As a wander prone kid, running along the slippery red clay banks of a murky southern creek, I certainly enjoyed an intoxicating level of personal freedom. Many of my excursions were self-designed under the guise of a fishing trip, the partial rouse was generously accommodated by my great aunts, Eva and Minnie who probably realized early on that hooking a fish was not my only incentive for finagling these trips. Yet, it is true that I enjoyed fishing just fine and for some reason I even enjoyed the whole process of acquiring bait for the trip. Although, I suspect my grandma Lois enjoyed the bait process considerably less than I, since it normally resulted in my metal hoe accidental bursting one of her fragile water pipes culpable of hiding the pinkish red wiggler worms I was trying to capture.
Looking back, it is easy to see the appeal of fishing trips rested in well more than the pleasure of catfish and cane poles. Considerable and varied pleasures ensued on these trips, just not the types you find in world travels or exotic adventure vacations or thrilling amusement park rides. Undoubtedly, some folks would likely consider such long, summer days quite dull. But for me, turning an old minnow bucket upside down and settling firmly into a red clay bank, slowly tossing in a wiggler attached to the end of an old cane pole, was a liberating act.
My great aunts, Eva and Minnie, were unremarkable southern women in their day, yet they stand out as remarkable to me, all these years later. Sitting in the warm sunlight of my memories, they present quite the picture. Devoid of any hints of antebellum refinement, their functional attire included large straw hats with battered brims, and somewhat reluctantly I must admit, the smile of their lips were periodically forced into a pucker by a small dip of snuff. Our fishing trips were common and gloriously primitive.
Perhaps, it is accurate to attribute some of my fondness for these trips to the beguiling force nostalgia exerts on the grown-up mind. Certainly, tales of a wild-eyed “young-un” (as we were called in my southern childhood) fishing on a creek bed doesn’t appear to have much to do with the higher ideals of freedom. Yet, freedom began to resonate in me as I lingered amidst the quiet humming of hymns and the gentle laughter of Eva and Minnie.
My great aunts weren’t too caught up in making a living or overly impressed by academic argumentation of any type. Granted, they probably endured more poverty than they should have and, by some estimations, could have found more ambitious ways of contributing to the world. Still, one thing they did extraordinarily well... was to live well. They would sit on those minnow buckets and talk about the going ons in the family, the way the fish were or weren’t biting, whether or not the pound cake nestled in the picnic basket turned out right, and they would talk about their faith in a way that allowed me to consider something and someone bigger than myself. When the time came for me to consider intellectual arguments of high repute and pervasive, award-winning opinions promoted by every imaginable form of mass media, the red clay, minnow bucket brand of freedom was woven into my spirit and conscience. I had learned to listen and consider life’s questions without fear. In turn, the questions I began to ask from the shores of a sandy creek and the bench of a county line church brought answers, spoken in silence, that eventually led me to the place I call Freedom.