Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 25, 2020

Summer Friends – Part II

Summer Friends – Part II

Every once in a while, fishing moved up as our favorite thing to do. At any time I loved going fishing early in the morning with Jeff, but Jeff couldn’t always go, too much, it depended on whether or not he thought he was going to be too tired, and that depended on how many people Mimi invited for dinner at the Big House, or whether the day before (Thursday or Sunday) he and everyone else had the day off beginning after lunch or brunch which was earlier but only on Sundays, so never Friday morning or Monday morning.

William and I fished in the late afternoon (Ask anyone who knows about fishing, and they’ll tell you fish don’t bite in the middle of the day). Every once in a while we’d ride our bikes to Hatch’s Pond, but that wasn’t easy at all. Besides fishing poles, we needed our tackle boxes and something to bring the fish home in. Neither of us had a basket or anything like that on our bikes. When we rode to the Club, all we needed were our tennis rackets and those we could lay across the handlebars and hold with our thumbs. We could do that with our fishing rods, too, and use the rest of the fingers on your left hand to carry one of the tackleboxes – William put some of his lures and hooks and stuff into mine – and use the other fingers on your right hand to steer the bike and put on the brake. William carried the bucket or a regular creel for the fish, which was easy on the way there, but not on the way back if we’d caught a lot of fish. Most times, though, my mother would take us there and pick us up about 6:30 just before she went to the Big House for dinner. She’d park in the same place as in the morning, and blow the car horn. We’d hear it and row back. If I had rowed first, then William rowed us back, or the other way around. If Mother went to dinner early, or we wanted to stay later, she’d ask Leslie to pick us up. When we had a ride there, we always brought our BB guns in case the fish weren’t biting.

Fishing was usually fun because you could at least almost always find a couple of places where the Bluegills and Crappie were hanging out. They were suckers for worms, of course, but they also liked this little lure that was supposed to look like a minnow. It came in different colors and patterns, and it had a propeller on the front that spun around while you reeled it in. Sometimes one color worked, sometimes another. William and I each had about five different ones. I don’t know what the fish thought that lure was, but it must have been something that tasted pretty good. That kind of fish – people call them pan fish – are shaped like an egg, except they were flat. When you hook one, it turns sideways to your line which makes it seem like a much bigger, heavier fish. Sometimes, though, you’d get surprised when the fish you were reeling in turned out to be really a bigger and heavier fish, like a Large-mouth Bass or a big Yellow Perch. The largest Bass I ever caught, right up until it came up to the side of the boat, I’d thought it was a Bluegill. At Hatch’s, you never could be absolutely sure what you were going to catch when you were fishing underwater instead of on top.

Early in the summer, the pan fish mated. You’d be rowing along, and suddenly a whole school of them came right up to the top of the water. You could see their backs as they churned around in an area five or six feet square. We’d cast directly over the school and then reel the lure through then. You could be pretty sure one of them would bite, probably not because it was hungry, though. I think the lures we dragged through their school annoyed them. Every once and while, the lure’s hooks would snag a fish by the tail. That is a very interesting way to catch a fish. Later, toward the middle of August, the Bluegills and Crappie got bumps all over them. It was some infection or something that looked like chicken pox. Fish with the bumps, we didn’t want to touch which made taking them off the hook kind of tricky. We had to hold them down with a foot just hard enough so they couldn’t flap away. We weren’t sure whether or not we should put them back in the water because maybe they were contagious and other fish would get infected from them, so unless there were only a couple of bumps, we’d knock them on the head, keep them in one part of the boat, and then throw them away before we left.

Large-mouth Bass were the most fun to catch because of the way they go after a surface lure. They grab it and shake it, spraying water all over, and, boy, are they ever mad when they find out the thing they tried to munch on has hooks. Jeff taught me to fish, and one time when he was bring lunch to the pool and I was there, I asked him to tell Uncle John about the fish we’d caught that morning. So Jeff did, but he also said what a good fisherman I was getting to be. Then all of sudden in the mail Uncle John sent me a spinning rod, my first one. He got it at Abercrombie & Fitch which used to be a store that sold mostly hunting and fishing stuff, like hunting clothes, fishing vests, duck calls, and all kinds of guns and fishing rods and reels. (The store is still in the same place on Madison Avenue in New York, but now it sells fancy clothing. Makes me sad.)

Along with the spinning rod, Uncle John picked out a dozen different lures; half floated on top of the water, the other half for under, like that little minnow plug. One of the surface lures was a red and white popper called a Big Boy. It had a narrow white body, a red head and red open mouth; its tail was white and red feathers. The open mouth made a popping noise when you jerked the line.

