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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

A wave of nostalgia rolled over me last week while driving through Mermet Lake.

A man sat in a lawn chair on one of the pull-outs on the levee. He was keeping a close eye on a couple rods and reels, obviously tight-lining for catfish. The man was leaning back in his chair, hands comfortably crossed behind his head.

His body language was clear — “I’d like to catch a couple fish, but I’m also OK if they don’t bother me.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat on the river bank, soaking in the sun and content to simply pass the time of day. When I was a kid, many a lazy spring and summer afternoon was spent at Beaver Creek waiting for the catfish to bite.

For some reason — perhaps it was the fisherman’s posture, or maybe it was the warm sunshine pouring through the car window — the gentleman sitting on the bank reminded me of one of my favorite fishing stories.

One summer afternoon I got into a spat with my brother. As the argument grew louder, I picked up a dirt clod. While my arm would never be compared to Bob Gibson’s, I was reasonable accurate. In this instance, I hit my target, his noggin, square.

Upon contact the dirt clod dissipated in a cloud of dust. My amusement dissipated just as rapidly when I saw a bit of blood emerge at the point of contact.

Two thoughts crossed my mind at that moment, first, “I should have aimed lower,” and second, “I gotta get out of here.”

Sensing correctly that my mother would soon be apprised of the situation, I ran to the porch, grabbed my rod and reel and a can of worms that was kept stocked for just such an emergency. Pedaling furiously down the lane, I was out of earshot before mom learned of the felonious assault.

It’s amazing how sitting on a shady creek bank can assuage your conscience. It didn’t hurt that the fish were biting.

A half-dozen or so bullheads and a couple hours later, it seemed like it would be safe to return home. Time had passed. The crying, and bleeding, would have stopped. And, my afternoon sojourn had put dinner on the table.

What could go wrong?

After stowing my bike in our machine shed, I walked to the house, triumphantly carrying the stringer of fish.

Mom appeared at the door when I was still some distance away. It didn’t take a psychologist to determine I had misread the situation. I should have stayed at the creek for another couple of hours.

The details get fuzzy at that point, but let’s just say corporal punishment was administered.

When the sentence was carried out, I distinctly remember my mother’s words, “Now, go clean those fish.”

That episode may run counter to modern child-rearing philosophy. But, at the end of the day, justice, and a delicious meal of catfish, were served.


On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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