Appalachia

Fishing In Choestoe Valley

Today’s guest post was written by Keith Jones.

Fishing in appalachia

Fishin’ Early with Aunt Avery written by Keith Jones

My grandmother died long before I was born, but her two sisters strove mightily to fill that place in our lives. They lived on “the Old Collins Place” where their Dad had farmed, kept store, and generally been the most progressive innovator in Choestoe Valley (Union County, GA.) He gave each of his children some land when they married, then left the homeplace to the last three single children, with instructions for them to write wills leaving the farm to the last survivor. Uncle Esley had a small bedroom just off the huge kitchen, and Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel had bedrooms toward the back of the house. Uncle Esley died when I was a small boy, leaving just the two sisters to carry on.

Aunt Ethel was short, practical, and worked outside the home in the school cafeteria. Aunt Avery was beanpole tall and thin, tough, wiry, and worked as hard as any man ever thought about doing. She taught me to ‘cut tops and pull fodder,’ to pull peanuts up and dry them, to feed the chickens and gather eggs, and many other everyday farm skills. But Aunt Avery wasn’t all about work—she really knew how to have fun, too, and her favorite pastime was fishing.

Down behind the house was a shed absolutely filled up with cane poles. I don’t remember her ever telling me the night before that we would be going fishing. I’d just wake up from a snug sleep under quilts and hand-woven coverlets to her shaking my shoulder and saying, “Get up now, jump in your clothes, we’re going fishin’!” Outside, the gray light before dawn might reveal fog all along the creek, even far up the mountains, but she knew the rising sun would soon burn all that away. We’d stop by the shed and choose our poles for the day. She’d have me carrying an old bucket while she carried a shovel. On the way down to the creek, we’d stop near the barn and dig worms out of the black muck by the side of the building.

We’d walk across the pasture, past the fallen ruins of great-granddad’s sawmill, to Aunt Avery’s favorite bend in the creek. Sometimes we’d fish near the footlog that spanned the creek, linking with the trail that led over the mountain to my granddad Dyer’s home. But more often we were a few yards downstream from there, where the creek made a sharp turn that produced a whirlpool. That vortex was Aunt Avery’s secret honey hole for fish, and we seldom had to spend more than thirty or forty minutes before we had a stringer full of fat little sunfish. I suspect that Aunt Avery occasionally caught a native trout, since my most memorable outing was when a really large brownie took my hook, made an astonishing, twisting leap far into the air in front of my startled face and threw my hook and bait far up onto the bank.

Now the stream is stocked with rainbows. I’m sure anglers with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment would love to range up that stream. But they could never match the excitement I had as a little boy hollering, “Aunt Avery! Aunt Avery! I got one!” And certainly no breakfast matched what we would have when we returned from these dawn expeditions—fried fish, grits AND country fried potatoes, homegrown sausage, streak-o-lean and yard eggs (Aunt Ethel had some hens famous for giving double-yolk eggs.) Hot biscuits, cornbread, all kinds of jellies and jams, and of course sorghum syrup.

I never really developed into a fisherman as a grownup. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anything could really match those days when I followed that bonneted awkward-graceful figure in her long plain cotton dress, as we walked through the dewy pasture to fish.

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I hope you enjoyed Keith’s memories of fishing with Aunt Avery as much as I did! It makes me wish I could go visit her and Aunt Ethel myself.

Tipper

 

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Darrell Keith Cook
    April 12, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I might be wrong, but I think Ethel Collins worked at Town Creek Elementary when I attended in the early 1960’s. We had three grades in one classroom. We had 4 kids in 1st grade, 7 in 2nd and 10 in 3rd grade.

  • Reply
    Tom Deep
    July 1, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    What a great story of this childhood remembrance. I spent much of my childhood fishing for catfish.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    June 21, 2015 at 12:16 am

    The story is grand, somewhat reminds me of some of the things I heard from both our maternal and paternal grandmothers when growing up. What strong, loving “salt of the earth” women they were! What a shame there are so few like them in today’s world! Can’t help but think, if there were, the world would be a better place than it currently is with parents chasing careers, letting others raise their children so many hours of each day instead of doing it themselves.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    dolores
    June 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Ah! Tomorow is Father’s Day – Happy fishing to those who enjoy that hobby! Great memory story!

  • Reply
    Ken
    June 20, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Tipper,
    Somehow I forgot this wonderful
    story back in 2012, must be this
    senior moment thing. There were so many fishing programs you published back then, but I’m impressed with Keith’s fishing memories.
    I had some of the best fishing
    teachers you could ever ask for,
    including my dad who took the
    time for all his 6 boys. I guess
    I’ve caught more Rainbows and
    Browns than you can imagine with
    an old bamboo 3-piece fly rod.
    And I’ve caught a few horny-heads or knotty heads along the way. I learned from
    watching my older brothers just
    how to float the fly hooks across the waters, pretending
    they were May Flies and about to be supper for a Big ole Brown.
    Nice piece Keith, you are a true
    Storyteller and of real life…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 20, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Beautiful story! Thanks Keith, again. I love these old family stories filled with peace , hope, and love.
    The picture above is my Dad, Curtis and his two younger brothers Hub and Van. They are all gone now, but I remember them.

