A tale from my childhood to get my mind working and remove the dust from my keyboard.
|Leon and Mark
I come from a large family with its roots deep in the Arkansas hills. Half of my father’s family moved to New Mexico in the early fifties and the other half remained in Arkansas. My father was serving in the Air force in Korea when his father moved his sawmill and the younger half of the family to New Mexico, so when he finished his tour of duty he joined his father to help out with the sawmill.
Since I was lucky enough to be growing up with my grandparents in the New Mexico contingent of the family and since my family, as Arkansas hillbillies are generally inclined, remained very connected with each other, a couple of times each year, we would host family reunions when the rest of the family would make the trek to New Mexico. Having a dozen aunts and uncles and more than thirty cousins concentrated into our family compound for a few days was always a rich and amazing experience for me. I was always torn between running rampant with the part of the mob that was nearest my own age and adding to my collection of scars and mending bones or sitting quietly and enjoying one of the great talents of the Arkansans - storytelling. Those people, men and women alike, could sure spin a tale. I am sure this is where I acquired my own lifelong love of a good story.
Out of that large clan, two of the greatest characters were my Uncle Leon and his son Mark, who was a year younger than me. Uncle Leon always had some great tales to tell while sitting on the porch and whittling amazing works of art from scraps of wood and Mark always gave him plenty of fuel for his stories. Mark was a serious boy, suffering terribly from a bad case of asthma which was always very bad when they first arrived, but almost disappeared after a few days of breathing the dry New Mexico air. Mark was also the most accident-prone person I have ever known. Never mind that a large percentage of his accidents were caused by his close proximity to me.
Being avid fishermen and having a big lake nearby, some of the family could be counted on to take out our small boat and bring back a big harvest of fish with which to feed the family during those reunions. One day, my father took Mark and Leon out fishing. Since my family fished for the meat as much as for the sport of it, we used whatever kind of tackle was most likely to produce a good catch, sometimes being live bait and sometimes being various types of lures. Fish are funny and wily beasts in that their tastes seem to change from one year to the next. One year, they would only bite on live minnows. The next year, their tastes would have evolved such that they preferred little lead-headed jigs with a single hook hidden beneath their white tail feathers. The year of Mark’s and Leon’s great fishing fiasco, the fish were preferring a lure that looked like a small fish with a two treble hooks - one dangling from the middle of its belly and another trailing from its tail. In case you are not familiar with fishing terms, I should explain that a treble hook is made up of three hooks, all joined together at the shaft with the barbed pointed ends all turned out in different directions, the better to snag some part of the fish’s mouth and even better at becoming entangled with other lures of the same type while jostling around in the tackle box.
They were having a good day of fishing and in a short time had enough for a fine fish-fry. Late in the day, well after their catch was sufficient to provide supper for the whole clan and probably even further after their catch had exceeded their legal limits, my father heard a strange noise coming from behind him in the other end of the boat. When he looked around, he saw Leon perched on the seat of the boat like a huge toad, his eyes bulged out and his cheeks puffing out with each “Mmmmph, Mmmmmph” he screamed. You might think a person couldn’t scream with his mouth closed tight, but then you might not have ever seen anyone dealing with the kind of dilemma Leon was dealing with at that moment, for on further inspection of the situation, my father noticed that in the middle of his back-swing to cast his lure, Mark had hooked Leon in the mouth with one of those treble hooks, one of the hooks snagging Leon’s upper lip and the other embedded in his lower lip, making it impossible for him to open his mouth and give any kind of more coherent protest. Mark, unaware of his error, was jerking his pole up and down getting ready to make a great cast. My father dropped his pole, grabbed Mark’s arm, disarmed him from his weapon and quickly helped Leon get the hooks out of his lips. Fortunately, despite Mark's best efforts the hooks hadn't been set as deep as the barbs, so they were easily removed.
After getting the situation under control, my father asked Leon why he was crouched in the seat in such an odd way. Leon replied painfully through swollen, bleeding lips, “I knew that any minute Mark was gonna make his cast and I was getting ready to jump just as far out in the lake as I could.”