Growing up in the Fourth Ward back in the 40s was different from growing up today. There was not too many ways a young boy could make his show fare. I would go though the neighborhood picking up bottles to sell. Some of the other boys got wise as to what I was doing, bottles got scarce.
I had done some fishing going up the river toward Celanese. I soon learned that I could sell catfish to the people who lived in Hell's Hollow. I would fish on Friday and sell my fish.
The rivers didn't look as they do today. There was no ball parks or anything thing else on the banks. It was growed up with grass over our heads, the banks were full of willows. I remember that people would cut the willows and make furniture out of them.
The first thing I remember behind the levee was a race track. As I remember, a Mr. Hugh Johnson owned it. I would help him clean up before and after they would have a race. They raced with the two-wheel carts behind the horse. In the days of the Romans they were called chariots, I am not sure but I have heard them called by different names. I believe what they did was called harness racing with the horse pulling a small cart with someone sitting on it.
I had a small hatchet that I carried with me on the river. I would out a hang out over the water to fish. Jimmy and I had made us a place in a big willow tree for us to sit, and the tree had a fork near the top that bent down over the water. Jimmy would take the high seat and I the low one. We had it fixed to where we could fish in the mouth of a slew that ran back into the bank. At the mouth of the slew was what we called our catfish hole.
On this particular morning, it had rained the night before. After a rain, catfishing was always good. We dug our worms and made sure our lines on the cane poles were in good shape. We headed for the river, unknown to our parents. We got to our favorite tree and Jimmy went up to where the forks were. I handed him the poles and he put them in a place we had made for them. We carried our worms in a small bucket that was made for kids to play in sand.
With everything ready Jimmy moved out on his limb and began to bait up his hook. I moved out on my limb and baited up. The worm no sooner hit the water that the cork started out to the middle of the slew. I brought him in, he was a nice one. I could see a catfish supper with enough to sell for Saturday show fare. It wasn't too long before Jimmy and I had enough to do us. Jimmy began to get into position to hand down the poles and stuff to me. I stood up and started toward the fork in the tree when I froze dead in my tracks. I tried to say something to Jimmy, but the words would not come out.
Jimmy started to laugh at me. I was shuddering so bad that he couldn't understand a word I said. I pointed to the fork in the tree and he saw it. A huge snake lay curled up on the fork blocking us from getting down. I am here to tell you, I have never liked snakes. I found out that Jimmy liked them less than I. I stood still holding my string of fish and looking at the snake.
"Jimmy," I asked, "what are we going to do?" To make the situation even worse neither Jimmy nor I could swim.
With both eyes on the snake I tied up my string of fish to the tree and I took the hatchet from my belt. No, it’s not what you think, I did not have any intentions of attacking the snake with it. I stood still waiting for him to come at me. I knew that if he came after me there was only place to go. I looked down at the water knowing that it was over my head at this spot.
I moved back out on the limb, and seeing a good size limb, chopped it off. I now had a stick about four foot long. I stuck the hatchet back into my belt and began to ease toward the snake. The closer I got to him the bigger he appeared. I stopped, looking up at Jimmy. He was staring at the snake. I moved to where I could brace myself. The snake lay with his head in the right position. I drew back the stick and came down with all my might. I missed the snake by about a foot. It didn't seem to bother him. He looked up, opened his mouth and his tongue came out.
I think everyone knows how fearsom-e they look with their mouth open and their fangs showing. I was scared stiff, but I drew back and took another whack at him. The stick had a knot on the end where I had cut off a limb. The knot hit him dead center of the head. He hit the water with a splash. I watched as he went floating down the river. I will always believe that Jimmy and I got out of that tree in record time.
I know what you are wondering, did we fish from that tree again? Yes, we did, but along with our fishing gear there was a big stick. We called our selves being prepared for the next one. Luckily for us, we never saw another snake on that tree.
Lonie Adcock of Rome is a retired Rome Police Department lieutenant. His latest book is “Fact or Fiction.”