Excerpt: Song Of The Ten Thousands, Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Fishing Bluegills

When I opened my eyes, the song of the frogs had stopped. It was still pretty dark in the room. Something appeared at the side of my bed, jerking up and down like a toy monkey on a stick. I wanted to scream, but I was still half asleep and it caught in my throat.
“C’mon,” a voice whispered. It was Uncle Jim. He was excited. “Get up and get dressed. Put on a jacket. It’s Friday, and that means fish!”
I got up feeling groggy and put on my clothes in the morning half-light. I wobbled down the steep staircase. Uncle Jim had set the table with a bowl of cereal, a jar full of sugar and a glass pitcher of milk. There were two pieces of toast, with butter, and another jar full of deep purple jam.
“You like blackberry jam, son?”
“I don’t know.” I rubbed my eyes.
“Well, odds are, if you try it, you’ll like ‘it.”
I put some of the jam on a piece of toast.
“Tastes good,” I said.
“I made it myself. Got the berries down in the hollow from a secret patch. Maybe we’ll go berry-picking next season. Make us a pie.”
Next season sounded a long way off. For sure my mother would come back before then.
As Uncle Jim seemed a bit anxious to get on with the fishing, I wolfed down my breakfast. Before we left, Uncle Jim got a paper bag from the fridge.
“Corned beef sandwiches and two bottles of pop,” he announced, adding “And a carton of night crawlers.”
I had no idea what night crawlers were, but I guessed they might be some kind of candy, like Jujubees or Easter Bunnies.
Out on the dock, Uncle Jim slipped me into a bright orange life jacket. He had a life cushion in the bottom of the boat for himself. He eased me into the front seat, took himself the wider middle one, untied the rope and pushed us off into the lake.
Uncle Jim swung the boat around and began to row us toward the far end of the lake. I sat facing forward, feeling the faint cool breeze against my face and listening to the squeaking of the oars as Uncle Jim stroked us across the water.
“Remind me to oil the locks,” Uncle Jim said. “We don’t want every fish in the darn lake to know we’re coming.”
Blue water split at the point of the boat, and we passed over a patch of thick brown weeds. Small fish darted this way and that as the boat parted the weed bed. The sun was just breaking over the trees to the East, and in the early light the fish glinted a silvery blue.
“Them’re bluegill,” Uncle Jim said. “Babies. We’re after mom and pop today.”
As the sun continued to rise, more of the forest came forward. What had looked to me the day before like a wall of solid green was now taking on distinct features. I could make out the deadwood, grey against the green of the living branches and, if I squinted a bit, I could tell the differences in the shades of green—this patch more bluish, that patch more toward the yellow side. Here and there, a tree turned silver in the rising breeze. In some places, the woods went straight to the water’s edge. In others, a band of thick bushes rolling out from the banks. We were heading toward what looked like a beach, sand jutting out into the lake. We stopped a ways before running aground, right at the edge of a patch of heart-shaped lily pads floating on the water, dotted here with big, flat white flowers, there with smaller, round yellow ones.
“We’ll put down the anchor here.” Uncle Jim leaned forward and picked up the weight. It was a coffee can filled with cement with an eye bolt stuck in the center. He lowered it silently to the water, feeding out rope until it hit the soft bottom and settled in. Then he tied the rope to a hook on the side of the boat. In a few moments, the boat had swung around and lay on the water almost parallel to the shoreline.
Uncle Jim took a white carton of night crawlers from the paper bag and opened it. They weren’t candy. Inside, big worms twisted and slithered all over each other in a crust of dirt. I could smell their earthy, wormy smell. Uncle Jim picked one up and held it to the light, then he tossed it overboard into the lake.
“Go tell them bluegills it’s breakfast time,” he said.
The nightcrawler twisted in the water and faded out of sight.
Uncle Jim took one of the fishing poles he had laid up against the back seat. “We’re in the deep end of the lake. We’re gonna drift out about forty yards. Then we’ll row back and drift again.” He opened a metal box spray-painted silver and took a chunk of grey metal from one of the many tiny trays. He clipped the sinker onto the fishing line. He took out a worm and ran the fishhook through it. It wriggled on the line, and I was thinking that fish sticks from the freezer really weren’t so bad—if you put enough mayonnaise on them.
