I wish you could have seen us, an attentive little boy with big ears and a stately old gentleman in a dark suit. What a team we made! I called him Granddaddy; he simply referred to me as “son” and always with a smile. To everyone else he was Elder Nash; more about that in a moment.
My father was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and died in a plane crash when I was six-weeks old. My mother remarried when I was 3 and I not only got a fine man and war hero to be my father for 88 years, I got a built-in fishing partner and Granddaddy. We fished for catfish, bass and bream in the small farm ponds in Walton, Rockdale and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia. Using worms, chicken livers, dough balls, just anything gathered up that might work, we generally made a formidable duo. The light line zipped from the little spinning reels we used zinging the baits as far into the ponds as we could and then, when the rods were mounted on forked sticks along the bank, we manned quite an arsenal.
What I remember most about him was his gentleness; never, and I mean never, raising his voice or declaring anything sterner than an occasional “Gee Whiz” when a sneaky little catfish stole his bait. But what a sight he was! Get this picture: black wing-tip shoes highly polished, dark charcoal grey pin-striped suit, starched white shirt and maroon and silver striped tie, white gloves with the fingers cut out all topped off with an expansive straw hat. He just did not like the sun. O’Neill was dressed in baggy jeans with six-inch cuffs rolled up, a red, white and blue t-shirt and an Atlanta Cracker’s baseball cap. I was a fan of the Crackers and would one day play shortstop in a series of high school championship games at the old Ponce de Leon Park during which we finished second for the state AAA title.
Many days Elder Nash and I spent together on those ponds were quite productive. Seventy-five or more nice cats fell to our tactics. The pond owners always liked having Elder Nash visit. I guess it was a bit of payoff for his preaching to the congregations for free all those years. We didn’t catch anything big you see, but that didn’t matter. He was a bit over 60 and I was 11. He was attentive to me and I was to him.
And the Elder Nash part? Well, Elder Henry Nash was an unpaid preacher to several Primitive Baptist Congregations both in Atlanta and the various county churches. My father, mother and little brother that had come along when I was 7 attended about once a month in the picturesque locations. Names of the churches like “Harris Springs,” “Loganville,” “Big Haynes Creek,” and others come to mind. After the early morning service, we had dinner on the grounds; long tables covered with white cloths all spread out with delicacies. Some of the best food I have ever had came from those Christian women. It was usually warm and bright in my memory Dogwoods dotted the forest with white delight and I knew Elder Nash and I would be fishing soon.
We spent dozens of fresh spring and gentle warm summer days together, each being a treasured memory. From him I learned patience, and the positive effect of soft words. More than anything though, I remember his quiet reserve and his love for all things. I wish I could see him again. I’ll bet we could still catch’em.