Almost daily, after all the corn was all laid-by and left to fend for itself in the sweltering South Georgia sun, Hugh took his boy, his only boy, Earnest, fishing. Earnest didn’t love fishing like Hugh but he sure loved his Papa, though whenever he called him papa, Hugh would threaten, in jest, to “popa knot” upside the boy’s head.
Papa Hugh loved Earnest too, even if the boy didn’t really like fishing. On the banks of the languid stream, Hugh would impale a struggling night crawler or cricket on Earnest’s long-shanked hook, and then remove a struggling Shellcracker from the same hook, years after Earnest should have been competent enough to complete both tasks himself. Despite Earnest’s ineptitude, Hugh told almost-impossible tales about what a natural fisherman he was. Hugh encouraged Earnest to hang his sagging stringer of fish over his shoulder and take the longer paths home from the stream so the neighbors could later bear witness to his success and cement the boy’s local reputation as an angler. Hugh was an otherwise honest man, but both father and son agreed that father and son secrets are not part of honesty’s purview.
But Earnest possessed talents and skills that needed no exaggeration. He was always the best reader in his class, and the best at ciphering, and the best at sketching. He won the district prize for elocution every eligible year. Hugh was proud of his boy.
Despite his achievements, many of his rougher classmates made quite the sport of Earnest. They sniggered at his high-pitched speaking voice. They laughed at his clean shirts and clean hands and asked if he was afraid of pu**y when he refused to dance with even just one girl at the Junior promenade.
Only his reputation as a fisherman saved him from the true torture the other boys with soft hands and high-pitched voices faced.
The summer season of planting and fishing before his senior year passed quickly, and soon the streams turned cold. Papa Hugh oiled the boy’s reels and put them away.
Letters arrived in the mail every week offering scholarships in places Hugh had never heard of, but still his chest swelled with pride when he brought the letters to Earnest. Hugh knew that Earnest would leave in the Fall and find his place in a world where a boy who couldn’t fish would be safe.
Alan Caldwell lives in Carroll County, Georgia, but is working on moving to his rural property in the mountains of Northeast Alabama. He has been married to his lovely wife, Brandi, for 33 years. He has one son, Caleb, who is a firefighter, a daughter-in-law, Chelsee, who is an emergency room nurse, and a grandson, Asher. Alan has been teaching for 27 years and spends much of his free time outdoors or reading. Alan has been collecting stories, mostly about his family, for over 40 years, but has just begun writing them.