When my dad was growing up, there was a family in his neighborhood where all the kids had nicknames that they went by. Most of the folks living around them never knew what their real names were. This particular family had three boys. The oldest one went by the name of Sheep, the middle one was called Pumphandle and the youngest was named Turkey.
Dad said he could always understand where Turkey got his name because he had a long neck, a skinny-looking head, eyes that seemed to pop out of his head and — even as a kid — he had a scraggly beard.
Well, one particular spring morning, several of the neighborhood boys decided to skip school and go fishing instead. So they all met at the bus stop at the usual time, but they didn’t get on the bus. They slipped around and got their fishing poles from their hiding place in the bushes.
Then they all took off toward the river, which was a couple miles away. Altogether there were six boys, and then there was Sheep’s old coon dog, Red, and his pup — which, of course, was named Pup.
Sheep and Pumphandle had dug a big can of worms to fish with and all the boys had their own fishing poles that were cut from trees behind their houses. Also, each of the boys had their lunch for school which was homemade biscuits filled with country ham or sausage and most of the time an old, cold baked sweet tater. This was carried in a half-gallon lard pail capped with a tight lid.
The boys walked along laughing and talking as they arrived at the river. Hopefully they could catch a nice mess of fish and be back home about the time the school bus returned that afternoon.
All of the boys prided themselves on being good fishermen because they had all been around the river since they were knee-high to a grasshopper. They were all a very competitive bunch when it came to fishing, and if you caught the biggest fish, you had bragging rights till someone caught a bigger one.
Well, Sheep had taken Ol’ Red fishing plenty of times, but this would be Pup’s first trip. He was still a bit playful and liked to jump around and see what he could get into. He entertained himself for a while just running back and forth between the boys and barking until Turkey caught the first fish, then it was on.
Why, that pup got to jumping around and barking so that Sheep was a-wishin’ he had left him at home, don’t you know. Somehow or other, Pup accidently turned over the only can of worms there was and they were crawling off everywhere. Try as they may, the boys only managed to recover a few of the worms. What were the boys going to do for bait — seeing as theirs had crawled off — and how was Pup going to learn to fish without bait?
Pumphandle, told Sheep, “It was your dog that turned over our bait and you got to find some more, you hear?”
Well, Sheep and his dogs wandered on down the river looking for something to use for bait. Pup was sniffing around and started barking at something. Sheep went to see what he was after and, lo and behold, it was a large cricket jumping around in front of Pup.
Pup tried to trap the cricket with his paws, but the cricket jumped right in the river with Pup right after him. Just as they both hit the water, a largemouth bass decided he wanted that cricket also. Just as Sheep got to the river bank, that large fish done swallowed the cricket and Pup.
“You can’t have my Pup, you old whale,” said Sheep, and he jumped in the river after that fish. While he was wrestling with that fish the rest of the boys showed up.
“Get ’em, Sheep, don’t let him get away.” Sheep’s head went under and then everything got quiet.
All of a sudden, Sheep came up and was a-draggin’ that fish to the bank. When he got to land, he reached in that fish’s big mouth and pulled Pup right out. Well Pup weren’t hurt not one bit, no sirree.
He just shook himself off like dogs do, opened his mouth and out hopped the cricket. Then Pup ran over, got Sheep’s fishing pole and carried it over to him as if to say, “I like this here fishing stuff. Let’s do it again!”
Well, that’s how Pup learned to fish and that’s how Sheep got the reputation of being the best dog-gone fisherman in the county, ‘cause that ol’ bass weighed more than 35 pounds.
Richmond County native J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild and the Story Spinners in Laurinburg.