Garner, North Carolina. How well I remember this special place on the outskirts of Raleigh. Today, Garner is a bustling city, a bedroom community of Raleigh, but in the 1950’s, it was a small, sleepy village with a country store, a couple Baptist churches and a post office.
Each summer, I spent a week or two in Raleigh with my grandmother, Mama Ida – who pretty much spoiled me rotten. She kept ice cold bottles of Orange Crush in her refrigerator, made homemade peach ice cream on command, cooked fried okra most every night and on she “carried” me fishing with Sister Wall in Garner.
Mama Ida worked for the DMV, but before she headed downtown, she fed me breakfast and drove me about 10 miles to Sister Wall’s farmhouse. Sister Wall was Mama Ida’s sister-in-law and they were very close. Sister and Uncle Bert Wall had a tobacco farm in Garner, and above all, Sister loved to fish.
When Mama Ida arrived, Sister and I gathered 5 or 6 bamboo poles, a bucket of worms, a gallon of water, a rag to wash our hands and some lunch. Mama Ida dropped us off at one of several farm ponds and Sister and I went fishing.
Sister was a sweet, gentle lady with a great sense of humor. She always had a smile on her face and kind words for everyone. She had a been the oldest sister in a large family and raised her siblings by herself when their mother died. Sister also raised her own worms – red wigglers. She kept a big pile of mulch and manure beside a tobacco barn and the worms were ready when she was. She also cut down and “cured” her own bamboo poles. She rigged each one with 10-pound test line, a couple of split shot, a long shank hook and a cork bobber.
Sister Wall was the best fisherman I ever saw. She knew where the fish were – usually in a shady spot on a deep drop. She would set up there, spreading a blanket, having a little dip of snuff, skewering several red wigglers on each hook and fanning 2 or 3 bamboo poles in different directions and at different depths, and then she waited for a bite. Above all, Sister was patient. While I got antsy if a fish didn’t bite within minutes, Sister waited and waited and waited some more. Ultimately, the little cork bobber danced in the surface, then plunged downward as a fish took the bait. Sister caught enormous bluegills, some pushing 2 pounds. When she caught a small bluegill, she would often put it on a pole with a larger hook and fish for bass. She caught 5-pounders with regularity. And everyone on an old cane pole.
Often, when we returned to the house, Sister and I cleaned fish and then feasted on deep fried bluegills, homemade cole slaw, fried potatoes and onions, fresh beans and tomatoes from the garden and fried corn bread. As good a fisherman as was Sister Wall, she was even a better cook.
I cherish those days in Garner, fishing with Sister Wall and staying with Mama Ida. I was a 10-year old who loved his grandmother dearly and a little boy who loved to fish. Still do.