Uncle Jim fed the bait down into the water until it reached the bottom, the reel wheezing every time he tugged the line. He set the reel and rolled back some of the line.
He handed the rod and reel to me.
“When you feel a tug, tug back, only make it more of a snap,” he said. He showed me how to do this, jerking his wrist like he had a pole in it. “And keep an eye on the tip of your rod, in case he’s just nibbling. You wanna make sure you set the hook good and firm in him. Otherwise, we’re just drownin’ worms.”
This fishing business was getting to be a lot more complicated than I had first figured it would be. There had to be an easier way, I thought. For sure somebody had to make a TV dinner with bluegills in it.
Uncle Jim fixed his line as he had mine, then pulled on the anchor rope a couple of arm’s lengths before retying it. The boat began to drift slowly toward the center of the lake.
“Brings back a lot of memories,” Uncle Jim spoke softly. “Granddad, your daddy, me—Uncle Len, sometimes, when he wasn’t practicing his guitar.”
Uncle Jim told me about one time, in particular, when he and Granddad and my father had come to this end of the lake to fish bluegills.
“Your dad was about the same age as you are now,” he said. “Maybe a little older. But not much.”
They had been on the lake for a couple of hours, and the bites were starting to come few and far between, though they’d already caught pretty near a stringer full of fish.
Just as they were about to leave, Uncle Jim and my father got into an awful scrap over who had caught the biggest bluegill on the stringer. Uncle Jim claimed he had, my father said the fish was his. They started yelling back and forth across the boat at each other, kicking up a fuss that caught in the trees and came back as an echo, stirring things up even worse.
This was when Granddad pulled up the stringer and took off the fish in question and said, “You wanna fight over the fish. Then fight over the fish,” and tossed the fish onto the floor of the boat in between Uncle Jim and my father.
Both of them went for the fish like a couple of wild dogs, and Uncle Jim grabbed it first, but he was in such a hurry that the fish stung him with its top fin and he dropped it, and my father grabbed it, and then they started pushing and pulling and before you knew it, the fish had shot out of both their hands and sailed right smack dab into the lake.
The two of them jumped to the side of the boat, and while they were leaning into the water, trying to see where the fish had got off to, there was a tug at the seat of their pants and both of then went over the side and into the water.
They were splashing and shouting and flopping all over each other like a couple of bass in a bucket.
“We got so mad at your Granddad, we completely forgot what it was we were fighting over,” Uncle Jim said with a big grin on his face. “Your Granddad just let us thrash around until all the anger was soaked clean out of us. That was how he handled things. Like in the winter, when we’d get a touch of cabin fever and start picking on each other, he’d send us out in the freezing cold, any time, day or night.”
“‘Settle it outside,” he’d always say. “‘I’ll not stand for contention of any sort as long as this is my house.’”
Uncle Jim shook his head. “And he never did.”
Something tugged at my line. I yanked the pole toward the sky, and I knew I’d hooked a fish, because the thin rod was bending toward the water, and I could feel the weight and the struggling on the other end, tearing the line through the deep water.
“Reel him in steady, son! You got you a bluegill!”
I turned the reel, trying to keep the pole as steady as I could. He was fighting like crazy. I kept looking along the direction of the line, waiting to see him. Up from the depths he came, a little blur at the edge of the sunlight, making wild circles on his side.
He broke the surface, and I pulled him into the boat. He lay panting on the floor. He was beautiful, broad and flat, speckled red and blue and yellow and green, with big patches of metal blue, the color of mother’s car, around his gills. Uncle Jim lifted him up by the leader. He twisted and struggled in the air.
“She’s big in the belly,” Uncle Jim said. “We’ll have us a bowl of fish egg soup for lunch tomorrow.”
We rowed and drifted, rowed and drifted seven or eight times before Uncle Jim set down the anchor. By this time, we had a stringer full of bluegills tied to the side of the boat. They were brilliant in the high sunlight, living flames flashing colors like the opal mother got from my father for Christmas.
I asked my uncle how the three of us were going to eat all those fish.
“The thing with bluegill is they don’t give you a lot of meat, but what you get is the sweetest meat there is. Sweeter than sweet corn, and it just melts in your mouth like cotton candy.”