The first time I cast that lure, almost as soon as it hit the water, a Bass grabbed it the way I just said. Guess what. The Bass in Hatch’s were crazy for that lure. I caught so many the first couple of weeks, the lure got scratched up and a couple of its feathers came off. I asked my father to get me another one because he also worked in New York and knew about Abercrombie and Fitch. His office was on 37th Street and Park Avenue, which is only maybe five blocks from where Abercrombie and Fitch is, so going there wasn’t much trouble. The beginning of the next summer, he got me two, but next summer after that, they stopped making Big Boys. The salesman at Abercrombie’s told my father that another lure called a Hula Popper came in many different colors, and one of those was red and white the same as the Big Boy. The problem was, the Hula Popper tried really hard to look like a frog, but the Big Boy was just a piece of wood, maybe a half-inch wide and two inches long. It didn’t pretend to be anything except what it was. The Hula Popper’s mouth was much wider and rounded and the head was whole different shape from the body. The tail was red and white, but it wasn’t made of feathers. It had rubber strips that looked like thin rubber bands someone had cut in two. Plus, the Hula Popper didn’t sit on the water the same way Big Boy did, and it never worked even a little bit as well.

Fishing was not fun when the fish weren’t biting, which happened. When it did, there was nothing you could do. If we’d ridden bikes, we’d just ride home, otherwise all we could do is wait there until my mother or Leslie came to get us. That’s why we brought our BB guns along, in case of the fish not biting.

Once a summer, William and I went to Walsh’s Drugstore for breakfast. Walsh’s is as far away from Great Elm as you can get and still be in the main part of Sharon, just to the left of the end of the Town Green, across the street from the Methodist Church and Community Service. Admiral Hart’s house is right across the street facing down the Green, and the Sharon Cemetery, where Admiral Hart is buried, is behind the house. One, I think, we had breakfast there twice, but the second time wasn’t as much fun.
Of course we got up a little earlier than usual when we decided to go there because we wanted to be first. We were always sitting on the drugstore’s steps before Mr. Walsh or Betty arrived. Betty was still at a teenager, I think, but an old one. She worked for Mr. Walsh, mostly taking care of the soda fountain. That meant Betty would cook our breakfast. Betty walked to work because her house wasn’t far away, but Mr. Walsh drove. He and Mrs. Walsh lived on Sharon Mountain. Year and years later, my sister Betsey married Mr. Walsh’s grandson, Rob. They had four children.

Walsh’s Drugstore didn’t sell much food because it really was a drugstore. People went there for prescriptions, cough medicine, calamine lotion, alcohol – not the kind you drink, the kind you clean cuts with – sun lotion, baby oil, band aids, cotton balls, cough drops, mercurochrome, iodine – also stuff for cuts – candy bars, that kind of thing. At the soda fountain, Mr. Walsh had ice cream which you could either have in a cone or small bowl, milk shakes, ice cream sodas, ice cream sundaes, Coca-Cola, root beer, root beer floats, and maybe ice cream sandwiches; but also hamburgers and Grote and Weigel hot dogs. That’s what William and I had for breakfast, one of each, plus a glass of orange juice first.

I don’t know why, but Mr. Walsh kept the hamburgers and hot dogs frozen overnight, so it took a while before they were cookable, which we didn’t really mind. The point was, we were having something for breakfast that no one else would even think about having. And having breakfast at the Drugstore was different not just because of the food. It was completely different. For instance, think about this: when you get up early enough, the grass is wet from the dew. When you walk uptown all the way, a lot of the walking is on grass because that’s what the Town Green is made of. You start across from the Episcopal Church and walk up to the four corners where the Town Clock is. You cross the road there, get back on the Green, and head up town. (If you went left, that would take you to Amenia, New York; right was the way to Sharon Mountain, Cornwall Bridge, Kent, or Goshen and Torrington.) Going straight on up the Green the whole way, you’d pass the Presbyterian Church, the Hotchkiss Library, the Sharon Clinic, the Sharon Post Office (which now is the Town Hall but it looks just the same), and the Bartrum Inn which is now the Bartram Apartments and doesn’t look the same at all. By the time we got to Walsh’s Drugstore, our sneakers were soggy. See? That is a completely different way to start a day off.
After our orange juice but before the hot dogs and hamburgers were thawed, we would go walk around the Sharon Cemetery. Since our sneakers were already soaked, a little more dew didn’t matter. We recognized lots of the names on the grave stones; they were same ones of people we knew or knew about: Warner, Hatch, Hart, Bartram, Barstow, Calkins, Wardwell. Some of the dates of when people died go back to the early 1700s, from when Sharon first became an official town. There were a lot of Herricks, Susie’s last name. But you know what name you wouldn’t find? Buckley, my grandparents’ name.

I thought it was because none of the Buckleys were dead yet. Obviously, that wasn’t the reason, but I didn’t find that out until I was older. Buckleys weren’t Protestant. We we’re Catholic. The Catholics had their cemetery in Sharon Valley which was back then the poor part of Sharon. They did let the church of the Catholics be in the real Sharon, but not on the main street like the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church is on Lower Road, the road that turns into the back way to Millerton, New York if you don’t turn right first to go to Mudge Pond, also another one of the names in the cemetery.

By the time we got back from the cemetery, the hot dogs were in their machine that kept them hot turning around on a skewer until somebody wanted one. We ate our hotdogs first while the hamburgers cooked. We both liked them with mustard and relish, but for the hamburgers, only ketchup. Then we’d go home and figure out what to do with the rest of the day.



  1. Such lovely reminiscences, Jim. Evocative of those hazy days when we were growing up. They all seem impossibly distant now, don’t they?!

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