Last week I went for a drive around the old Lamor and Robertson Road neighborhood, which is a prosperous Hermitage suburban landscape now, with well-kept homes and macadam side streets where decades ago my brothers and I roamed woods and fields and country lanes.
I drove up to a familiar address — 682 Robertson — and my eyes took a jolt. The house looked empty, paintpeeled, abandoned. I pulled into the driveway and spotted sheriff’s notices posted on the bleak front picture window, declaring foreclosure and auction.
Wow, I thought. Back in the sixties this was the fine brick family residence of Ray Stefanick, owner of the Homestead Dairy next door. I remembered attending parties here when the home was fresh and sparkling with activity, and the fenced-in, frontyard swimming pool was a bright new neighborhood attraction. Now the pool’s block sidewalls were crumbling, its wire-mesh fence was ugly with overgrown weeds and its water slide and diving board stood empty and forlorn.
I drove next door into the back lot behind MK Landscaping, the current occupant of the old block building that once housed Homestead Dairy. This was a place that could transport me back into my childhood. I stared at the cattails, the willow trees, the fast-running creek and remembered the seminal fishing spot of my youth, the place we called “The Pond.” It was a reservoir, actually. The Stefanicks had built a cement dam on this same small creek and created an impoundment about 100 yards long and 60 yards wide, and it soon filled up with water and then bluegills, sunfish, catfish, carp, and a few bass, all of which apparently meandered into the waters from the in-flowing creek.
From age eight or nine until we were at least 12 or 13, brother Skip and I went fishing at The Pond almost every day of our summer vacations, and it was there that we caught the first fish of our lives, panfish mostly, but also bullhead catfish and eventually some big, bruising carp. We never caught a bass, but once in a while we marveled at the mysterious, dead largemouths that sometimes washed up on shore.
We fished with hand-medown gear that Powser had given us: rusted metal tackles boxes, old metal rods, and ancient, erratic casting reels full of heavy black fishing line that backlashed and knotted up with great vigor. We used live worms every trip and sometimes bread doughballs for carp, and we learned by trial and error, but we did catch fish. We carried an old fivegallon bucket along, which we filled with water and kept nearby, to toss our fish into as we caught them. At the end of our fishing day, we’d count the fish and throw them all back in, practicing catch-andrelease before we’d ever heard the term. Rarely did we keep a fish and try to clean it for eating, and when we did, the results were not good.
The Pond lay two miles from our Lamor Road home, and we had bicycles, although they were often in disrepair, but I remember we always walked on our fishing trips, probably because we carried too much gear to transport on bicycles. We stayed outdoors all day every day in the summer, often following morning fishing trips with afternoon pick-up baseball, and evening
games of hide-and-seek under the stars. Our young bodies were lean, hard, and suntanned. There were no such things then as the computers and video games that dominate the leisure hours of the soft-bodied youth of today.
Our Little Momma did her part to keep us in shape, too. Barely five feet tall, she drove a car by looking under the top of the steering wheel, and it was all she could do to keep track of the road. Many times we’d be hiking home exhausted from a day in the outdoors, and we’d spot her driving our way, unmistakable in that old ’57 Dodge with the big tailfins. We’d jump up and down and wave our arms, but she never looked left or right or saw us
and stopped. She always just drove right on by, thereby unintentionally preventing us from discounting our daily exercise.
When younger brother Billy got to be about seven years old, Little Momma made Skip and me take him fishing with us, but we got revenge by forcing him to carry the gear. Later Billy and his buddy Davey Shaffer carried on the Pond tradition after Skip and I graduated on to teenage pastimes.
Davey and Billy loved to fish for carp. Their casting rigs would often leap into the water on the strength of a powerful carp strike, and they would follow the mud trail in the water until they located the rod, lifted it, and set the hook. They’d fight that carp all over the waters then and sometimes eventually land the fish, hold it up proudly, and stand grinning in the sun.
Those were some finer, simpler days, I think, gone but not forgotten.
“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, July 16, 2006