He smacked his lips and ran a hand over his belly.
I didn’t much care for the idea of fish-flavored cotton candy, but my stomach was starting to growl, anyway.
“Lunch bell.” Uncle Jim opened the paper bag and took out the sandwiches and two bottles of root beer, which were sweated over.
The pop was kind of warm, but it was sweet and good, and the sandwiches tasted all right, thick slices of canned corned beef between two pieces of white bread, dotted with chunks of cold butter.
Uncle Jim pointed toward the other end of the lake. A gleaming silver boat was motoring along the shoreline.
“Summer people,” Uncle Jim said. “No sense at all.”
He chewed on his sandwich. When he stretched out, his feet didn’t even reach the back seat of the boat.
“I want you to remember what we did today, Lanny. It’s something your Granddad taught me and your father and your uncle Len, back when Granddad was alive and we used to go out fishing all together in this very same boat. First off, you’ve gotta know your fish and what’s on their minds to eat any given time of year. If this was fall, we’d have been fishing with crickets. So you have to know your seasons.”
I nodded that I was understanding him.
“You also have to know your time of day, when the fish are likely to be feeding, and you have to know where they’re likely to be feeding at, and how deep.”
I nodded some more.
“And finally, you’ve got to know the position of the sun. All morning, we’ve been facing east, into the sun. Now why’s that? Well, I’ll tell you. That way, the shadow of the boat didn’t cross our lines. The fish aren’t going to bite in the shadow of the boat. Those folks on the other end of the lake. Between the shadow of the boat and the sound of the motor , the only fish they’re likely to catch are blind, deaf, and more than likely crazy. Maybe even dead.”
“Your Granddad once said, a man who is wise stays awake to his keep,” Uncle Jim spoke, staring into the blue sky. “But a fool doesn’t know even when he’s asleep.”
He breathed deep.
“Now I’m not smart like your Granddad, but I might put in, a man’s gotta know when to row and when to drift.”
The wind had picked up during the morning, and it was blowing pretty strong in the direction of Uncle Jim’s cabin.
“What do you say we do?” Uncle Jim asked.
I felt the warmth of the late spring sun on my face, reflecting off the blue water, cooled by the breeze, and I listened to the metal stringer rasping against the side of the boat, its tangle of flesh and fire struggling in the lake. I smelled the bluegill smell from the rag Uncle Jim had used to wipe his hands. I looked at the forest, giving up more and more of its secret colors all the time. The taste of the corned beef sandwich lingered on my tongue, and I still had half a bottle of root beer left.
“Drift,” I said.
Uncle Jim smiled and pulled up the anchor, and we started drifting back.

Chapter 4: All Good Dogs

Most mornings, I woke up on my own. The sound of the frogs that lulled me to sleep at night was gone, and taking its place was a chorus of birds. They started singing pretty much at sun-up and kept it going throughout most of the morning. I didn’t need any noisy old alarm clock like the one that jolted my father out of bed every weekday morning for work. The birds would start singing, and after a time my eyes would open, slow and gentle, and I’d be fresh and ready for a new day.
Aunt MayLynne hadn’t come to the dinner table that first night when we ate our catch of bluegills. Uncle Jim had cleaned them on the dock, running a scaler across each side, then slicing off the head with one quick motion of his big knife. Then he took off the fins, which, he said, could inflict a powerful cut, if you weren’t careful. Finally, he slit the belly, and took out the innards, saving the little golden sacks of egg when he found them. He tossed the fish heads and fins and guts as far as he could into the lake, to feed the bullheads, he said, and then washed down the dock with buckets of water until it was clean.
“You ever eat a fish fried sweet as that one?” Uncle Jim had asked.
I told him I hadn’t, as the only kind of fish mother ever served came from the freezer.
“Fish sticks?” Uncle Jim laughed and shook his head. “Ain’t that just like a city lady.”
Uncle Jim made up a plate with some fried fish, some plant shoots, and some rice, and he took it to Aunt MayLynne’s room. She didn’t come out that night, nor the next, nor the one after.
It was well into the next week when Uncle Jim told me that Aunt MayLynne was ready to meet me now, and that I could go to her room.
