Chronicle's of a "Towhead" in the 50's...
"GRASSHOPPERS AND CRYSTAL POOLS"
It was quite a change from city life to rural living. Due to my father's choice of jobs, we ended up in a small village in Washington State in the early 1950s. It was a long and boring drive from Seattle to the eastern portion of the state. Quaint and a bit untidy, we moved to the township of Nespelem, 16 miles north of the the mighty Grand Coulee Dam region of Washington in what seemed the middle of nowhere, a most
beautiful chunk of land bordering the Columbia River.
Nespelem was semi arid with rolling hills and pretty much devoid of people but as the months unfolded, living there would turn out to be the best place I would ever live in my
entire lifetime. My dad worked for a based electrical company, the REA. Today he would be considered a high voltage specialist, an extreme job to say the least. Back then he was just a "pole climber". Dad’s job was repairing electrical lines on the Reservation of the Colville, Nez Perce, and 10 other tribes of the local, consolidated tribal lands. He also replaced transformers and wire rigging on the power poles when storms would take them down, leaving the community powerless and awaiting Dad’s rescue. Dad cut quite the figure as he climbed equipped with his steel spurs digging into the wooden poles, his sturdy leather safety belt girdling him against the the upright logs as he would make his way to the sky-touching lines and whatever problem awaited his experienced hands.
The mornings were chilly in the village of Nespelem and crisp and clear as one might expect for a fall day in November. The orange and golden leaves had fallen from the trees in anticipation of winter while frost was splashed upon the landscape.
I was a spunky seven year old boy, “Towhead,” as I was lovingly called. I was one of the few white kids living on the reservation. This day, and every day that year there would be no school for me. Teacher had broken her leg within the first month of school so my entire class was dismissed for the rest of the year, and we were moved up one year! (No homeschooling back in the old days). The elementary school was one building with all 12 class grades huddled together, the best they could do in the tiny village of roughly 125 people, not even big enough to be called a town.
Anyway, continuing on, it was a crisp and early morning. Dad had just finished
breakfast and was ready to go to work. I was ready to go off to my job for the day which meant off to the little Nespelem Creek in the hopes of pulling out some nice fat, juicy rainbow and brook trout. An entrepreneur at my ripe old age of 7, I caught trout for the local (and only) “restaurant” around for many miles. Edna Hunt, the owner and proprietor of the "Teepee" cafe many miles would ‘purchase’ my trout for the cafe. In payment for my ‘catch of the day’ I was able to eat free anytime I wanted, and anything on the menu! Believe me, at seven I believe I came out on top of that deal!
A few of my favorites were the unobtrusive mustard sandwiches, then homemade pot roast with all the trimmings. And her pies were to die for; apple, rhubarb, gooseberry, blackberry. They still make my mouth water to think of them. Real food for real times...yum...!!! And, as a special bonus, I received $3.00 a week for fishing tackle.
I was very excited because it was perfect weather, plus this was payday. My plan
for the day was about six 14" trout, then to collect my fat money for the week. after that, off to Jess Casey's store (a real Trading Post) to replenish my fishing gear and, later, buy some penny candy at Mr. Davis's drug store. Another simply unencumbered day on the “Res”. I embraced it with the innocence and open arms as a young and exuberant boy. So begins a mostly normal day in the middle of nowhere.
"ON THE CREEK"...
As soon as my fishing pole and tackle we're ready to go, I kissed mom, and bolted towards my adventures of the day. So out I would go, through our white picket fenced back yard to the creek some four blocks away to the west. First stop on the way to catching bait would be Ed "Beggs's" gas station on the two-lane highway running north
and south to the Dam, where I'd get to say howdy to Mr. Beggs, chew the fat for a bit and pick up a "Rocky Road" candy bar. Hung around and for awhile and chatted with Mr. Beggs and his brother and then onward to the trout that were waiting for pick up.
I would usually catch grasshoppers for bait on the way and used them
with #14 egg hooks or my trusty trout snagger, Colorado triple treble
spinners. I swear you could catch those fish on a bare hook! I seemed to be the only fisherman in town! The whole time living there in Nespelem I never ran into anyone on the creek or the ‘Millpond while fishing. I was living in fisherman's Nirvana!!!
The path to the creek was on the schoolhouse road. The school itself was about a mile or so west of the gas station, the route of travel everyday by foot. What happy thoughts danced through my mind knowing all the other kids were in school while I was was playing legal hooky to experience more adventures in nature.
By around nine o'clock, the perfect time for the hungry fish to start biting, I had collected about ten small grasshoppers and had three lures in a small beat up paper bag in
my jacket pocket, next to my candy bar. Upon reaching my destination, I came upon a perfect green, grassy spot next to the bridge on the creek and baited up a tobacco spitting grasshopper. Bare line, no weights or bobber to impede it’s natural floating into the crystal pool just down stream of the bridge. My first cast and wham...!!! An 8 inch "brookie" on the line. Blessed by the fishing gods, I reeled it in and left it in the water. I secured my pole between rocks on shore as to not loose it, or my red fishing pole.
Cutting a thin and supple forked branch from a nearby sapling tree to put the
trout on, I unhooked my treasure and placed it on the newly cut stringer so it would
stay alive in the creek. A large rock at the tip of the branch on shore and the other end with the fish on it in the creek and done and ready for the next ‘customer’
swimming the clear creek. After catching three more brook trout, decided to leave and try for larger rainbow trout with my Colorado spinner. Brook trout are spectacular fish decorated with bright spots and colors, reminiscent of the ‘Wonder Bread’ packaging. I can still see them to this day.
