Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Thursday, October 27, 2011

True Temper

Last time I was there, there wasn't much left of the old part of town.  What wasn't boarded up was bulldozed down or burned into rubble.  A few cars from time to time did trickled through carrying their occupants to some other location.  Most were probably oblivious to the history here and rarely noticed the weathered and mostly faded advertisement for 'Big Chief' writing tablets on the side of one of the still standing old red brick buildings.  The rusted Judy's Drug Store sign still hung above the now boarded entrance and swung with an irritating screech in the hot summer breeze.  About the only businesses still operating were the bank and post office...the latter appearing almost new compared to the other redbrick shells.  Even so, it was at least 40 years old itself.  The former still operated from the same location on the corner for more than 80 years now I'd guess.  Somehow, they had managed to keep the doors open in spite of the economic situation.

Once a thriving but small community, its heyday peaked during the 1950's after the war.  Then the first flood came...actually the second flood...the first having occurred well back in the late 1920's.  A few businesses precariously clung to life after that, and the heart of the small town eventually began to recover, but the unmistakable signs of old age and downward trends had already infiltrated into the community...few saw or understood what was happening.  The flood of '61  shoved the little town toward its deathbed, but somehow it survived...and began to recover...until the flood of '66 gave it massive heart failure.  The high water mark eight feet high is still visible on some of the older buildings.

A year or so later, a new highway extension diverted what traffic came through town to bypass it on the north side.  Many of the remaining businesses simply closed...a few moved to a location along the new section of highway.  In a way the new highway gave the town a second chance and a new heart...but it wasn't the same town...nor the same heart.  It was never the same after the last flood.  The Mayberry like charm that was Wister, Oklahoma washed away with the brown receding waters that took it's soul.

The summer of 1963 was the last summer of what I remember as the old Wister...a Wister that retained its connection to the simpler days of the past, yet was faced with changing times in a modern era.  It was one where the recovery from the '61 flood was almost complete and a normal life was once again beginning to stir.  It was the summer I remember the most...the last real summer of my youth where the essence of what this little community was...still existed...at least in my heart.  It was the summer where my grandparents business...a dry goods store...came back to life and began to function again as it had in the past.

It was the summer I received my first real fishing rod and reel...a True Temper blue fiberglass rod with a True Temper bait casting reel attached complete with a few dozen yards of braided fishing line.  With that rod and reel combo, I began to truly explore for the first time, the intrinsic values only discovered in the sport of fishing.

My friend Geary, the grandson of my grandmother's neighbor Ruth, would also spend a lot of time during the summer in Wister.  More often than not we'd get into some kind of mischief that would cause both our grandmothers to grimace in disbelief and often sternly declare..."...Lands sake...what were you two boys thinking?"

I suppose we heard those words more often than we should have...usually during the times his or my grandmother would be applying a paste of baking soda to the multiple bee stings we had received after attacking a wasp nest with squirt guns and fly swatters.  I'm not so sure why we ever did such fool things...but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But...fishing began to have a greater appeal...certainly less painful appeal anyway..and we'd ride our bikes up to Hammond's pond and use the old row boat to get out to the middle...where the big ones were...or we'd head over to Caston Creek and turn rocks to find crawdads or set out minnow traps for bait.  His grandfather kept a compost pile behind his house and we'd dig around in it and find a can full of worms for bait...threw a couple of bobbers along with a few hooks and split shot in a sack...and head out.  It was great fun and we actually caught a few fish.  My old Uncle Manly, my grandmothers brother-in-law who was well into his 70's at the time, would take us out to another pond and let us do some crappie fishing.

It was that season we purchased our first 'bass plugs'...mine was a black and white Lazy Ike.  I kept the plug for many years and caught many fish on it too...then retired it for fear of losing it.  Made a mistake a few years back and used it on a float trip only to lose it when the line snapped after hooking a nice smallmouth bass.

