Growing up as a country kid or even a country-town kid in the pre-Depression and Great Depression days was not quite the hardship that Tom Brokaw makes of it in his book The Greatest Generation. Admittedly World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean conflict and a few other unpleasantries made it a bit tough, but not entirely unbearable, especially for kids who were not entirely paupers.
Many bad things existed, and many of the people of the era were not even sure the Depression was on because times had always been pretty tough.
Dad had a bit of land and always kept a job with Standard Oil Co. He even always had a car of sorts, usually a Model T Ford.
I had a saddle horse, as did most of the kids my age. I fished a lot in the many little stock ponds, but all that they held was a great overstocking of green sunfish, which will live in water almost too hot to stick a finger in and breeds like a carload of rabbits. Fried crisply, the sunfish ate pretty well, reminding you of a badly overcooked oyster.
About that time, my friend Joe Pollard and I discovered the secret of fish pond management - long before the University of Auburn made itself famous on the subject. We caught a couple of hundred of the sunfish out of Granny Ladd's pond - none over 4 inches long - and transferred them live to a small pond Dad had dug and let rainwater fill.
At least a year later, I baited a hook, tossed it into the pond and immediately hooked something that fought like an oversized bream. It turned out to be one of our stockers, weighing over a pound. It had gotten all it could eat with no competition. We knew we were on to something, so we tried diligently to reduce the pond's numbers by use of ingenious wire nets baited with cornbread. Sometimes we caught 100 or so in a hour or two. We transported them to other new livestock ponds that were plentiful.
Sad to report, we never improved the parent pond owned by Granny Ladd. There were simply too many fish for two small boys.
Behind my house, in Oakland, Miss., a 25 acres of idle land had been allowed to grow up wild in wild lespedeza, sedgegrass, blackberry vines, and plum bushes. In a little corner acre were trees - mostly black locust with three or four good-size pear trees that never produced a pear. The "old folks" said that all of the trees were male and needed a female tree to make fruit. Maybe they were right - who knows?
Best of all, the land had a bountiful supply of cottontail rabbits and even a covey of quail for a few years. Dad wouldn't let me shoot the birds, but my little beagle/feist dog and I gave those rabbits fits.
When I tired of shooting rabbits, there were pigeons for the taking along the seed houses on the railroad spur line and resting on the roof of the Christian Church which was next door to my own house. No one ever fussed about my shooting in town, but those were gentler and simpler times.
As much fun and maybe even more was time spent riding our horses all over hundreds of acres of unposted fields and woods. We often wound up in a swimming hole in Tillatoba Creek.
We endured the insufferable heat in the summer with no air conditioning or even an electric fan, the poor heating in the winter from open fireplaces, the diseases for which no cures were known, and malaria, borne almost every spring by mosquitoes and not eliminated until DDT finally wiped out the carriers. And as we endured the adversities, we enjoyed our growing up. Even so, I'll still take the good old present as the best time of all.
To the loyal readers of my Outdoor Observations: Many thanks for your cards, letters, phone calls and personal contacts during my recovery from hip surgery complications. Nothing pleases a writer more than to hear nice things from his readers.
I am now recovering nicely and hope to be able to chase a turkey gobbler come spring. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. I wish all of you have the best fishing, hunting and health in 2001.