  • Reply
    TimMc
    June 20, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Well if that don’t take you back, didn’t have rainbows or browns in our creeks but catfish, bass,bream,cane poles and worms and getting up early is sure familiar to me..

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    June 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Jim Casada, what you call ‘knottyheads’ were what we used to call ‘hornyheads.’ And yes, they were in abundance, mostly because we’d throw them back when we caught them. My Aunt Avery used to love to eat the crunchy fried fins that she left on the fish when she cleaned them. I didn’t like those so much, but the meat was great! Now that I’m retired and have an abundance of grandchildren, I’m thinking of taking up fishing again, along with pursuits like hunting for spring lizards and damming up creeks to make swimming holes.

  • Reply
    Aquilla Yagoda
    June 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

    This brings back wonderful memories of my father. With Mother’s help I would make dough-balls for the trot line and go with my father to set the line and then in the evening we would run the line for the fish. I wish I knew how we made those dough-balls so they stayed on the line but I have forgotten. If anyone remembers please share. During summer we often fished from the banks of the Tennessee River. Thanks for stirring up precious memories.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 20, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I can identify with this memory having been raised beside (and in) the Little Tennessee River and spending many happy hours with a cane pole n my hand. Keith is mistaken about not becoming a fisherman as an adult, I’d venture to bet that his time with Avery & Ethel helped turn him into “A Fisher of Men”.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 20, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Tipper–I’ve made a living (of sorts) out of telling fishing tales and writing about the sport, so I always enjoy someone sharing an angling adventure.
    Now that I know the good Rev. Jones has fond memories of childhood sport AND is a storyteller, I can’t resist a few questions.
    1. I’m amazed he doesn’t mention knottyheads. About ever Appalachian stream than can support trout has them in abundance.
    2. I’ve got to ask whether the good reverend ever lost a fish. Mind you, I already know the answer, although I suspect he would say yes. In truth, he hasn’t lost one, because a man cannot lose what he never had (for example, he didn’t lose that brown trout–he just had a temporary meaningful connection with it).
    3. Did he ever stretch the truth a bit in telling fishing tales?
    For my part, I wouldn’t for a moment trust a fellow with the Sunday collection plate who insisted on sticking strictly to the facts when it comes to hunting and fishing tales.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    June 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for running this again! I’d misplaced my original version, so now I have it among my “storytelling writings to be published someday, maybe” files. 😉

  • Reply
    Shirl
    June 20, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Keith, it’s too bad you never developed into a fisherman. You don’t know what you are missing! I didn’t have an Aunt Avery to take me, but I loved to go fishing alone in the creek back home that held no more than minnows. As a child, I rigged up a tree limb with mom’s sewing thread and a safety pin. I would take my seat on a foot bridge and watch the moving water as it took me to far away places a little hillbilly girl could only dream of visiting. As a grown up, I loved to take my daddy fishing. Now I’m working on making fishing memories with my grandchildren. They know I am always working, but will drop anything I’m doing to take a trip to the pond with them.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    June 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

    This story just emphasizes the importance of a strong extended family (biological or chosen). You don’t have to give birth to be a parent.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 20, 2015 at 7:47 am

    My son, the Rev. Keith Jones, wrote this true story from his childhood remembrances of visiting “the Old Collins Place” and his great Aunts, Avery and Ethel when he was small. As they had helped to rear and shape me into who I became, so the early remembrances of days and nights spent with them cemented themselves into wonderful memories of having the experience of knowing surrogate grandmothers in my wonderful Aunts, Ethel and Avery (my namesake was Ethel). “Going fishin'” is more than a memory; it is a slice of life, a look into solid values and love for one another, qualities of hard work and then a little pleasure, even if it is just casting a hook loaded with an earthworm into the swirling waters of Town Creek as it flowed through Grandpa Bud Collins’s farm. Thanks, Keith. If any of you are interested in more “true stories” with a mountain flavor, ask Keith to come to your “need-a-speaker” event. A He’s a remarkable storyteller. His blog can be found under “Keith Jones.Storyteller.com.” Thanks, son! Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel did the same for me when I was young as they did for you! And more, for they helped me understand why their sister, Azie, my mother had to die when I was so young I had a hard time taking this jolt in the road of life. They helped me cope! Aunt Avery took me fishin’ many times.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    June 20, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Well somehow I have no trouble relating to the time, the place, and the folks Keith talks about in his post. I got a feeling my great, grandma Collins would be living nearby in that wonderful place. Wish I know more about where my Grandpa William Issac Wimpey grew up! He surely went fishing along those clear running streams. Eva Nell Mull Wike daughter of Martha Jane Wimpey Mull

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