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O'Lord and the Christmas Catfish    

 (Jim Horan 1996) Copyright © All Rights Reserved.


Just got to thinking of a time when "market" meant where we went and got some fresh eggs and milk. And taking that thought one step further as we near Christmas, I can't help but get a little nostalgic about the times I was a young boy growing up in Ft. Madison, Iowa.

Ft. Madison was a little town on the Mississippi River with the Santa Fe Railroad having made a district operation there. Wasn't all that much of a town I guess, except it created a lot of rich memories for me and of course, it was a different time. 10 year olds were given a lot of "leash" to explore and behold all the great mysteries of the world.

Likely the most prominent thought at this time of year, that comes to mind, is that of the Christmas Catfish. Bunch of folks in Ft. Madison didn't have what it took to go out and buy a Turkey. So the custom of the Christmas Catfish was somewhat prominent. This of course, was in the days before we heard of global warming.

'Round Christmas in those days, the biggest problem in gathering in the Christmas Catfish was that it was flat out cold! How cold was it? Well, you know the saying about not eating the yellow snow? It was so cold that there wasn't yellow snow, just yellow spikes sticking up about 3 feet on TOP of the snow.

Anyhow, one Christmas, O'Lord, and Stubs came over to our house and announced that they needed to get the Christmas Catfish in so's their Mother's could get it stuffed. Now, you gotta know just a bit about some of my friends. In those days everyone, who was anyone, had a nickname. These names generally were awards, given out for matters of great accomplishment ... or at least memorable stuff.

O'Lord came by his name from his penchant for wanting to fish all night on the river. It's likely the first time he undertook this bit of bravado, was upon the occasion of a dare from Stubs. Everyone knew there were "Night Monster's" that prowled the riverbanks and fed on little boys and it took a boy of great courage to face these Night Monsters down ... and live to tell the tale. Well, it seems that O'Lord had given some forethought to this special evening and planned on building a rather substantial fire amongst the riprap along the shore. Besides keeping the Night Monsters away, the warmth of the fire attracted other denizens of the riverbank, namely River Rats. These weren't just your ordinary dumpsite rats. These were the real thing and hit the scales not far behind a decent sized coon dog.

Well, as the night progressed, O'Lord found it necessary to wander farther and farther away from the fire to seek out more of the driftwood that had washed upon the shoreline. After one particular foray for fire fuel, he returned heavily laden and upon arriving back at his fishing site, took little notice that his dog, Thong, wasn't moving around to greet him. Fact is, as he sat down on his home rock and reached to scratch Thong's one remaining ear, he took sudden notice that Thong was only a part of what he used to be. That Rat who had started to dine on Thong had worked himself up to just behind the collar and decided that was enough for now and just plumb took a nap.

Well, you can imagine O'Lord's mindset at discovering the status of Thong and the napping rat. He flat went catatonic and was found the next day on the same rock, with even less remaining of Thong, muttering "Oh Lord! Oh Lord! Oh Lord!"

The curious thing is that the story didn't stop there. After a week or so, O'Lord decided that he needed a pet, since Thong wasn't fully capable of filling that need. So he reckoned that any rat that had as much of Thong in him as that rat did, might not be all bad.

Upon returning to the bank that night and rebuilding his fire, he awaited the arrival of what later turned out to be his new pet, Fessup. Guess he figured the name was appropriate since the rat arrived wearing Thong's collar, which seemed like a revelation of truth to O'Lord. No one seemed to get in O'Lord's way much after that event, as he paraded around town with Fessup at his heels. Proud is what he was, of both Fessup and his new name, "O'Lord".

Stub's was a bit later at achieving his nickname, though just as equal in stature. Stub's was kinda odd in his youth. He was as great a bait fisherman as any 10 year old can be, once he came upon learning that leeches are a Catfish delicacy. The hardship was, they were not easy to find.

One day he came to the river to fish, up near the mud flats, just north of town. He was wearing short pants as most of us wore in those days. To get to the flats one could take the long way and walk along a congested area of fallen trees, hopping from one tree to the next. The dilemma was, these were filled on a hot day with water snakes basking in the warmth of the sun and to ol' Stub's, these were definitely not things of his liking. So he decided to take the short cut and go through a span of tough thistles that sliced and cut his legs. Once past the thistles, one must then walk into a washed out low area of mud, before getting to firm ground where fishing was possible. So Stub's, with bleeding legs started through the mud, which took him up to near knee depth.

After struggling about in the mud and arriving at his "spot", he noticed that his legs were covered with leeches, which had been attracted to where his skin bled. Reaching down and peeling them off, he soon produced a goodly number that were collected in an old bean can. It didn't take him long to realize the full extent of his discovery and from that day forth he was never without his favorite bait.

So how did he get his name you ask? Well, Stubs was also a great fan of Coon Hunting, which took place during the nighttime. One night he had been out running the dogs with his Dad and some other fella’s. They had treed a big beast up an old oak tree that was simply the biggest tree in the county. But it seems they couldn't locate the coon. So Stub's Dad and the others left Stub's up in the tree to watch for the coon, while they went on to seek out another one.

After an hour or so and no activity, ol' Stub's fell asleep in the crook of a large limb. Unfortunately, it happened to be the crook that made up the main intersection of the "Coon Highway" on that particular tree. When that big ol' coon came across Stubs asleep, he reasoned that it wouldn't do to walk over him and he couldn't walk around him. Being the smart Raccoon that he was, he just decided to bite off 2 of Stubs toes, thus causing Stubs to depart the tree in a rapid manner, by falling the 18' straight down. In fact he beat the coon to the ground, but to no real advantage as Stubs had lost much of the fervor of coon hunting that night. Not a total bad night, however, as he had acquired his new nickname!

Oh, jeez! Just look at the time. Here I didn't even get to the part about the Christmas Catfish. Well, another time perhaps, as I just want to take the remaining space to say to all ... Have the Happiest of Holidays and Best Wishes to all for the upcoming year.