One time we hounded his grandmother to take out to the spillway below Wister Lake dam.  She did...dropped us off and left us there pretty much all day.  Our tackle box consisted of that same old paper sack with a few hooks and sinkers.  He brought along a homemade dip net he had made out of an old screen door.  With that net we'd lower in into the shallows and wait for bait fish to swim back in then slowly raise it trapping a few each time.  Before long we had a dozen or so bait fish we had tossed in the old beat up minnow bucket his grandfather let us use.

They were not running too much water that day through the gates, so there was a narrow long island that jutted above the water.  Out in front of it was good fast moving water.  Near one end was some older man fishing.  He had a big tackle box and a couple rods and reels and look the part of a real fisherman.  We felt almost silly with our paper sack and cheap equipment.  Even so, I tied on a large hook and attached a large sinker a couple feet above the hook.  Grabbed one of minnows, and hooked him in the tail and heaved that old True Temper as hard as I could.  The line landed near the middle of the current and the sinker began to bounce and roll across the bottom.  Not sure how long it took or how many tries it took, but I do know we caught several large Buffalo, or Drum...not sure which...standing on that strip of gravel and shale.  My first one was the largest single fish I have ever caught.  Considered trash fish...but man did they ever fight.

The line bounced around and then appeared to get hung.  I gave it a couple of hard jerks and the rod bent almost double.  Geary asked if I had one on...I said no...I'm hung...but my rod kept bouncing and jerking.  After a moment or two I realized I wasn't hung, I had hooked a big one...and man was it ever a fight.  That old True Temper reel didn't have a strong enough drag and that large fish in that strong current simple spun almost all of my line out.  I literally could not pull that fish in.  Geary ended up grabbing the fishing line and pulled it in by hand as I took up the slack...he then simply drug it up onto the bank.  That older man just down from us couldn't believe his eyes...the best I can remember, I don't recall he ever caught anything as we caught several through the afternoon.

And such was the summer of '63.  As time went on, we spent less and less time during the summer there as my family moved around and settled in another community.  During that time, that old True Temper rod and reel provided a young boy with a tool that all but changed the way he viewed the world.  Where once play was the main emphasis of my day...the opening up of the world of fishing through that rod and reel refocused my thoughts and began a life long love affair with a grand adventure.

Although I was unaware of it at the time...over the years I've been able to more clearly grasp the significance of those years.  When I am drifting in my canoe during the pre-dawn light...casting a line toward imagined encounters with a rising fish...when I reflect on the moment seeking to discover deeper meaning from why I enjoy such things...it is not the older man I have become that does these things, it is the young boy who spent those days exploring the world in and around that little Oklahoma town...building confidence...developing strength of character through trial and error...that does those things.

Experiences such as those generate unspoken words that attache themselves to our young minds as we grow older...words that echo across time attached to memories...it is those words that still encourage me...words that carry with them reminders of how those years provided a True Tempering in my youth that only now is becoming evident.  Oddly enough, I hear them more clearly today...silent words that only a young boy hears...words that allow one to laugh a misadventures...wonder about grand adventures...and grasp the significance of events long faded from most memories, but words that still reside fresh in the recesses of my heart.

My grandparents retired shortly after the flood of '66...their long run of operating a business that over time saw fewer and fewer returns eventually gave way to the inevitable.  They are now long ago gone and missed and over the years...their stately old house where my grandmother lived for close to 70 years was sold. I lost contact with my summertime friend...even so, I thank God for having experienced such things in my life...simple things, like an old True Temper fishing rod and reel.

The old town of Wister has, in recent times, seen a small resurgence of sorts, as its larger neighbor Poteau, a few miles up the road has grown and many people have moved to Wister as part of that growth. A new generation with new ideas and trials now occupy the community...a new business started up in the same building my grandparents used all those years...the owner somehow contacted me a couple years ago and asked for some old photos of those years...I sent him several copies. The years and summers I spent growing up in that little town became the most important years of my life.  That old town in its own right has earned the right to say with a degree of pride that it has endured difficult times and shown a level of True Temper...the memories of those days certainly prove so anyway.

Keith

1 comment:

Ronnie said...

I really enjoyed reading this Keith! It brings back memories of my youth as well:-)