The Third Marj
Part Seven - Fishing - Canoe Racing and County Fairs

Part 7

 

“Fishing - Canoe Racing and County Fairs"

 

FOR YEARS, I have known I would some day succumb to the inevitable.

When you live beside a fishing lake, some day you're gonna have to fish!

Fishing is not a hobby of mine. To me, a lake is for admiring. I enjoy its changing surface-as calm as a mirror one day, as snappy as a miniature Lake Michigan the next with its toy-like whitecaps whipped up by a summer storm.

I can look at a lake for what it is, and have no compunction to plumb its depths for fish.

But I knew, as certainly as I know that the sun will rise each morning, that the day would come when I would have to fish or cut bait.

I thought that day arrived last summer. A neighbor appeared at my backdoor with rod and reel and said the time had come. I could see it was no use to struggle.

"Get on your fishing clothes," he said, "and I'll meet you on the bank down in front of your house. The grass is a little slippery so wear something you can walk in, and be prepared to take your own fish off the hook ... "

I tried. I really tried. I put on the best my closet had to offer for a fishing outing in front of my own house.

When my good hearted neighbor rook one look at my outfit-gold corduroy duster, beige patent-leather flats and a pair of white gloves (but they were OLD ones! ) -he solemnly, wordlessly, reeled in his line, picked up his tackle box and silently went away.

           

I got the message. I bought a denim skirt with flowered shorts attached and two different tops, some rubber-soled shoes and a pair of red and white checked gingham garden gloves. (Well, if I have to handle fish, let me get used to the idea slowly ... )

But the outfit was too new. Now I know why dedicated fishermen are so partial to ragged old pants, and clutch to their bosoms their ragged old fishing jackets. You just can't fish in new clothes!

At various times last winter, I'd wear my fishing clothes around the house to break them in. With every cleaning, the denim got softer, and I became accustomed to the wild freedom of wearing shorts even though they're covered with a permanent skirt. (Don't snicker-it wasn't so long ago that girls never appeared in public in shorts and women never wore them-ever! )

And then came the moment of truth.

My pants bent over when I did, the shirt wasn't band-box any more and my shoes were definitely "tacky." I left my comb and mad-money, lipstick and driver's license back in the house. (Never, NEVER leave home without your driver's license has been my credo for years! )

My neighbor handed me today's equivalent of the string and bent-pin bamboo pole of Tom Sawyer-with the admonition that I call it by its proper name, a rod, and that I keep an eye on the float.

Beginner's rods are made of fiberglass now, and telescope into an ordinary length. But they can be lengthened to such an extent that a beginner can stand on a grassy bank and reach Out 20 or 25 feet to open water.

That's what I have to do because my little lake is clogged at both ends with surface moss which camouflages the bullfrogs so well I jump farther than they can when I catch sight of them so close. But this mossy mess does nothing to beautify the premises or help a beginner keep a fish-hook free of smelly debris.

I can't remember how long my first fishing lesson lasted. I understand it was a short interval according to the clock.

This is what I did: lost four worms, had a dozen or so nibbles, enticed some little bluegills to get themselves caught but they were too little to keep so they went back in the water, got the line tangled in the willow tree three times, zigged when I should have zagged and watched helplessly while the line wound itself around the rod and the hook hemstitched it all together, perspired like a stevedore, hit myself in the face and got a nosebleed.

This is what I didn't: catch a fish.

But if my neighbor's patience holds Out, there's a distinct possibility I may try again ... !

 

 

How It Ended

 

MOSQUITOES and chiggers raised welts on my forearms. Gnats flew in a tight circle about halo-high and every now and then they'd swoop down to graze my eyebrows. Green growing things with nettles stung my ankles and raised red rashes that itched like fire. I stepped in a hole and wrenched a muscle.

A friendly brown horse kept nudging me in the back, trying to push me into the lake. A friendly black Labrador kept nudging me on the leg, wanting to be petted. Three friendly black cats tumbled all over my feet, playing tag with their own tails and rolling in the grass.

I was expending so much energy trying to elude flying insects, friendly pets, scratchy undergrowth and hidden pitfalls that even my hair, in that high humidity and 80-degree temperature, was wringing-wet.

