Years – By Gerald Bustin

Chapter 2

My Two Besetting Sins

Perhaps it would be best to tell of two of my besetting sins, for there were others, but these two seemed to get me into more difficulties than the others, at least for the time being. These were “Fishing and Swimming”. Of course these are not sins within themselves, but the craving which I had for these two sports often led to results which were far from pleasant.

When out of school I would work faithfully all week if I could only extract the promise of a trip to the creek on Saturday afternoon. Of course these times were well merited, but my trouble came from those unmerited and unpermitted occasions, such as when I would go after the cows or to cut wood, then would, after grabbing my hook and line, get excited by the nibble of some little fish, hardly more than a “top water,” until cows or wood was forgotten. Then I had to pay off. Such experiences were too frequent to tell but I will pass on one little incident which will explain

I had often been told that colored people really knew how to catch fish, so I had long waited for an opportunity to get at least one lesson in this art. At last the opportunity came. About a mile and a half through the “piney-woods” back of the homestead was a large family of colored folk who sometimes worked for us, and my father would then go and do some plowing for them as pay for their work. One day it fell my lot to go along and help plant some corn. My grandmother asked me to be back by one o’clock sharp to help in the garden. We had worked hard and our work was finished about eleven o’clock. I mean the corn-planting, for my father yet had work to do. One of these black boys suggested going fishing in the little creek near the place. Actually the creek was about ten feet wide at the widest points, but Joshua assured me there were “big fish” in it, and that he knew how to catch them, so this was enough for me. We got bait and were soon on the way. It may have been 11: 30 by now, but what of it, I had only a mile and a half to go before one o’clock. Dinner meant little to me in view of learning how to catch “big fish,” then after this I could run fast through the woods and get home in time for the garden work at one o’clock. Here was my opportunity, so we soon had our hooks in the water. Of course we had to “spit on the worms,” first in order to entice the fish. I must confess they didn’t bite quite as fast as they should, and the time was going very swiftly. After a few drops here and there with no results my confidence was beginning to be a bit shaken in my “teacher’s” ability until suddenly his cork went under. With much excitement I saw him pull something out of the water part way — at least five or six inches, then it sank — and my heart sank with it, for the hook swung free. It is true that it looked more like a snake than a fish, but Joshua said it was a great fish and that we would soon catch it again. Yes, it was true that I would soon “catch it,” but not this “whale” whose head had been pulled out of the water.

With soaring hopes we tried to persuade the “big fish” to come for our worms again, but he was gone for ever. With a sigh I got a side glance of the sun which had already taken a westward slant. Then I remembered something! I didn’t mean to be rude toward Joshua, but I gave a bound like a wild Indian with my feet fleeing in the direction of the homestead. No time to follow the trail! A short cut was taken through the “piney-woods,” out through the “black jacks” and on through the “black berry briars” with my broad-brimmed straw hat in hand. A few tumbles caused by “possum grape” vines were the order of the hour, but no time to nurse bruises now. There was no time to even think of them, for my mind was fully occupied with enlarging the “big fish” story and yet make it sound reasonable. By this time I sighted the garden and “Mamma” too, for she had been there for an hour. I entered the gate panting like a “puff-adder” and at the same time trying to get “mamma” excited about the uncaught “whale.” I had hoped to change her thoughts and modify her intentions, but she wasn’t excited in the least and seemed altogether unchangeable in her intentions as was demonstrated by the fact that she was headed directly toward an untrimmed apple tree, but the trimming soon began for both the apple tree and the fisherman. The “whale” story came to a sudden stop. There is no need to waste ink and paper in telling my readers what transpired that afternoon in the garden, but it might be well for you to learn that the bruises which I got from the “possum grape” vines were “not’in a’ tal.” This took place about forty years ago, but somehow I remember it well. That was my first and last fishing lesson from Joshua.

“The Ole Swimmin’ Hole”

Experiences in this direction are too numerous to note, but I will yield to the temptation long enough to record one unforgettable incident.

The “blackberry” season was on, so it was my delight to hear mamma say, “Tolbert, I want you to take this bucket and go get me enough berries to make a ‘cobbler’ and ‘hurry back.’ Do you hear?” “Yes, Marnm,” as always, came the reply, and the berry “picker” was headed for the “berry patch” and “the . . . .” Time was an important item, so with hat in one hand and bucket in the other he bounded away like a runaway horse. Somehow the berries were unusually scarce that afternoon, then the search was suddenly interrupted by familiar sounds coming from farther down the creek. There had been recent rains and the water was fine. The suggestion came from somewhere that “perhaps” the berries are more plentiful down that way.” Berries were scarce everywhere that afternoon, but what a day for a swim! Yes, there was the gang and what a time they were having! And there were those two “Saxon boys” who were noted as “very bad boys” and “mamma” had said that under no condition was I to play with them. What was I to do? It was too late now for the gang had spied me! “Come on in,” they cried. There were thoughts plenty, and something said, “No,” but clothes were shed and the fun began while time was fleeing.

Before too long the “berry boy” said something about having to go, but it didn’t take too much persuasion to keep him a bit longer. Oh, yonder is one of those “Saxon boys” out and already dressed! It is time to go. Just as I climbed out of the creek in the direction of my “shirt and pants” I saw them slipping through the woods in the hands of that “Saxon boy.” I called for him to stop, but on he went in the direction of his home. I began running after him at full speed and yelling for him to stop, but the faster I ran, the faster he flew, and since he was much larger, I realized that I was in trouble, and besides there I was with nothing on but “birthday clothes” . . . as naked as a skinned rabbit. The “black jacks,” black berry briars and “possum grape” vines wrapping themselves about my flesh were none too comfortable, but even these things were not my big problems just then. I am sure no philosopher ever had more thoughts fly through his head in so short a time. I both remembered and anticipated, but with no pleasure. Without a doubt I remembered the day when Joshua gave me the lesson on how to catch “big fish,” and of what I did catch in the garden. I remembered “mamma” said, “Have nothing to do with those Saxon boys.” Then I featured having to go home in that condition with only an empty bucket and my straw hat. Woe would be unto my shirtless back and pantless legs. On and on we ran. I knew it would not be nice to chase this boy to his home like this . . such a predicament! About the time I was ready to give up the race this bad boy dropped my clothes and slipped on out of the reach of flying “chunks,” for by this time my anger was in a rage. No berries that day, but I had another trip to the garden late that afternoon. This time “mamma” trimmed a peach tree in order to adapt some “shelalies.” You can guess the rest. The good woman never did learn of my escapade with the Saxon boy. I thought she gave me enough as it was.