“Sometimes she don’t get up for a fortnight,” he explained. “It’s the spells. But she’ll get over ‘em. Always has. But for now, she just wants to get a look at you.”
I followed Uncle Jim through the living room toward Aunt MayLynne’s room. My feet were dragging. Over the past week, I’d had plenty of time to wonder what Aunt MayLynne looked like. A lot of scary pictures came into my mind, but they were nothing compared to what I found once we stepped through the door.
The first thing that hit me was the heat. It was miserable and sticky, like one of those late August afternoons after a thunderstorm, when the sun cooks up the rain and you feel like you’ve just been dunked in a steaming hot bathtub.
Then what I saw took my mind off the heat. Lying there, under a blanket of all things, was the biggest woman I’d ever seen. She was huge. Her body took up mostly all of the big bed. Her arms lay at her sides, big and white at the top, like sausages, but then almost skinny past the elbow. Even her face was big. So was her hair, which flowed over the pillow and down the side of the bed. It was black and white and wavy and thick. It was the scariest part about her, though I didn’t know why.
“Come over here!” She twisted her neck for me to go to the side of the bed.
“Turn around.”
I did what she said.
“You’ll be a big boy. Bigger than your dad.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I nodded. I just hoped I wouldn’t be as big as Aunt MayLynne.
On the table beside her bed was a machine that was blowing out white puffs of steam. That must have been what caused the awful mugginess.
“Jim tells me you’re quite the fisherman already.”
I wasn’t really listening to what she said. I was looking at the wall. There was a big old television, which was covered with a tablecloth, but you could see a little bit of the screen near the bottom. On top of it was a golden box with a circle of glass in the center and something underneath it. Stuck on behind the box was another piece of gold metal, shaped like the sun. On either side of this thing were small bowls of fruit—tiny green apples and peaches—and walnuts. There were a bunch of candles, too, and they were lit. Above, on the wall, was a framed picture of President Kennedy.
“What’s the matter, boy,” Aunt MayLynne asked. “Ain’t you never seen a reliquary?”
I told her I hadn’t, or if I had, I didn’t remember.
“Haven’t your parents ever taken you to church?”
I told her again I hadn’t, or didn’t remember it.
“Well, you were baptized at least!”
I couldn’t remember anything about that, either.
“Jim, you’ve gotta find out if this boy’s been baptized! Good Lord, he’s nearly six years old!”
“I’ll call Julianne tomorrow when I’m up to Cabot’s. I’m sure Win would’ve seen to it.”
Aunt MayLynne made a strange gurgling noise.
“With that woman, anything’s possible.”
I understood that woman meant my mother.
“I’ll check on it,” Uncle Jim said. “First thing tomorrow.”
She raised a hand and pointed at the golden box.
“That’s a reliquary. A place to keep relics. If you look at it, you’ll see a piece of bone inside. That’s a piece of bone from Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. We got it from the bishop, who blessed it himself. Saint Jude is our family saint. When you grow up, you’ll understand why.”
My eyes had already drifted to the windowsill. Out of a crack on one side, a ribbon of black ants marched. The ribbon stretched down the wall and along above the floor and made the corner and disappeared behind Aunt MayLynne’s bed.
I was happy when Uncle Jim and I went back out to the kitchen to make our lunch.
I asked him about the ants.
“MayLynne doesn’t like killing anything that’s alive. It’s one of her religions. She’s got two at least. She figures, whatever you kill in this life, you’re likely to come back as in the next.”
There was a lot I didn’t understand.
“But she ate the fish we caught.”
“I guess she figures that’s blood on our hands, not hers,” Uncle Jim said. He shrugged. “Your Aunt MayLynne’s got her own mind on a lot of things. Especially religions.”
I wanted to ask Uncle Jim about the picture of the president and the steam machine and, especially, about how Aunt MayLynne got so big, but I had the feeling that he didn’t want to talk more about her for the time being, anyway.
I did learn, later, that Aunt MayLynne had covered up the TV the day they buried the president. She also had the phone taken out, as she wanted no part of the outside world coming into the house whatsoever. Uncle Jim was supposed to toss away his radios, although he kept a little transistor job hidden in his workspace in the garage so he could catch a baseball game now and then, on the sly.
