On Firewood and Fried Catfish

Print this entry

The first fire of the season was exceedingly modest, just one fat log buttressed by a couple of sticks of kindling in my BMC’s fireplace in East Texas, fired up with the natural-gas pipe starter in a quick attempt to warm up the living room before we headed to church. More than anything, it was our announcement that summer had at last been banished, and autumn was finally in the house, a tardy arrival but still welcomed. We have been pining for cool  weather for many months. Who hasn’t of those who survived this Summer From Hades?

We spent most of Saturday  trekking through Northeast Texas, me pulling my brother-in-law’s trailer up to my father-in-law’s farm to load up a season’s worth of firewood. Here’s a pleasant surprise, given the terrible drought (which has eased a bit in East Texas but still has us Austin-dwellers by the throat). The fall foliage is certainly muted this year, beaten down by a lack of moisture and unrelenting heat, but patches popped up along the 90-minute drive to the farm near Texarkana. Mainly it’s the scrubby trees, bushes really, whose leaves have taken advantage of a smattering of moisture combined with cool weather to show off a bit, flash a panoply of plumage despite the depredations of summer.

I have inherited a gaggle of in-laws, whom I love dearly for many reasons. They are a hilarious bunch who love to cook, fire off massive amounts of weaponry, play practical jokes on each other,             root for the Longhorns and are always there when you need a hand. Plus, this family has stockpiled enough filleted catfish caught on a trotline on Wright Patman Lake, and chaine-sawed up enough firewood from deadfall on their acreage to survive the Revolution. We might have a difference of opinion on exactly who’s going to be spearheading that Revolution, but I know I’m welcome at the fish fry — and there will be plenty of firewood to stoke the hearth.

It provides my battered soul some balm to take a drive through the country, meandering along winding ribbons of asphalt ringed by trees, only occasionally meeting an oncoming vehicle. Better yet is actually tromping through the woods, to the cache of firewood stored under a pole shed by wife helped build years ago, next to the long-abandoned forest-green Atlanta ISD school bus, with a window unit air-conditioner stuck in the engine well, which once served as the family camping retreat. We quickly piled up a load of firewood on the trailer, being careful to balance it over the axle and not overload the SUV. I have no way to hook up brake lights on this borrowed trailer, since the connector is different. So, in time-honored East Texas tradition, I’m hauling this back to Longview, 90 minutes away, by the backroads, hoping a DPS trooper doesn’t notice and trying to beat darkness at the same time.

Before we leave, I help my father-in-law take his flat-bottom boat to the lake. I back it into the water under his watchful and skeptical eye. Luckily, I have learned how to back a trailer even if I’m not worth a damn on checking trotlines. Once the outboard is in the water, he starts it to run the gas out. Fishing season is over until next spring. He pronounces the fall harvest as modest, says he pulled in a couple of 40-pounders, no big deal. My father-in-law is 80 and tougher than shoe leather. I am a quarter-century younger and would rather not face a 40-pound catfish no doubt highly irritated at being hooked to a piece of rope and hauled overboard.

But I sure do love eating that fried catfish.

My father-in-law goes his way, and we go ours, a plastic sack filled with jalapeño, banana, Tabasco and cayenne peppers from his brother’s garden, on the farm across the road. At 85, Brad says he’s slowing down. Yeah, well, I should slow down as much. The man still works the land as if his livelihood depended on it, with an amazing organically grown garden that provides an amazing bounty of produced. He and his brother are like the two old coots in “Secondhand Lions,” always grousing at each other but working together nonetheless, whether it’s plowing the garden in preparation for spring, or trying to figure out how to run off the feral hogs.

A day in the country, doing a bit of physical work while enjoying the smell of pine trees, red dirt and a fine fall breeze. That’s just what this reluctant big-city boy needed.

Print this entry

Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required