As you may know, I don’t host many blog tours. But Stephen’s excerpt was just too good to pass on! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
4 Wills “Been There, Going Again” Blog Tour, Stephen Geez
Greetings, friends! Welcome to the last stop on my 4WillsPublishing Blog Tour celebrating the re-issue of my memoir-shorts, Been There, Noted That: Essays in Tribute to Life. It has updated cover, new graphics, new book trailer, and now a first-ever jacketed hardcover edition. The book’s ruminations range from light and humorous to heartbreakingly poignant, but all spring from my own experiences. Thanks for visiting, trying this sample, and commenting!
Here to Fish
Essay by Stephen Geez
“Leave that ol’ snake alone!”
Aunt Mary was growing impatient with me, but never before had I seen a snake like that, especially one so big. “Ain’t nothin’ but a chicken snake. He won’t bother you.”
I was nine or ten at the time, fascinated by every kind of critter, and known for catching more than a few to bring home. In my neighborhood up north, harmless two-foot garters were my idea of serious snakes, so I’d been sternly warned before embarking on this summer-vacation trip that Tennessee woods seethed with the likes of deadly copperheads, rattlers, cottonmouths, and radiation-hybrid pythonized cobras at least forty feet long . . .
“Leave that snake alone. We’re here to fish.”
My great-aunt Mary’s world impressed me as very different from my own. She and Uncle Carl lived in a ramshackle homestead in the kind of backwoods holler where salamanders sculpt swishes in the mud and hairy spiders bide their time knitting decorative hangings for the outhouse eaves. Mary impressed me as a tough bird—a couple hundred years old, I was pretty sure—who worked hard, honored the Scriptures, and loved her family. To see her eyes sparkle, you need only say, “Would you like to go fish—” Before you could finish the invitation, she’d be piling into the car, ready to roll.
That chicken snake found us along the Tennessee River near New Johnsonville. My father left Mary and me at the end of the old bridge road, a causeway long since abandoned and overgrown, while he and my cousin explored the other side. Mary liked to keep her fishing simple, so as we sat there contentedly amid piles of rocks and great jagged shards of concrete, our state-of-the-art precision gear consisted of cane poles and a bucket.
The sun shimmered low in the sky, dappling the water with swirling sparkles of silver and gold. Weary trees hung over us, weeping the fleeting tears of ephemeral willowflies. Schools of bream and bluegills swarmed in a frenzy below the surface, gorging on the all-you-can-eat willowfly smorgasbord. Catching a pan-sizer simply required reaching up for a fly to thread on the hook, then flipping it onto the water, waiting five seconds, and claiming the prize.
That’s when the snake appeared, right out from under my rock.
He was humongous, at least six feet—if not forty feet or more—black as the night, and I’m pretty sure I could see the blood of naïve little boys dripping from his fangs. After Mary’s assurance that he engendered no mortal threat, that old snake piqued my interest considerably more than fishing. Using a long stick, I urged him to slither about, then followed him crevice to crack to cubbyhole as his attention gradually shifted from seeking a tasty meal to eluding this nuisance kid.
“Get over here and fish. Leave that ol’ snake alone!”
The snake and I paused to eye each other warily. Breaking the tension, I poked him again . . .
And he took off!—a hundred miles an hour straight toward Aunt Mary!
She leapt to her feet, flung the cane pole aside, then snatched up a huge log at least twice her size and proceeded to beat that snake within an inch of his life. The poor feller eventually managed to escape, and we never saw him again. I sat there laughing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath.
“You hush now,” was all Mary said as she returned to her fishing.
I decided right then that if I were a snake under a rock, I’d want to be warned:
Don’t mess with Aunt Mary.
I’ve always tried to learn from others, searching for meaning in the minutiae of everyday life, those pearls of wisdom that too often slip by unnoticed, so I watched the grown-ups’ reactions as I told and retold my Aunt Mary snake story, always earning hearty laughs. Their comments led me to another conclusion:
Advice is easier to give to somebody with a snake under his rock than it is to heed when the snake is under your own.
Many years later I had a chance to go out there with Aunt Mary again. You can see the causeway from the observation deck at Nathan Bedford State Park, but it’s mostly washed away now, eroded by the currents of time and change. There are still places to sit by the water and fish for bream, though, or to reminisce about conquests past. I reminded Mary about that hilarious incident with the chicken snake. She smiled, but I don’t think she found it very amusing.
“That snake wasn’t botherin’ nobody,” she said, “until you started pokin’ him with that stick.” Suddenly, my story had new meaning:
Live and let live.
He’d never have panicked Aunt Mary if I’d not scared him into fleeing.
There’s plenty of room in the world for snakes, and they certainly play a vital role in the life cycles along the banks of a river. We were out there catching our dinner and, well, so was he. Too many people spend too much time worrying over how others live, poking each other with all manner of sticks instead of learning how to share a pile of rocks in one little corner of the universe.
The last time I ever saw Aunt Mary was right after Uncle Carl died. My father and I went to see her, and for the first time, this increasingly frail woman didn’t light up and wonder if we planned to go fishing. She had some new silk flowers, and she wanted a ride out to Carl’s grave.
I’d never visited the old cemetery there in middle-Tennessee, my first chance to see headstones commemorating five generations of kin. Mary pointed out each one, weaving tales about the lifetimes of people I never knew, her eyes glistening with the memories. We picked our way through some tall grass, and I wanted to warn her about snakes, but that story didn’t seem so funny anymore, plus I had a lump in my throat, so I let her talk, and I listened.
We cleaned up Carl’s grave, clearing the windblown debris that nature scatters indifferently, while Mary stood vigil and nodded approval. I wanted to take her fishing right then, but the time wasn’t right. It turned out there would never be another chance.
Mary and Carl are buried side-by-side now, and when I think about that old snake I realize I’d figured out something else listening to her stories and watching her place flowers in honor of the man who’d shared her life. She’d said it that day the snake came around looking for a tasty meal, but I was too young to understand:
“We’re here to fish.”
I’ll bet countless generations of chicken snakes since then have warned their young’ns to watch out for Mary . . .
But it’s moments in time that we have to watch for. No matter what you do, or where you go, or how hard you try, there will always be snakes in one form or another crossing your path, and there will be only so many days in a year when sunshine dapples the water while trees weep willowflies and schools of bream gorge . . .
And there will be only so many days in a lifetime when a tough old bird who works hard and loves her family can share this splendor with a grandnephew who lives too far away.
Fish while you can . . .
Then cherish those moments, and don’t be distracted by snakes.
Writer, editor, publisher, TV producer, music composer, entrepreneur and more, Stephen Geez has long honed a keen eye for the foibles of human nature. His writing since taking undergrad and grad degrees at Michigan includes novels and short stories in various genres from literary to mystical adventure, non-fiction covering academic to how-to, commercial arts spanning corporate training to consumer advertising, and web-based content including the collections at StephenGeez.com and GeezWriter.com. Easing gingerly into his second half-century, he can’t hop, skip, or jump like the old days, but he never stops noticing and taking notes.
- Trailer URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw_mo5wtTMI
- Amazon URL: https://www.amazon.com/Been-There-Noted-That-Observations/dp/1947867148/
- Barnes & Noble URL: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/been-there-noted-that-stephen-geez/1113808078?ean=9781947867147
Prizes up for grabs… (Visit the 4WillsPublishing website for more details!)
*For each day: 1 hardcover edition of Been There, Note That.
*During the entire tour:$25 Amazon card.
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