Skip to content

Yellow Tom

“Check this out, Squirt, Wizzer showed me. “It’s got real good roller guides with little tiny ball bearings in them. That’s what Red told my dad anyhow.” Wizzer spun a roller in one of the guides to show me how it worked. ‘N the line is about a hundred pound test line er more.” Wizzer jerked on the line that came from the spool and ran through the roller guides. “Red says it’s got a real leather drag, n’ jist take a look at all the other stuff on this here reel! It’s all shiny brass n’ stainless steel! Red said it’s made this way so it won’t rust in salt water. This rod n’ reel should be big enough to land a whale! Squirt, I sure do wish we had some place to try it out.”

“Wiz, maybe we better not go foolin’ around with yer brother’s fishin’ rod. We could break it!”

“Break it? How are we gonna do that? I jist told you.. It’s big enough to land a whale. We ain’t gonna git caught. Aw come on Squirt. Let’s give it a try.”

“Wiz, it seems like every time we take somethin’ that belongs to Red, we end up breakin’ it er losin’ it. If we do try it, lets only take it down to the duck pond n’ pretend like we’re fishin’ in the ocean. That should be lots of fun even if we don’t ketch nothin’. It needs a hook on it though.”

“I’ll git one of my dad’s snelled hooks from his fishin’ gear. We’ll need some bait, too.”

“Wiz, I’ll git some worms from under our quick log out in the back yard while you tie the hook onto the line.”

“Naw, worms ain’t no good, Squirt. What we need is deep sea fishin’ bait.” How about some sardines? They come from the ocean!”

“I guess so, but we ain’t gonna ketch no sunnies on sardines. Maybe we’ll git a couple of catfish though. They eat jist about anything.”

Just then Wizzer’s Mom’s big yellow tomcat came strolling up to us acting for all the world like he owned the cellar. He began to rub himself against Wizzer’s leg, purring a deep rumble in his throat like Wizzer was his favorite person in the whole world. Wizzer gave him a shove with his foot. Yellow Tom didn’t pay Wizzer’s foot so much as a never you mind. That cat sure was asking for trouble. It should have known better. Wizzer and me had given it the devil more than plenty of times in the past. Wizzer pushed Yellow Tom away again and went over to the canning cupboard. He pulled a can of sardines from the canning cupboard and grinned at me. When Wizzer opened the can, Yellow Tom began clawing its way up Wizzer’s leg to get at the can of sardines. Wizzer danced around in a circle a couple of times, slapped the cat loose from his pants leg with his one free hand then gave it a good boot with his foot that sent it sailing across the cellar floor right into the canning cupboard. In two jumps, it was back clawing at Wizzer’s leg. Wizzer gave Yellow Tom his foot again, a kick that sent it sailing at least a couple of feet further than the last. Wizzer looked at me and laughed.

“Squirt, I jist got a good idea. Let’s go cat fishin’. I’ll bait the hook up with a sardine n’ we kin tease the cat.”

“No way, Wizzer! Your Mom will find out. Then we’ll really be up the crick. Besides which, we was gonna go fishin’ down at the duck pond. Well, there was no way to turn Wizzer’s head around straight. His mind was made up. Somehow, he tied a sardine onto the hook with some thread that was lying on his mom’s worktable and began swinging the sardine over the cat. Yellow Tom’s head swung back and forth, just like a pendulum tick, tock, tick, tock, following the path of the sardine. Before Wizzer could jerk the sardine away from that cat, Yellow Tom took one good jump, with a leap that was all blur, and it had both the sardine and the hook that was hidden in it stuck in its mouth. When that cat felt the point of the hook stuck in its lip, it let out a screech that raised the hair straight up on the top of my head. Yellow Tom ran. Its legs looked for all the world like the ones they show in the movies when the dog is chasing the cat; a blur of yellow with a cat’s body above it. Yellow Tom flew above the cement of the cellar floor and out the cellar door. I didn’t know a cat could run so fast. The reel screeched. Line peeled from the reel. Wizzer laughed and danced around like he had hooked a whale. The handles of the reel spun a silver and black blur that Wizzer couldn’t get his hands on. Every time he tried to grab the handles, the handles slapped his knuckles and Wizzer let out a screech.

`”Ouch! Ouch! Damn! Damn! Double damn!” That was the first time I had ever heard Wizzer swear like that. Wizzer didn’t care. He stood there hanging on to that rod for all he was worth, screaming, swearing, and laughing like a hyena while the line ripped from the reel.

