lived about five miles east of Macon, a town of about five hundred.
It lay on the main line of the Yazoo Delta Railroad. Everyone
called it the Yellow Dog. Daddy drove to Macon most Saturdays
to get the mail and buy supplies. I went with him sometimes. JT
never left the farm except to go to the Colored school.
JT and I didnt need town. There were lots of things to do
every day. We finished our chores by dinnertime most days. If
the fields were clean of weeds and picking had not started yet,
our afternoons were mostly free for fun.
JT and I didnt need town. We had everything we needed right
here at home. We had my new shotgun, our johnboat, and our fishing
What to do today Mr. Will? JT asked.
Maybe go crawdad fishing? Then go bass fishing tomorrow?
OK, Mr. Will.
We strolled into the store on our farm where my great uncle ruled.
Uncle Floyd, we need some side meat.
What you need side meat for, Will? Betty cooking greens
Naw. We need crawdad bait. Goin bass fishing tomorrow.
Bass love crawdads bettern anything. You know that.
We left with two slivers of salt-cured bacon and some string.
Uncle Floyd remembered how it was to be a boy, though his gray
hair and his absent right leg betrayed his age.
We ambled along the track toward the bayou, kicking dust with
our bare toes, throwing dirt clods at trees, and swatting weeds
with sticks we had picked up along the way. We were headed toward
the big dead poplar tree. Its roots were on the muddy bank and
its trunk lay half exposed above the surface of the green stagnant
water. That was our crawdad place.
We walked out onto the trunk, certain that we could never fall.
But even if we did, we knew the splash would send any moccasin
scurrying away. Besides, we hadnt seen an alligator in this
part of the bayou the whole summer.
We tied our baits onto our strings and dropped them into the water.
Within minutes, rainbow rings of liquid fat appeared on the surface
of the murky water. Crawdads had begun to chew our bait.
I jerked my catch out of the water. It fell back in. JT said,
You jerked too hard, Mr. Will. You scared him off the bait.
You got to ease him up, just ease him up. He lifted his
crawdad out of the water gently. Slowly, slowly he raised it toward
our bucket. Just before it got there, the crawdad fell back into
the bayou. I doubled over with laughter. You didnt
do no better slow than I did fast. What you know about crawdad
fishing anyway? I gave him a little shove. JT pushed back,
I pushed again and we hit the water almost together.
Green muddy water poured off us as we sloshed up the bank. I laughed
and said, I bet there aint a damned moccasin in ten
miles of here now!
We began to fish again even though we smelled of dead fish and
rotting weeds. JT worked slow; I worked fast. Neither fast nor
slow won. We landed less than half our catch either way. Even
so, after two hours we had enough crawdads for the next day.
On the way home I cautioned JT, Keep plenty of water in
that bucket. We need all that bait for bass tomorrow. And watch
where you step. Betty would give me the Devil if I drug you in
all snake bit.
Dont you worry about me. Im having fish for
Im having mine for dinner. Save me some from supper.
Fried bass is mighty good.
Betty met us in our kitchen, just inside the back door. Lawd,
Lawd, dont yall stink! I aint smelled nothing
this bad in all my life! Mr. Will, take them overalls off outside
an git under the pump. JT, you git on home. Ill take
care o you later. You better smell better when I git there.
The next day we got up early, did our chores and headed to the
little lake about two miles away. That was where we kept our homemade
johnboat. We flipped it over, put our bucket of crawdads and our
cane poles in, pushed it into the water and paddled off to where
we knew the bass were hiding.
Crawdads were deadly bait. By noon our string was loaded with
one and two-poundersenough for us and for JTs family
too. Betty fried up a big mess for us for dinner. I slipped off
to JTs house at suppertime. Fried fish made a heap better
supper at his house than leftover cornbread and buttermilk did
Summer wore on. We did our chores, hoed a little cotton, carried
water to the hands in the fields and pulled weeds in the garden.
Dove hunting time came in late August, just before cotton-picking
time. I told JT, Tomorrow is dove time. Well go after
We sat on buckets in the hot afternoon sun beside a cutover field
of milo cane. There was plenty of spilled seed on the ground.
JT said, Milo makes a good dove place. Chickens like it.
Doves ought to like it too.
A bunch of doves came down. I shot. They shied away before I could
reload. Nothing fell.
Another flock came in. Two shots. No birds.
What happened Mr. Will? How come you missed?
Just did. Doves aint easy to hit. You want to shoot
Naw. I dont know nothing bout guns. You kill
em; I pick em up.
I shot more than two boxes of birdshot in my little single-shot
20-gauge shotgun that afternoon. Flying doves were just too hard
to hit. Finally, I just shot them on the ground. Real hunters
dont shoot doves on the ground. Who wanted to be a real
hunter anyway? I just wanted doves.
I shot; JT retrieved. We trudged home with a bloody sack half
full of doves.
You make a pretty good bird dog, JT.
You make a pretty good bird hunter, Mr. Will. You gonna
give me some of them doves?
Course I am. Were partners, aint we?
I asked Betty, How come you and JT dont eat in our
Colored and White dont eat together.
Not even in the same house? You cook it and serve it and
wash up. It dont make senseyou doin all that
and not eating inside.
It dont need to make sense. Its just the way
it is. Whites and Coloreds dont mix. And dont you
go stirring up things neither. Everybody knows their place and
they keep it.
I asked Mamma, Could I eat on the porch with JT today? He
helped me kill all them doves yesterday.
Dont be silly. Whites dont sit down with Coloreds.
But were partners.
Not that kind of partners. You eat in the dining room and
he eats on the porch, and thats that. No more silly talk.
Why I ate in our dining room and JT ate on our back porch made
no sense at all. We were born on the same day. Betty nursed us
both. We play together. We hunt and fish together. Why cant
we eat together? Mamma and Betty said we couldnt. I guess
That's just the way it was in Mississippi in 1926.
Fleet grew up in rural Mississippi. He earned BA and MD degrees
from Vanderbilt University. He was a faculty member in the Vanderbilt
Department of Pediatrics for nine years before entering private
practice in the Nashville area. He began creative writing shortly
after retiring in 1998 and published his first book in 2000.