It must have been the repeated thumping and slamming from the kitchen that tore me from my juvenile pursuits that day.
Our family of five lived in Roseburg, virtually within casting distance of fish in the Umpqua River, and Daddy took advantage of our close proximity. He often came home bearing a wicker creel full of fresh trout.
My town-bred Mama had willingly taken up Northwest pursuits of growing and canning fruits and veggies and thought little of cleaning fish or pheasant. But when she pulled back the peg and lifted the lid, a live bullhead catfish stared back. I would soon learn how they earned their name.
I'm sure that defiant bullhead stared up sideways, flopping its tail, and pegged Mama as a wimp. But the sight that my small self was lucky enough to witness instilled in me a sort of horrified respect for her grit.
My little Mama hovered over a fish that couldn't have been more than a couple of pounds — OK, Dad, maybe 4 or 5. She wielded our household hammer right at its head — whacking away — in a desperate bid to relieve the stubborn thing of its misery.
At one point, I considered that it might have been kinder to just go ahead and fry it alive. Why it wouldn't at least play dead was beyond me. It apparently mistook the stars for glimmers of hope because just when we were ready to heave a relieved sigh — flop. I was both appalled and intrigued.
Amid the brutal object lesson of beat or get beat, I couldn't help but ask, "Could I give it a try?" I think Mama was worn out. With the hammer, she might have weighed all of 120 pounds and had a big heart for people and other living things. So she let me have a whack or two.
I knew by the look on Mama's face that, despite its pluck, that catfish would be our dinner and serve double duty as a lively topic of table conversation.
Dad's retired creel rests on my dresser. I wish it could recount his riverside adventures. Choice, old fishing gear is highly collectible.
Cabela's and L.L.Bean sell new, split-willow fishing creels for $40 to $60. A 1940s to '50s vintage creel like his, without the leather strap, sells for about $25. I recently saw one in Medford's own Glory Days Antiques store for $49.99. It was nice and tightly woven with leather, sporting just enough wear to make it interesting.
A similar creel on eBay went for $40, but that one came with an alligator head. Someone had asked to make sure it was included for the price.
If Mama had discovered a gator when she opened the lid that day, she might have grabbed Dad's shotgun. And there might not be enough of the creel remaining to remind me that I hail from such persevering stock.
Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at email@example.com.