I can't ever remember being that hot and sticky and miserable and bedeviled before in all my life.

When I thought I couldn't stand one more thing, some long-forgotten allergy sprang to life and my nose started dripping non-stop, like a leaky faucet.

They told me I was having fun.

"Oh, you'll just LOVE fishing," they said to me. "You'll have SO much fun! There's nothing like it!"

They were right, there! To me, there's NOTHING like fishing-and if it is forever going to be interspersed with things that itch and sting and make me as uncomfortable as I've ever been, then I shall swear off having that kind of fun.

Oh, there were a few memorable moments.

My teacher provided a moon-puncher (a plastic telescoping pole that goes our 10 feet or more), threaded a night-crawler on a hook and showed me how to throw the line our into the lake without throwing myself in the water, too.

"When the bobber bobs, pull it in. There it goes! PULL! You lost him. Here, give it to me. You lost the bait, too."

Teacher patiently threaded another hook, patiently repeated the instructions, patiently flinched as I flung the moon-puncher almost that high and then whacked it into the water.

He turned away to pick up his own rod. I jerked my line onto the bank. "What do I do with this?" I asked.

Teacher looked surprised as he removed a keeping-size bluegill. He put on some more bait, left me to my own devices, had no more than reached for his rod when another and bigger bluegill flopped on the bank.

This time teacher had no words to say. He removed the fish, tossed it into the bucket, picked up another night-crawler and baited my hook. This time he waited. He groaned as, with a mighty heave, I whacked the bait into the water. The red and white bobber never had a chance to bob. I ripped the fishing pole back over my head and landed a big bass at my teacher's feet.

"Is this all there is to fishing?" I asked, not realizing how painful a question this is to a dedicated sportsman who has to watch a beginner have such phenomenal luck on such abominable technique.

Carefully, mournfully, teacher put aside his own rod and reel. "I bait the hook, she catches the bass, and I take 'em off the hook," he said sadly, to the black Labrador and the brown horse who joined us at the water's edge. The three cats were having a wonderful time with the bobber.

There came a time, then, when I had to bait my own hook and remove my own fish. Teacher took himself off to the other side of the lake. That's when the gnats came and the chiggers bit, when I stepped back into that hole, when the hook went right through my glove and into my hand, when the bluegill flopped Out of the bucket into the weeds and I had to pick him up all by myself, when my nose started running and I didn't have a handkerchief and I was hot and itchy and thirsty-and the brown horse came back with a friend and they BOTH thought it would be fun to push me around. I tried to ignore all the miseries until I caught my hook in the bushes and tangled the line around my leg when I tried to get it loose. This was too much.

I sat down on the ground and sniveled.

Then I picked up my gear and went back to the car, to suffer nobly in silence. When teacher returned after a while with his own properly caught string of fish, he said, brightly: "Having fun, aren't you?"

He never did figure out why I didn't say a word all the way home.

Aug. 13, 1966

 

 

A Special Kind of Day

 

THERE was a canoe race on the Greenville creek Sunday from the Swinging bridge in Greenville's city park to Covington, 20 miles downstream.

A couple of men from Lebanon, racing against the clock, paddled across the finish line in three hours, 31 minutes-12 minutes ahead of the next team from Dayton.

The 28 teams in the race had a half hour for lunch along the shore at Gettysburg, several canoes upset, one hit a rock and ripped a hole in the bottom, the canoes had to be carried around several rapids and it was the second annual canoe race put on by the Darke county Bowmen's club.

En route to the starting scene early Sunday morning, I didn't realize that this was going to be one of those Special Days when every sight and sound falls into a perfect kind of experience that comes rarely to an individual but, when it does, it must be savored to the full without question, without hesitation, without self-consciousness.

A Special Day is one in which, instinctively, one's senses respond to every nuance of color and sound, every scent in the air, every touch. Others around you may be unaware of the special qualities of living in that very moment. To them it may be just another notch on a calendar characterized by an assortment of aches and pains, an interval of daylight between two period of dark.

