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Mississippi Memories ---
The River Looked Out for a Family in Need
by David Brunet
Some of the most memorable days of my childhood were spent on the Mississippi River in the little town of Cohasset. My father worked in the iron mines, but the work wasn't steady, so my brothers and I understood that money was scarce and anything we could bring home from the woods or the water would be welcome at the table.
During those lean years, we brought home a lot of squirrels and just once we even skinned and ate a porcupine. But mostly we ate fish and more fish. My brother Dan and I were fascinated by the big river. We would take our fishing rods to one of the bridges and stay all day. We brought bullheads, rock bass, and sometimes even a walleye or a northern pike home to the table.
Since we were 8 and 10 years old, Dad wouldn't let us use his little fishing boat. Never discouraged, we found some old barn boards one day, and Dan was convinced we could use them to build a boat. And we did-a long, narrow boat with a flat bottom. We knew where we could get some tar, so we heated it up in a coffee can and smeared it over all the joints. No way would it leak!
It was a big day for us when we launched the boat. It floated, of course, but it was unstable and dumped us both in the river. We spent the day learning to stay afloat, and when Dad came home, we dragged him to the shore to see our prize possession. He took one look at it and decided to let us use his boat instead. With a real rowboat, the whole Mississippi was ours. We'd take turns, one rowing while the other fished. Sometimes we'd travel as far as five miles up the river, and we never came back without a stringer of fish.
One day, we were a mile upriver when the rain started. In the fierce downpour we could hardly see each other, let alone the steep riverbanks. We raced downriver toward the big bridge. When we finally got under the bridge, we tied the boat to one of the pilings and watched the curtain of rain close us off from the rest of the world.
I don't remember which of us was the first to drop a line over the side. Within seconds, first one and then the other pulled a flopping crappie into the boat. Huge crappies, the size of a dinner plate! A foot long, according to the ruler embossed on the lid of my tackle box. By the time the rain stopped, we had a stringer full of the biggest crappies we had ever seen. The feast that evening was sumptuous and unforgettable.
We tied up to the same piling many times, but we never again caught even a little crappie in that spot. Apparently, the fish had joined us in taking shelter under the bridge that day. To a hungry family, they were a gift from Heaven.
What I remember is that the Mississippi took care of a poor family in rough times. The river was a mentor that taught me self-reliance and delight in simple pleasures. It's been a dear friend ever since.
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