Gathering up my four freshly caught jewels (Edna is sure to smile at these), and my pole, headed upstream to the tiny rapids and pools where the big fish played.
Well, there they all go!
Climbing up the embankment I slip on an exposed rock covered with frost, unwillingly
releasing my entire bait collection. Rats!! Oh well, at least I didn't get a
dunking in the creek. Stopped about two feet shy of going swimming, which was good since I couldn't swim. So, now it's spinner and bigger fish time. Hoping for some 16-18" rainbows to help ease the pain of my loss.
I made it up to the road and crossed over the bridge to the Mill Pond
path. It was about 25 feet above the creek and had been graded flat
with the intent to build a small irrigation canal. Every chance I got I would catch, andstock it, with trout, crawdads, periwinkles, and freshwater snails. My own private aquarium! Several times I had even seen beaver and muskrat swimming it. Great toy for a kid my age.
Time for trout as I drop into the border thicket back to the creek. Blackberry brambles and deadfall trees were the barriers I had to go through to get to the pools. Reaching the shoreline, I squatted down and prepared my line. The wonderful little pool below the rapids was my target fishing hole. I stood for a moment to catch my visible breath and just tune into the images of the creek and harvest the sounds of gurgling water and a
slight breeze whispering through the denuded trees.
Reaching my first destination, and ready to go, I cast into the first
pool and worked it from end to end. Then the adrenalin kicked in after the
fourth cast. It was either a bite or I hit a brief underwater snag. Eagerly I cast again, and this time a heavy solid strike. Jerking the pile back, the fight was on! Ibegan reeling the pugilist in slow and steady as to not get caught up on fallen tree branches in the water. A few minutes into the duel I could see it! A 17 inch “Rainbow"!
I reeled it in and landed it. Slippery and splashing, I retrieved my catch. A 19" beauty with his side stripe iridescent red and silver in the morning sun. Now to break out the metal stringer. The fighter was large and too feisty for the branch stringer so I clipped
it on a small tree, and anchored it good, placed him in the creek and prepared for another cast, hoping for another as large. Guess it was the only one home,
because after working the pool another thirty minutes with nary another bite, I decided to move upstream.
Gathering up the catch and the pole I headed back into the thicket. Following the creek to the mill pond about three blocks away, crunching and snapping branches and twigs under my feet as I made my way to the next and even larger pool.
This one was devoid of branch snags, but the fish were a bit more shy in the clear, noisy waters. After nine casts finally got a strike. It proved to be a 12 incher and good enough for a hungry patron at Edna's cafe. I continued on, cast after cast, working my way upstream reaching the mill pond with my cache of nine fish, a nice haul for my adventure and wages earned for the day. At the mill pond I threw a few casts below the
spillway pond and came up with nothing. Stopped for a while, caught a few more grasshoppers and set up the bobber and a #14 bare hook and relaxed on the bank and cast it out, catching two more 8 inch rainbows one after the other. Threw the little shavers back in the water to put on a few more inches before I catch them again.
As I sat watching the gentle breezes bending the cattails I became mesmerized watching the bombarding dragonflies and was happy and content for the morning
turning itself into a dragonfly daze.
Upon returning from my daydreaming I gather my thoughts and my gear and my catch. It's payday! Plus a cheeseburger and malted milkshake at Edna's. Life is good!
I walked up onto the creaking wooden porch at Edna's, and went inside.
The cafe was half full, normal for this time of the day. At the counter and scattered here and there at tables some of the locals were having their lunch. Edna's sidekick and waiter Lenard scuttled about bussing tables and delivering
heaping plates of Edna’s delicious creations. Lenard was a Nez Perce native from
town. Like a sort of a food angel he carried himself like a ballet dancer between
tables, serving the food to eager customers. Vintage memorabilia covered the
walls boasting early posters of Grand Coulee Dam, mounted deer heads, yesteryear posters of the Omak Rodeo and a giant vacated hornet nest hanging next to one of the few televisions in town.
This little Twohead greeted everyone as I walked through the cafe and into the kitchen with my mornings catch, all cleaned and ready for Edna. Edna was very pleased and decided I needed an open-faced, thick sliced baked ham sandwich with mashed potatoes and swimming in her luscious gravy, along with a cold Bubble Up soda to wash it all down. A proper and welcome treat for my days work.
I sat and took in the chatter of the patrons as I waited for my lunch. When Lenard set the delicacy on my table, he slid exactly $3.00 under the plate whispering it was from Edna.
As I was greedily shoveling the warm and creamy potatoes and gravy in my mouth, Edna came out of the kitchen in her rose-patterned apron and sat down next to me at the table. (I truly believe as I got older and the years passed that Edna was the prototype ‘Aunt B’ from Mayberry. Hair neatly up in a bun, age lines dancing upon her face). She wanted to know all about my morning catch and in between bites of succulent ham and sips of sweet, bubbly soda I related every detail. Edna’s eyes were always smiling, twinkling with happiness. To this day I remember Edna with clear memory and fondness and believe that she had a great impact on me.
"Davy, you did your best today and brought in fine fish to prepare them for some very nice cafe dinners.” And with that, I finished in haste and left Edna for Davis’ drugstore and Casey’s General Store with my payday in hand and a full belly. The ending of another great day for a towheaded kid on the reservation.