“Use the drag! Use that drag you told me about. That cat will strip off all the line!” I screamed at him. Wizzer didn’t know how to operate that reel. The line just kept speeding off the reel, following that damn cat. “Put that leather pad on the spool n’ put your thumb on it!” I screeched, too late. Wizzer never had a chance. The spool ran empty. Pow! The line busted. Wizzer grinned at me. The quiet in the cellar was deafening.

The door from the kitchen opened. “What’s all that racket going on down there? What devilment are you two up to now?” Wizzer’s Mom’s asked. She didn’t sound happy at all.

“It ain’t nothin’, Mom. We was jist gittin’ some hooks to go fishin’, n’ I knocked over your clothes pin basket n’ some other stuff. There ain’t nothin’ broke,” Wizzer answered her.

“You two be sure you pick everything up, and Donnie, you make sure you’re home in time for supper,” we heard her say as she slammed the cellar door.

“OK, Mom. We got everything straightened up. We’re goin’ now,” Wizzer hollered back at the slammed door while he worried to me, “Mom don’t sound none to happy. We better put this rod back n’ get the wizz out of here. We jist have to find that yella cat n’ git that fishin’ line back. That rod n’ reel is brand new, n’ my brother told me he’d box my ears if I even so much as looked at it crooked n’ now it’s busted. What’re we gonna do?” We snuck out of the cellar. It wouldn’t do either one of us one bit of good right now if Wizzer’s mom changed her mind and decided to come down to the cellar to investigate what we did.

“Wiz, you sure told your Mom a whopper ’bout what we done. We better git to it n’ find that cat n’ try to git that line back. That line didn’t look like no cheap old Cutty Hunk line that we could buy at the Grab even if we did have any money . Wiz, yer brother Red is gonna beat the livin’ daylights out of us.”

“Squirt, it ain’t a cheap line. It’s deep sea fishin’ line and we can’t git it at the Grab ’cause Mom said I wasn’t ta buy anything on the book,” Wizzer told me. It didn’t make any difference. The Grab, which is what we called the Company Store, would never sell deep sea fishing line. What coal miner ever got the chance to go deep sea fishing? Mostly, they only sold the things that they called ‘the necessities’ at the Company store.

“Wiz, there ain’t no use fer us to stand here n’ study on it. We best git goin’ n’ find that line. You should know that it’s pert near impossible to track a cat even when it’s winter n’ snow’s on the ground. All that we have got to follow n’ find now is a piece of fishin’ line with a mad cat hooked onto the other end, n’ there sure ain’t no snow on the ground, so we better git crackin’.” We sure were cracking right along in our search, but that cat was nowhere around to be found. It wasn’t exactly easy tracking that we were doing. Cats just don’t make any tracks in grass.

“Wiz, we ain’t ever gonna find that cat. Let’s go over to my Godpap’s place. He’ll maybe know what we should do.”

When we got to Godpap’s garden, my mad at Wizzer was gone. Godpap was there. He was spraying his Gladiolus to kill the thrips. Thrips are funny little black bug critters that a person can hardly see. They suck the juice from Gladiolus leaves then the leaves turn brown and die.

“Godpap, we got a problem, n’ we need yer help.” I told him what we had done to the cat. When I had finished my story, Godpap glared down at me and his eyebrows drew themselves down into a frown. His lips twitched. We stood watching him and wondering what he would do. We waited for any sign that he would help us but Godpap just stood there leaning on his hoe as still as a statue among his Glads. It crossed my mind then that we had gone too far this time in one of our capers. Finally, after what seemed to me to be at least a couple of hours, his eyebrows rose and his lips turned up in a grin.

Godpap chuckled. “I think if you look under Polly Gray’s back porch, you’ll probably find the cat and the line as well. I don’t think that the fishing line will be much good through. If you two do get it, bring it back here and I’ll have a look at it. If it is ruined, we’ll take a trip to Grimesville. I think we can find a new line there. Now go on with you and let me finish my spraying,” he said. I turned to thank him, but he just stood there among his flowers leaning on his hoe and grinning at something on the hillside across the valley. I knew then that we were out from under this particular scrape whether or not we got that fishing line back in one piece.

Wizzer and me took a short cut through a couple of folk’s back yards to get to Polly’s back porch. There didn’t seem to be anybody around the place. Maybe our luck had changed back for the good again.

