Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along
- This month - Rheta remembers when "a bobber could mean the difference between a fish fry on the bank or a long and depressing drive home."
I was in a restaurant at the quaint Pass harbor – the old and familiar side of the harbor, not the spanking new - listening to the mandatory sound system Buffett, trying to decide if margaritas before noon are a good or bad thing and if fried red fish has calories.
Across the Bridge
A friendly waiter named something youthful like Justin or Taylor introduced himself, took my order and pointed to the abbreviated fishing pole sticking out of a block of wood. I had mistaken it for table decoration but it had, he said, a utilitarian purpose.
“If you need anything, push up the bobber,” he instructed, sliding the piece of cork up the nylon line in the same absent-minded fashion flight attendants use to show you how to put on a life-saving oxygen mask. I’ve seen that oxygen demonstration hundreds of times, but if ever I needed the mask I’d require a quick refresher course.
I think the young man said push “up” the bobber, though my failing memory may have recorded that backwards. He might just as easily have said pull the bobber “down” for attention and service.
I can’t remember now, and I couldn’t remember then, but I did notice my faithful server was frequently popping over and asking if I was okay, needed water, wanted condiments, lusted after pie or loved my mother. It wasn’t until after I left that I realized I must have had the infernal bobber in the wrong and needy position.
I should be thankful that this wasn’t one of those high-tech restaurants with its menu on a computerized device. I’ve lately encountered that a couple of times. The menu items slipped around in virtual space like BB’s on linoleum. It only made me long for an old-fashioned, laminated, tri-fold menu smeared with the last customer’s meal.
But back to that bobber.
I remember when positioning your bobber was of utmost importance, not a gimmicky way to summon your server. In the tannic-acid blackened creeks and streams of South Georgia where I did most of my fishing, a bobber could mean the difference between a fish fry on the bank or a long and depressing drive home.
My grandmother Lucille – the most serious fisherman in the family – would check to make sure my bobber kept the seductive worm swimming in the temptress position, not dragging the muddy bottom. It was an exact, yet entirely intuitive process that I never got quite right. Lucille, on the other hand, spit snuff and took names. There was nothing recreational about fishing to that woman. She was all business.
I liked fishing but for another reason. I would sit on an upturned bucket on the creek bank and daydream about lovely lavender prom dresses and boys with crew cuts until the setting sun lit up the cypress trees like a Tiffany lampshade.
Fishing was a good time for such quiet thinking, as adults seemed sincerely to believe that fish could hear a child’s every utterance and would quickly swim downstream and away if they suspected we were about. My grandmother had speaking privileges, of course, though she rarely used them when fishing. Youngsters were to remain as quiet as the worms in the coffee can.
Not to brag, but I learned on these fishing outings to be contemplative while outdoors. Looking around the cute harbor restaurant the other day, I decided it’s a lesson that ought to be brushed off and taught again.
Children were ruling at several tables, and not benevolently. Two boys, both of them too old for the baby fat that made climbing onto the restaurant’s high stools a challenge, created a ruckus when the food did not suit. I wondered why they weren’t outdoors fishing on this fine day instead of ordering soft drinks and fries.
But I didn’t stick with that line of inquisition long. I was in no position. Why wasn’t I outside with a real pole instead of indoors reminiscing as I ate?
I pushed or pulled the bobber and asked for my check.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a 40-year veteran of Southern journalism and author of several books (see end of column). She has worked as a columnist for newspapers in Memphis and Atlanta and today is syndicated by King Features of New York.
She writes original monthly essays for The Cleaver from her home across the bridge in Pass Christian where she spends roughly half of each year. The rest of the time she lives in Iuka, Miss., in an old farmhouse in a cold, dark hollow.