To one who responds to the charm and the magic of a Special Day whenever it appears, unbidden but always welcome, there is nothing more full of wonder, nothing so completely satisfying. A Special Day is a perfect little thing in itself, though it stays by the clock only minutes or hours. The day I came upon autumn and beheld the whole world in a tiny acorn in my hand-that was a Special Day. The day I walked into an old white barn where apple butter was cooking in copper kettles with nostalgia bubbling up through the fragrant steam-that was a Special Day.

The day became a thing apart as I stood there on the park road just by the entrance to the Swinging bridge. The morning sunshine-it was not quite nine o'clock-bestowed a soft golden glow all around, dappled with shadows from the tall trees in their first spring leafing. The air was fresh with the newness of May. Happy sounds, sparkly yet subdued, were blended of light conversations and laughter, greetings and responses as new arrivals left their cars to join those who had walked over from their nearby homes, and all threaded through with perky barks of family pets. There was the fragrance of hot coffee ... and the smoke from somebody's pipe ...

 

Beside me, and all around, were good friends and pleasant acquaintances-and strangers who shared their smiles. There was a rising tide of excitement as spectators crossed the Swinging bridge, which really does in a mildly thrilling way, and strolled down to the creek's edge on both sides to watch the men and boys carry their canoes down to the water and check their life vests or cushions.

Carrying a paper cup of steaming coffee, I swung across the bridge in rhythm with others and joined the clusters of twos and threes on the sloping grassy bank. It was a day to lift your head and be glad-yet you looked down, too, to pick your steps carefully around the purple violets, the white spring beauties, the yellow dandelions and purplish blooming weeds that carpeted the creek banks.

It was a tribute to the day and to the courtesy of all who came to watch the start of the race that, when the coffee-drinkers emptied their cups, they crushed the paper containers and put them in their pockets or handbags, never considering the possibility of littering the natural beauty by tossing them aside.

The splash of paddles in the water and the gentle banter among friends increased as the official starter and timer took their positions at the starting point. As the first canoe coasted under the bridge and into position, a small child's voice rang out, from the bridge-walk, poignantly calling, "Goodbye, Daddy."

People smiled at each other and laughed to hear it because it sounded like a child's farewell to a father setting out for the ends of the world.

There were Fiberglas canoes and canvas covered ones with wooden ribs, aluminum canoes and broad-bladed paddles, spoon-type paddles and homemade ones, and all manner of attire. They wore dark glasses and old college sweatshirts, faded jeans chewed off above the knees and fatigue caps like the kind you get at the surplus store. In their mouths they had chewing gum or cigarettes, cigars, a blade of grass or a plastic tube leading to a flask of sugar-water on their hip. There was a camera-bug in hip waders standing in the middle of the creek as the first canoes went by ... and when the blank cartridge from the starter's gun failed to do more than give a slight pop, an obliging bystander called out "Bang!"

After all the teams had departed at one-minute intervals, the spectators strolled away still engrossed in Sunday conversations and made plans to go off to church, or drive to the several bridges over the creek along the road to Gettysburg to cheer the canoes on their way.

It was a fine day for a canoe race on a country creek-a rare kind of May day when the air and the sunshine, the beauty of nature in spring and the companionship of friends became, in the twinkling of an eye, a special blend, a Special Day ...

May 4,1965

 

 

 

Back to the Creek

 

THE CREEK was roily, running fast and swollen within its banks.

The day was dampish and cloudy, and no matter what they wore - ski sweaters, shorts, sawed-off overalls, waterproof jackets or straw hats -there were times when the spectators wished they'd had on more.

Nothing-but absolutely nothing including a headwind, swift running currents, boiling rapids and the danger of a tumble down the several falls churning with muddy "white water"-could keep determined canoeists Sunday from paddling down the Greenville creek from the Swinging bridge at Greenville's city park to Covington park.

Goal in this second annual canoe race was a trophy for the fastest time down 21 miles of shallow creek water at spring floodtide. Of the 58 canoes that slid down a steep grassy embankment at the starting point, 45 made it to the finish line. The women's cruiser teams and the mixed tandems stopped at Gettysburg, less than halfway. The junior and senior men in cruisers, and the racing canoes went all the way.

A plastic bleach bottle, filled with drinking water, that spilled from one of the upset canoes at the start, made it all the way to Gettysburg, under the bridge and on about a quarter of a mile before it eddied close to shore. The bottle floated steadily with the current, taking no portages, always following the path of least resistance.