Polly might sound like a girl’s name but that wasn’t the case here. Polly is a balding, gray-headed old cuss who carries a real mean streak with him all the time. Polly is taller even than Godpap, who says he is exactly six feet tall. Summers, Polly is always dressed in his trademark, a torn, ragged undershirt that doesn’t even begin to cover the prune wrinkled skin of his skinny, sunburned shoulders and arms, shorts that are baggy pants that hang low on his hips and above his knees, showing the whole world his ugly red sunburned legs, and ragged old sneakers with the laces gone so that the tongues always seem to be sticking themselves out at you. His favorite pastime was pinching a kid to see if he could make him cry. It wasn’t smart at all to let Polly the Pincher get his big, bony, claws hooked into you as if you was nothing but a piece of dead fish and he was a big red lobster. We were in luck though. It didn’t look like we would be lobster bait on this day. The place seemed to be deserted. I took a look through the cris crossed slats that covered the bottom of the porch. Sure enough, that damn yellow cat was there. We had finally found it. It was backed as far as it could get into one corner, tied tight and twisted up in the fishing line. When it saw me, it started hissing and yowling something fierce.

“Wiz, I’m gonna crawl under the porch n’ cut the line. That cat looks like it is hog tied, n’ he must’ve done it all by hisself.”

“Mind them claws, Squirt! I been scratched by that cat many a time, n’ it is a real expert scratcher.”

“I’ve got my Barlow that Godpap gave to me. I kin cut the line with it as close as I kin to that cat, but I am not gonna cut that cat loose. From the way that it’s carryin’ on, that cat kin stay there ferever n’ a couple of days after that as far as I’m concerned.” Wizzer watched while I pulled loose some of the cris crossed slats that covered the area under the porch, and then crawled into the dark and cobwebs that were there. I opened my Barlow, bellied over as close as I could to the cat, and with one quick swipe of my knife, I cut the line. Whatever part of the line that I had cut was the wrong part because what I had done was all that cat needed. Somehow it got untangled from the line and made a beeline straight for me dragging the fishing line with it. I covered my face with my arms, but that yellow cat had only one thought in its head. It was mad as a hornet and it wanted out of this place. It jumped onto and over my back, digging its claws in as it passed, then ran straight through the hole in the slats and slammed into Wizzer’s face. I heard the most gosh awful screeching and screaming then. I couldn’t tell if it was the cat or Wizzer that was raising all the commotion. I scrooched around on my belly to see what was going on. From where I was laying in the dirt and dust under the porch, all I could see was a screeching ball of yellow fur that stuck out in every direction like it was lightning struck, a flash of fishing line once in a while, and Wizzer, who was wrestling around on the ground with both of them. It looked to me like the fishing line and that ball of yellow fur were winning this particular wrestling match.

“What’s going on out here? What are you doing to that cat? I’ve got you now!” I recognized the owner of that voice, and I recognized those long, bony, sunburned red legs and the short pants that didn’t cover them, which was all that I could see from my position under the porch. It was Polly the Pincher and he sure sounded mad! Just about then that yellow cat went streaking off through Polly’s garden. I laid my face against the dirt under the porch so I could get a better look at what was happening out there. Polly picked Wizzer up from the ground by pinching his arm with one of his bony claws. Wizzer let out a screech. I flinched and a sick feeling came into the pit of my stomach. Just maybe Polly didn’t know I was under the porch so I began bellying my way toward a dark corner not wanting to see any more of what Wizzer was suffering through. I figured there was no good use to be gained if I was to get involved in what was going on out there in the yard at this minute, so I just stayed where I was at, hiding.

“Ouch! Ouch! Aw come on Polly, let me go. I was jist tryin’ to git Mom’s cat un stuck from this here string. Ouch! Ouch! That hurts!” Wizzer screeched again. He was getting the best of Polly’s best pinching. My stomach began turning flip flops.

“Who’s with you? Don’t tell me you’re up to devilment like this all by yourself,” Polly screamed at Wizzer, shaking him by the arm with his big bony claw all the while he shouted at him.

“Ouch! Please Polly! Don’t pinch me no more. Honest! I’m all by myself, n’ I want to go home.” Wizzer started to cry. Right then, I thanked my lucky stars. Wizzer had saved my hide from Polly’s claws.

Polly had his fun with Wizzer. Wizzer was crying, so Polly let him go saying, “You git going! Git! And don’t you ever let me catch you around here again!” That guy Polly sure was a mean old devil. I heard Polly stomp, stomp, stomp, his way across the floor of the porch above me, then things settled down and got really quiet. The dust that the cat and I had stirred up and the cobwebs that I had crawled through began to get bothersome and itchy. I crawled over to the opening in the slats and looked around. Not a soul was in sight. I crawled out. I had no more than gotten out from under the porch when Polly jumped down from the porch above me. “So! Tommy Murphy, you were in on it too! I should have known,” Polly shouted. He took a swipe at me with those long bony claws of his. I didn’t even stop to hear what he had to say. With Polly the Pincher on my tail, I gave that yellow cat a lesson about running. I ran through Polly’s garden tramping down a full row of tomato plants that happened to be in my path.

