You have to be there to know where Kelly is. Usually wordy Wikipedia simply reports, “Kelly is an unincorporated community in Caldwell Parish. It’s ZIP code is 71441.” That’s it. No population given, but I’d guess it at around 18 people, 14 dogs and a horse these days. It never was a lot bigger.
Kelly is where Grandma Romoline and Grandpa George Kinnison used to live. It’s where I learned my first lessons of the outdoors during weekend and summer visits. I feel sorry for kids today who don’t have grandparents in the country.
There were fishing adventures to make Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn jealous, like trips to Aunt Lucy’s pond. Now there was a catch. I had to mow Grandma’s yard before I could go fishing. It wasn’t that big, but she had 86 bushes, some that even nurseries can’t name, planted three feet apart all around the yard. I had to mow around each one, stopping frequently to take a sip of Dr. Pepper to overcome dizziness.
But then it was off to the pond. It was huge. I saw it later in life and it wasn’t. But it was huge when I was 10.
Grandpa would find an old Folger’s metal coffee can and we’d go next door to see Mr. Lonnie Thomas and his old clawfoot bathtub, located under a shed out back, covered with a piece of rusty tin, containing rich dark soil and red worms from one end to the other. He’d dig around and get as many as he thought we could use. When Mr. Lonnie wasn’t home, we’d have to search under fresh cow patties in Aunt Lucy’s cow pasture for worms. They were a little bit more slimy and wiggly.
I’d hitch a ride out across the highway to Aunt Lucy’s. My grandparents never owned a car. You didn’t really need one in Kelly.
We caught bunches of bream and catfish and grinnel in the pond on cane poles cut right from the patch by the pond. We used braided line that you could tow a car with. It’s where l unintentionally learned how to dance with a water moccasin. And on another day, how to recover from a heart attack. The latter was provided by a covey of quail flushed with a fury from the fence row we walked to the pond. Here I also learned how to tell mean cows from friendly cows. Aunt Lucy’s cows were all mean.
Back in the woods behind Grandma’s, I learned to never, never, never shoot a hornet’s nest with a .22 rifle, no matter how far away you think you are. Running through the chicken yard and jumping the fence while screaming at the top of my lungs even scared the head rooster. He was mean, too.
But back to fishing. One summer, Dad and I walked into downtown Kelly, which was a block from each city limits sign, down to Tuberville’s General Store. I thought we were going to get an orange creamsicle Push-Up. But Dad bought me my very first real artificial fishing lure. It was a Lucky 13. Came in a box and everything. Visions of catching a bass made me almost as dizzy as mowing Grandma’s yard. They were in the pond, you know. We had seen them swirl and jump, but they would not hit a red wiggler.
That afternoon, I met my cousin Paul to walk to the pond, right after we ate a few of Aunt Lucy’s tea cakes and got a swig of cool well water. On this day, I had my cane pole and my Dad’s Zebco 33 rod and reel, my new bait securely tied on.
I can still see it in my mind. I cast my Lucky 13 clear across the pond and into a willow bush. No problem. I jerked as hard as I could and it came right lose. But it flew across the pond faster than a flushed quail and a treble hook buried about a half inch above my right eye. Buried deep.
No worries. Cousin Paul plopped out his trusty single bladed Old Hickory pocketknife. It was sharp because he used it to clean squirrels earlier that very morning. He spit on it, wiped it on his blue jeans to sanitize it and cut the hook out before I could see enough through my bloody eye to know I should yell “Stop.” I think he enjoyed it. He still grins today when he hears the story.
There’s more. I killed my first squirrel in the seven-acre woods on the Kinnison homestead in Kelly. It woke up Mr. Pitelli, the next door neighbor, who gave me an awful cussing about hunting in town and so early.
Oh yes, more about the fishing.
Well, you see, there isn’t room to keep telling the tales. But if there’s one thing this story brings to the forefront, it is that fishing isn’t all about fishing. It’s about all the stuff that goes on around it. Or hunting. And the stories we tell. Some of them are even true. Never forget that. Because you can never catch enough fish or big enough fish to be totally happy. There’s always one more or one a little bit bigger.
But you can make memories in the simple going of fishing. And telling the tales. And seriously, that’s really all that matters in the end.