It fared much better than the canoeists, two to a team, who finished soaking wet either from the paddle spray or dunking. The teams threw plenty of water, too, when they reached narrow or shallow points and had to carry their canoes to open water again.

Equipment, jettisoned by design or accident, included several paddles. Uniforms for the contestants, who came from many points in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, appeared to be strictly personal choices ... sweat shirts, knee pads, basketball shorts, golf jackets, cowboy hats, life jackets, cigars. One woman who wore shorts to paddle in tandem arrived at Gettysburg with bare blue legs.

Some stuck plastic water bottles in their hip pockets, taped plastic tubes over their shoulders into their mouths for drinks en route.

Tense canoeists bumped into each other in their struggle to get going.

One canoe started out backwards and the excited contestants couldn't turn it around. So one jumped out into the water, pushed the canoe around, jumped back in and grabbed a paddle.

Some teams sang cadence, four paddle swings to the left, four to the right. Amateur photographers were everywhere, knee-deep in weeds at

the flag-decorated start and finish lines, hanging over the narrow one-lane bridge at Bears Mill road.

There were a few shouts of encouragement as the teams appeared along the course, bur the canoeists were too busy trying to avoid big rocks hidden by the high water and getting away from floating branches and other debris to notice much on shore. Farmers had removed on Saturday the barbed wire barriers put up for cattle who ford the creek, so this was not a danger as some feared.

In Greenville park, several white Pekin ducks "jaywalked" across the creek in front of the first racers, bur they soon squawked and scrambled out of the path of canoes and sightseers.

The maroon shirts of the Culver Military institute entrants readily identified these teams as they paddled with serious concentration. In autos parked on the roads that came nearest to the creek in its meandering course, spectators-more in number than last year-ate picnic lunches, focused binoculars and enjoyed a Sunday outing.

All kinds of spectators turned our for this canoe race which has all the ingredients to become a big-time sports event by next year. In that chill weather, there was a tiny baby wearing a cap of white lace edgings ... a dog wearing a red knitted sweater ... an elderly woman walking with an aluminum walker along the side of a narrow road toward one of the bridges that spanned the canoe course ... babies in strollers being pushed among the legs of adults intent upon watching for the first signs of the racers ...

Among the canoeists there were drop-ins and there were also dropouts. A glimpse of one canoe, far behind the front racers, showed two tired men paddling ever so slowly, as if to say, "Let's just take a canoe ride-who wants to take home a trophy anyway!"

There was a spectacular spill at the Greenville falls near Rangeline road when one men's team veered too close to the falls to get away. They rolled our of their canoe which capsized and one man rode it to shore.

The other man went bumping down the falls, hitting each hidden rock like bouncing downstairs hitting each step. He may have bruises this week bur fortunately he stayed head-up. If he'd gone down the falls the other way 'round, he could have cracked open his head.

Best time for the full course was two hours, 54 minutes, 58 seconds by a Culver team in the junior men's cruiser class: John English and R. C. Mitchell. The senior men's team came in 22 seconds later: Roland Muhlen and R. Alan Deckback, Dayton entry.

The race was conducted by the Darke County Bowmen, the archery division of the Darke County Fish and Game club.

 

 

County Fair - 1965

WHAT SMELLS LIKE a combination of caramel sauce poured over hot popcorn, barbecued ribs, chopped onions, horse barns, pizza, hot peanuts, mustard, roses, cheese, hot grease, fudge, sugar waffles, hot dogs wrapped in cornmeal batter, coffee, cement floors, damp canvas and people on a hot day?

What sounds like a medley of merry-go-round music, tinkle bells, baseballs thrown against a canvas backdrop, cash registers, wooden hoops pitched at soft drink bottles, a platter scraped from the bottom of a pile of dusty crockery, announcements over a public address system, far-off band music, a monkey chattering next to a hurdy-gurdy, car horns, laughter, harness squeaking, crushed ice being scooped out of a pan, popcorn popping, tent flaps flapping, barkers extolling the merits of kitchen knives and slaw cutters, horses' hooves thudding on a dirk track, calves bawling, children giggling and children crying, electric pencils engraving metal bracelets, quarters dropping on a wooden counter, sulky wheels banging against a whitewashed fence, water dripping, people talking?