When I got back to the shack, Wizzer was waiting for me. He sat on the old sofa that we used for furniture, holding what was left of the fishing line in one hand and pulling the ends of the line through his other hand. The line looked all ragged and nicked and so did Wizzer. He had half a dozen of Polly’s best pinches on his arms and shoulders. Great, big, red bruises that was already turning an ugly shade of purple. And that was not to mention what the cat’s claws had done to him. Wizzer sure was right about one thing. From the look of the scratches on his face and arms and his torn and ragged shirt, that cat sure was a right good scratcher.

“Wiz, them scratches need some tendin’. Let’s go back down to Godpap’s place. He kin fix ya up. He did say he’d help us out if it turned out that the fishin’ line wasn’t any good, n’ you kin surely see fer yourself. That line is done for.” Wizzer was in no condition to argue with me so we left for Godpap’s.

“How did you fellow’s do?” Godpap asked. He took one look at Wizzer then said, “Donnie, you come with me into my cellar, and I’ll clean up those scratches. From the look of your face and arms, that fishing line probably isn’t in very good shape either.” We followed Godpap into the cool of his cellar. Godpap told Wizzer to slip out of his T shirt, then he went to the sink and ran some cold water into a basin, picked up a cake of Octagon soap and a washcloth from a stand beside the sink and washed Wizzer’s face and arms. Then Godpap daubed some iodine onto some cotton batting and painted Wizzer’s wounds with the iodine. When Godpap was done with his work, Wizzer looked like an Indian about to go on the warpath.

Godpap picked up the fishing line and drew a section of it through his fingers. “Hmm. Men, it’s like I thought,” Godpap said. “This line is ruined. Now, if you two will give me a hand with my flowers, when we are finished, we’ll go to Grimesville and see if we can replace the line.” I was proud fit to bust. Godpap’s flowers were his pride and joy. It wasn’t often that he would ask some kids to give him a hand. Well, that wasn’t exactly the truth either. What he had done was to let Wizzer help with the work because he was my best friend. I had helped Godpap with his flower work lots of times when Wizzer wasn’t around. Godpap knew that I wouldn’t let Wizzer mess up and do those flowers any harm. Those flowers were special to me, too.

We talked while we worked, spraying and watering and weeding the flowers. Before long I could see that Wizzer was getting fidgety. Godpap saw it too. He winked at me, smiled, and said, “Well fellows, you’ve done a good job helping me here. Let’s get the car from the garage now and go to Grimesville.”

Wizzer and me started hopping around like a couple of crickets on a hot rock. It wasn’t often that we got to take a trip to Grimesville, and we would be going with Godpap that would make it a really special trip. We knew that we would hear some real good stories during the trip. Godpap knew more about just about everything than anybody I knew. As soon as we were on our way, he began to tell us a story about a soldier. As best as I can remember, this is the way that story went: “Boys, one evening during the war, I was sitting in the back yard thinking about my brother John. John was in the Army during the war. He was sent to the South Pacific to fight the Japs. The family was all worried because we hadn’t heard from John for several months. In his last letter, he said that he had been in some bitter fighting on some island. We had no idea where he was because the censors had cut the name of the island from his letter. While I was sitting there, I looked toward the setting sun and saw a soldier marching toward me. That soldier was my brother. He was smiling as he marched across the sky toward me. “Don’t worry, Bill. Tell the folks that I’m OK and I’m on my way home,” he said, and then he disappeared. Three days later my brother John walked in the door as big as you please. That is a true story boys.”

Things was quiet for a while, then Wizzer whispered to me that he had goose bumps on his goose bumps from that story, and it was an awfully warm day.

We came into Grimesville and all Wizzer and me had eyes for now was the ‘for real’ stores. Here, in these stores, a person had to use real money to buy things like fishing lines. A thought hit me then like a brick that had fallen from a chimney. Wizzer and me didn’t have any money so I asked Godpap, “Godpap, how are Wizzer n’ me gonna pay fer the fishin’ line? Wizzer n’ me, we ain’t got no money, not even one red cent between the two of us.”

“Don’t worry, Squirt. I’ll take care of things. You and Donnie have earned enough working in my flower garden to pay for the line,” Godpap said. That was stretching things a whole lot as far as I was concerned. I figured we hadn’t done five cents worth of work between the two of us.

