It’s been so many years and yet I remember every nook and cranny of our Indian Pond camp as I knew it as a ten year old. In later years, my father added new siding and a roof, but this picture shows it exactly the way I want it to stay on the shelf in my mind. There is the bench my Uncle Glen built…the porch railings where I sat and watched moose slosh in the waters of the aptly named “Moose Cove”. There is the stump on which I sat, waiting to hear the sound of my parents’ car horn to let us know they were home from work and soon would be riding the waves in the little motor boat. Time to make sure that the potatoes were boiling on the little wood stove, even in the heat of August. Ma would slap the iron frying pan on the stove and while the fat was getting hot, roll last night’s harvest of fish in corn meal or flour and into the pan they’d go. In a few minutes we’d all be sitting at the little table with the potatoes and crispy fish all ready to be eaten.
As you may have guessed, fish was pretty much the constant food on our table and we never seemed to tire of it. However, there was one time my father brought a delicacy back to the camp that was met with a wary eye.
Horn pouting was a great way to fish particularly if there were a full moon and, in my case, someone to take the fish off the hook. When we were at home in Greenwood, Dad would take us to Hicks Pond or perhaps it was Mud Pond in Greenwood City and we’d fish for hornpout from the shore, but at Indian Pond we went into the murky waters of the bog or Moose Cove.
This particular night, the moon was shining, but not bright enough but what the kerosene lamps were twinkling from the camp as we rowed to Moose Cove. It was chilly so an extra light jacket was necessary and a couple of flashlights. The lines were dropped and it seemed as though we had sat on the boat seats forever when my father got a tug on his line.
“Ah ha” he yelled. (This was his favorite exclamation when after a half hour of sitting , he might get a nibble…) Well, this was doing some thrashing around in the water and I grabbed the flashlight per Dad’s command. “Shine it here, Muff,” he yelled and I shone it there….oh, yes, I shone it there..just in time for him to bring up this awful looking thing over the side of the boat. Slithering everywhere and chaos erupted between my yelling, Dad’s cursing..that thing was slithering.
“It’s a snake,” I remember screaming and my feet went up on the other seat and I was suspended in mid-air trying to remember to shine the light where Dad wanted it. He was moving from one end of the boat to the next seat and finally his boot went down on the slithering creature. “An eel, Muff, it’s an eel!” Excitement tore through every vein in his body while I tried not to retch. “Well, throw him back” I yelled back. “No No, they are fine eating” he replied, and got the hook out of the slithering creature.
We both agreed that our horn pouting session had ended and Dad picked up the oars to head back to camp, with the creature slithering around the bottom of the boat. My feet were still up in the air and I prayed it stayed on the bottom of the boat. I knew nothing about eels and did not want to know.
By the time we reached camp and Ma, reading by the lamp, the slithering had stopped. Ma took one look, rared back as if struck by a hammer, and informed my father that he could take that thing outside and there was no way she was having anything to do with it.
I think, in that moment, she was recalling all the different animals, the many organs of strange animals that my father just had to try …and always after reading some of his dime novels of the old West. The eel was the end of her rope.
Apparently, Dad realized this as well. The next time I saw the creature, Dad was standing by the little wood stove with the eel frying up nicely, but I swear it was still moving in the pan. When I questioned him, he said that “was natural.” Well obviously it was not natural to the rest of us. We took our crispy perch and potato and sat on the porch for that evening meal. Dad remained inside at the little table.
We never knew whether he ate it or not, but none of us ever saw the thrashing eel after that moment. I believe , in his bravest moment, Dad probably backed down and somehow got that eel out of camp and probably buried it in the back down by the swamp. No one ever asked; we were too happy that it was gone.
I do remember his asking Ma to fry him up some potato before he went to bed that night , so I’m thinking that the slithering and thrashing even got to him.
Not that he, the frontiersman, would ever admit it.