What feels like the sticky fluffiness of cotton candy, the damp coolness of a snow cone in your hot hand, the comfort of a breeze from an electric fan, the cool darkness of a building when you come in out of the hot sun, the heaviness of disappointment when three throws for a quarter do NOT knock down the babydolls to win a stuffed tiger, a hard bench to a weary walker, a cool root beer down a dusty throat, the satin touch of a blue ribbon tied to a jar of plum butter, a chunk of homemade soap?

What tastes like a sugar syrup sucked through crushed ice, dust in the air, French fries cooked outdoors, a mouthful of hot peanuts with bits of shell clinging to them, a church tent's homemade pies, a crisp bite of an air-waffle dusted with powdered sugar, the heavy atmosphere in a stock pavilion where the scent of farm animals is so thick you can cut it with a knife and choke on it, a sample of Polish sausage, a hot dog on a stick, a slab of ice cream candy, a ham sandwich when you're hungry and a slice of watermelon when you're not, the sweet taste of success when the blue ribbon is pinned on your flower arrangement, your shelled beans, your tobacco, your quilt or your daddy who won the tractor pull?

What smells, sounds, feels and tastes like all these things at the same time?

A county fair!

Nothing else so delights and jars the human senses in such an entertaining manner as does a real old-fashioned county fair in an agricultural community where a ribbon for a jar labeled "End of the Garden" is prized as highly as a mammoth display of farm machinery and a ride on the ferris wheel is as exciting as a bet on the sulky races .

The Great Darke County Fair at Greenville is billed as the biggest county fair on earth. If you could ask my feet, they'd agree. This fair opened last Friday night, closes tomorrow, and Tuesday was the day I went to the fair!

I'm an amateur, a piker, a tenderfoot when it comes to fair-going.

Nearly everybody else in Darke county and points outside this area goes more than once-and you wouldn't believe the number of people who go every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. Shops close, stores lock up, vacations are planned, all for Fair Week-and this is it!

Besides the senses of touch, taste, smell and sound which are titillated at this county fair, the sense of sight is enriched by amazing, wonderful things to see ...

There's a rapt look on a child's face as he dips a fishing pole into an above-the-ground swimming pool under a tent which is stocked with live trout .. ,

The look of astonishment on a woman's face when she sees the sign on the sugar waffle stand: 15c each. "They used to be a NICKEL!" she groaned ...

The look of contentment on the faces of the couples-married more than 50 years. They get free tickets to the grounds and the grandstand, and they carry around their aluminum chairs. Wherever they get tired, they open their chairs and sit and watch the people go by.

There's a tent where you can have your personal message put on the p.a. system that's heard all over the fairgrounds and all it costs is 15c. "Mr. X: call home, your barn is on fire." "Billy R.: your mother wants you." "The sheriff is wanted at the south end of the coliseum."

You have to get an early start to get a seat on the front bench in the "resting tent" so you can watch the people go by ... but there's no rush for the small tent with the sign: "Take a prayer break" ...

If you don't win a kingsize stuffed dog, pink teddybear, tiger or plush snake on a game of skill, you can buy one and get a guarantee that it is housebroken ...

For a nickel you can sneak a peek in a machine with pictures of a nudist colony, for a dime and a copper penny you can have the Lord's prayer engraved on a lucky charm, and your fortune costs five cents.

For free you can examine the Grange and 4-H exhibits and compare the winners and losers in the displays of dried apples, grape juice, honey, eggs, cookies, tobacco, fresh corn, green gage plums, zinnias and barley.

There is nothing like a County Fair-and that's the way it should be!

Aug. 26, 1965

 

 

County Fair – 1966

 

THE GREAT Darke County Fair closes today-and I am glad. I couldn't eat another bite!

I hadn't planned to eat my way around the fair. It just turned out that way. I went off to the fair without lunch. The morning at home had been filled with so many things, people coming and going, that I went to the fair hungry, and that can be anybody's downfall right there.

The grandstand sheltered a crowd eager to see the sulky races-I caught a glimpse of horses and goggled drivers between the shoulders of the fairgoers who lined the fences around the track. That occurred after the hot dog and Coke and before the French fried ice cream.