“Well boys, this is the store we want.” Godpap had stopped in front of a store with windows full of all kinds of neat stuff like duck decoys, and racks of fishing rods, and just about anything else a guy could want to go hunting or fishing. “Let’s go in and see if they have the line that we need.” Inside we went. What Wizzer and me saw for the first time in our lives was a for real and honest to gosh sporting goods store. The only thing that they sold in this particular store was hunting and fishing stuff. They did have some other games for men though. One game they called golf. When I asked Godpap what golf was, he replied, “It’s when some darn fool knocks one of these silly little white balls all over the countryside trying to get it into a hole.” That sounded like fun to me, but if Godpap called anyone that played golf darn fools, then I wasn’t gonna tell him that I figured it might be fun to try it. Instead, Wizzer and me tried to see everything in the whole store before we had to leave.

“Wiz, we could probably spend a week here and still not see all of the stuff that they got in here. Look at them fishin’ rods. Racks n’ racks of them. How’d a guy ever decide which one he wanted to buy?” I asked Wizzer. “Some of them beat the tar out of that deep sea rod of yer brother’s. I ain’t intendin’ no offence you understand.”

Godpap spoke up then and said, “Boys, I believe this is the line that you want. Donnie, do you think your brother will be satisfied with this one?” What Godpap didn’t know was that we had no intention of telling Red that we had been fooling around with his rod and had ruined the line.

“Geez, yes! Thanks, Mr. Horvath. If you say so, that line will be jist perfect. That line is exactly like the one that we ruined,” Wizzer smiled up at him. At least Wizzer wasn’t forgetting his Sunday manners about thanking Godpap.

“Well, lets start back home then. I’d like to stop at Chess Creek and see if there is an afternoon hatch of mayflies today. How would you boys like that?” Godpap asked. When we heard what he had said, we lit out of that store like a couple of bees headed for honey bait. Godpap came strolling along behind us chuckling and grinning. Godpap was a fly fisherman. If there was a hatch, I figured him and me had some special plans for the rest of the day. I wasn’t a good fly fisherman yet, but Godpap was teaching me, and best friend or not, Wizzer wasn’t included in that particular project.

One time I asked Godpap how they had come to call Chess Creek by that particular name which was a real funny name for a creek. “Squirt, one day a long time ago, two gentlemen were waiting for the afternoon hatch to begin. While they waited, they played Chess. On that particular day, the fly hatch never did materialize, so the two gentlemen sat by the stream and continued to play their game of Chess. It is a game that is played much like Checkers but the pieces are different. When you’re a little older, I’ll teach you the game.” That sure seemed to me to be a funny way to go about naming a stream or anything else for that matter, but then, there were a lot of things that the older folks did that didn’t make much sense.

Godpap left Grimesville, driving out of town along an old dirt road that ran beside Chess Creek. The road followed Chess Creek for a good ways. We could drive along the stream and check out the water to see if things ‘looked promising’ as Godpap had put it. We were traveling along the road kind of slow so as not to raise the dust, when all of a sudden Godpap braked the car to a near stop and said, “Just look at that. The swallows are dipping and soaring. There! Over the stream!” He pointed toward the stream. “There are some flycatchers among them. Boys, those birds are dining. That is sure a good sign that the flies are coming off the water.” I looked over at Godpap. His eyes were sparkling like when he told one of his funny stories. Godpap had one thing on his mind. Fishing.

We drove along then until we reached a good stretch of the creek. Sure enough, the trout was dimpling and flashing. They were dining on the hatching flies. Godpap said, “I believe I’ll drop you fellows off at home so you can put that line back on the reel.” He gave me a wink. “It sure looks like the kind of day for a fellow to be fishing.”

Line or no line to be put back on any reel, if Godpap was going fishing, I meant to be with him. I began studying and puzzling about how I would be able to sneak out of the job of helping Wizzer to put the line back on the reel, and how I could get away from Wizzer without his getting wise about what I was planning. I wanted to go fishing.

When we drove right past the creek without stopping, I knew for sure that Godpap was going fishing. Godpap speeded up the car until we were fairly flying and it seemed like we arrived home in no time at all. Wizzer and me climbed from the car, and the first thing I said to Wizzer was, “Listen, Wiz. I think I just heard my mom callin’ me. I gotta go. Thanks Godpap. I’ll see you later Wiz.” Just as I turned and started to run off toward home, Godpap winked and smiled at me. He knew it and I knew it, too; Godpap and me were going fishing.

Published inUncategorized