Eventually, it became impossible to leave the boat at the mouth of the old river behind Shelby’s tractor shed for fear that someone would steal it or the motor. During those dozen or so years however, nothing ever went missing. On one occasion, we went to run our lines and nets one evening and found a five-dollar bill on top of the gas can. Someone had borrowed it to fish for a few hours and paid for the gas they had used. Different times, indeed. The great oak is still there, some five feet in diameter, although much has changed. Since my youth, the river has moved many feet to the west and the river bed is all but filled in during times of low river flow. The “cut-off” formed behind the tractor shed in 1958—or so J.Q. Harvey once told me—and since then, it has inched its way towards the great oak as rivers tend to do. I have feared for the tree for a decade and a half knowing that at its current pace, the river would overtake it and the shed in less than another decade. The “race” now is that the river is about to cut a new course a quarter of a mile or so north of the tractor shed; this past March, the river was flowing through a new trace about five feet wide. Perhaps the tree and the shed will survive after all.

There are some times during May that I can almost smell the aroma of the home of my youth in the Bottoms. I can almost smell the flowering willows, the mud of the old river and the cherry and June apple blossoms near Mrs. Zelpha’s front porch, west of the tractor shed. The house, garage, fruit trees and about all else are long gone now, the results of unpunished arson some years past. All, though, are engraved indelibly in my memories. I can fondly remember skinning a five-pound flathead for Mrs. Zelpha as I had it tied to the overhead fuel barrel near her front porch. A picture of that celebration is somewhere. There were also countless squirrels I skinned for her there in the autumns of my youth.

I remember well the last week of May 1986. We had our nets out in the usual places. We had the “old yellow dog” net, as Dwight called it, and two others, including one that I still keep as a reminder of those times. I vividly remember the places where the nets were tied, although I won’t mention them by name, knowing that one day, I will hopefully return to fish them again. Several photos of fish caught that week account for the fact that it was our most successful May for catfish. One photo from May 30th shows me struggling to hold up a 22-lb. flathead and 30-lb. blue cat, although we called them white cat then. I found out later that white cat seldom get more than 5 lbs. in weight, so those of my youth—5 to 55-plus pounds—must not have been white cats. I remember skinning the big blue cat for the Kinder sisters as we had it tied beneath the falling Mulberrys in Dwight’s front yard.

The great oak can testify to all of this—although I can assure you it will remain silent and keep these and a million other memories sacred—as it has kept watch in the place where it has lived for centuries, just to the north of where the tractor shed now stands. Perhaps one day, I will carry another 22-lb. flathead up the bank and beneath its massive branches and pause there long enough for it to add the record to the many more from so long ago.

Anthony Holt was born in Jackson County, Arkansas, and his family raised rice, soybeans, soft red winter wheat and grain sorghum. He has taught both high school and college courses and has also preached at two small churches in NE Arkansas. He currently teaches biology at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton.

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