I had the ham sandwich and coffee soon after I walked through the gate, having left my car with the Jaycees at the hospital parking lot. That was shortly after I'd looked at the biggest log ever cut down in Ohio and Indiana, a mammoth cottonwood more than 100 years old, weighing about 25 tons.

In the hike through the coliseum where I had a sample of a new kind of sausage, I ate another hot dog and drank a Mountain Dew and, a few minutes later, bought the peanut butter and chocolate fudge to take home. I had to sample the peanut butter fudge and it was dee-licious!

I managed not to buy carmel corn, but the hot peanuts in the shell were tasty. Then I think I had the big root beer at Ferd's and after that the big soft pretzel at the pizza stand and, last thing before I went home, I got the sugared waffles-three in a bag for an ailing neighbor not quite up to walking the fair beat this year with me, and one to eat out of hand, letting the powdered sugar drip where it would.

By the time I left the fairgrounds, I was staggering, definitely listing to starboard ... and I hadn't even had the watermelon or the cotton candy, or stopped at the barbecued chicken tent, or had the chocolate sundae cones or the hot dogs in cornmeal wraps or the roasted ears of corn cooked in the husks over an open fire. Or an ice ball. First time in years that I've passed up the opportunity to crunch shaved ice with syrup dribbled over it.

The Democrats and the Republicans had competing tents across from each other. Roland J. Byers, Democrat, running for Darke county commissioner, gave me a printed folder with facts about the county's early history, his photograph and a book of matches. His opponent, Ray Zimmers, Republican, gave me a notepad and pencil (unsharpened), and when he saw that, he gave me a ballpoint pen and his card.

The Republican ladies gave me a mimeographed list of various foods that have gone up in price since January, 1961. Lettuce and bacon shot up the most and, since I know bread is up, I may be forced to give up my favorite bacon and lettuce sandwiches! And they told me an anecdote about the lady who went in the store to buy some cheese marked at 72 cents and as she picked it up a stock boy came along and stamped it 77 cents while it was still in her hand ...

I saw the St. Bernard puppies ... and part of the pony show ... shook my head like an adult at the giant ferris wheel with the baskets that turned 'round and 'round one way whilst the wheel was going still another way ... looked in at the pottery and china stands (new this year are the wicker and straw baskets of all kinds) '" wished I had the nerve to move in with the youngsters and muscular young men firing baseballs at targets to win fuzzy dogs and stuffed tigers, and then meandered past the stand selling stuffed animals with the sign: "Buy One and Say You Won It!" ...

I had a glimpse of farm machinery displays, and put my name in a couple free drawings, and said "hi" to neighbors and friends and pleasant strangers who said they laughed themselves silly over the story about the tired lady in the Sears store who sat down on the bathroom plumbing ...

I watched youngsters taking rides on the patient ponies ... and youngsters pitching hoops to win some flashy souvenirs ... with relishes and onions ...

Many fair-goers lugged aluminum chairs. When they got tired, they set chairs wherever they felt like it and I wished I'd had an aluminum chair, too!

I resisted the handy dandy vegetable peeler ... and the jewelry made of fried marbles ... but finally succumbed to the "mighty little octopus." That's part of the fun of a county fair-to give up your everyday resistance to sales pitches and fall for something that just MIGHT turn Out to be something you needed, anyway.

The mighty little octopus, made of surgical rubber, is a suction-cup soap holder-the man said. He dunked the pad in water and SLAPPED it against the sink and then SLAPPED the soap against the pad-and it stuck fast. They cost 59 cents each or two for a dollar.

My neighbor and I got the "two for" and saved 18 cents like the man said we would, because we each took one at that special price.

That night when I took a shower, I got the pad wet and slapped it against the shower wall. It fell off. I did it again. Same result. Then I remember the man didn't slap, he SLAPPED.

So I SLAPPED-and darn near knocked the shower stall over into the bathroom. Then I SLAPPED the soap against the pad and got dizzy from the vibrations of the shower wall.

The fair at Greenville closes today and I'm glad. I don't think I couldn’t take any more this year.

Aug. 26, 1966

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