My Aunt MayLynne didn’t take well to losses of any sort whatsoever.
The next day, I rode in the front seat of the old Hudson, alongside Uncle Jim.
“This car’s older than your mom, but it still runs like it ain’t a day off the lot,” he bragged. He had kept everything looking and running like new, and you could hear the pride in his voice.
“You can go over it with a magnifying glass and never find a lick of rust. Not a lick.”
We cruised up the dirt road, around the curve where my mother had disappeared. The forest thinned out to fields, nothing planted, just wild grass and bushes. We passed a house, it was in pretty bad shape, and a dog ran out the drive to bark at us. It was big, and its fur was falling off in places.
“Take care of your animals,” Uncle Jimmy shouted to the air around. The growl in his voice made him sound almost like a dog himself.
Some time later later we came to the end of the dirt road. We turned right onto the paved highway, and Uncle Jim brought the car up to sixty-five miles an hour.
As we sped along, cornfields on our left, wild fields on our right, Uncle Jim whistled his strange song, and then his mood turned to one for talking.
“Your aunt used to raise dogs,” he said, and he went on to tell me about how Aunt MayLynne had once kept nearly forty English bulldogs in a fenced-in pen which was where the field behind the house was now. The idea had been that she was going to breed ‘em for sale, but she never could give one up, once she’d gotten to know it and given it a name. The dogs had a run and a watering trough that got its water from the same well the house did, and my uncle and my father and Uncle Len had built a long shed with a gas heater so the dogs could get out of the cold in the wintertime. It was my father’s job, him being the youngest and therefore the most easily put upon, to clean up after Aunt MayLynne’s dogs.
Uncle Jim laughed. “That’s how your daddy got his nickname. Skip. It was because he’d do this little skipping dance as he moved around cleaning the yard, trying to keep from stepping in anything.” He laughed again.
I laughed, too, a little.
I asked Uncle Jim what had happened to all Aunt MayLynne’s dogs.
“County,” he said. “One day, a man comes down from the county government and tells your aunt that she can’t keep that many dogs without a kennel permit, and that she can’t have a kennel permit, because the property wasn’t legal for kennels, and even if it were, she didn’t have the training to get a permit anyway. None of us had ever heard of such a thing, but the man showed us some papers and threatened to fine us if we didn’t get rid of all but three of the dogs. And if that wasn’t enough, they could send your aunt to jail.
“We found homes for a lot of them, but the older ones nobody wanted, and your daddy and I had to put ‘em down. Uncle Len didn’t have the stomach for it. We drove them out to the sand pits to bury’ em. We tore down the shed and the fencing and let the last three run off on their own and sleep on the back porch. Then they died, just died, the very next winter. They got sick, like they’d gotten into some bad meat. Aunt MayLynne’s never stopped believing that it was those hillbillies up the road that set the county against her and poisoned the last of the dogs, just for spite, because there’d been some bad blood between the families. After that, your aunt was finished with dogs for good.
Uncle Jim went on, telling me more stories about my father, and before I knew it we were pulling up in front of Cabot’s General Store. It was a big wood building, with a painted sign and a gas pump out front. A man was bent over, filling a big red can with gas. Another can sat in the gravel beside him.
“Speedboat,” Uncle Jim said with some disgust in his voice. “They come down from the city and tear up the lakes for a couple of months, then go back and leave the mess to us.”
He parked the car.
“We don’t get it so bad, on account of Acorn Lake being so small. But up at Big Cedar—well, I just wouldn’t want to go there no more. They got it so churned up, you can’t see bottom at two feet.”
Then his voice changed.
“Wanna talk to your mom?”
I said I guessed so.
Uncle Jim had a pocket full of change and he plugged a bunch of silver into the telephone at the side of the store. I stood beside him, kicking at the white stones at my feet.
“I got Lanny right here with me,” he spoke into the phone. “Let me put him on for a minute.”
My mother asked me if I was doing well, and I told her I was all right. She told me to behave myself, and I told her yes. She made a kissing noise, and then asked to talk to Uncle Jim again.
Uncle Jim talked to my mother for a short time, and I had the feeling he didn’t much care for a lot of what was coming from the other end of the line. He used her name a lot. He asked about whether or not I’d been baptized in the church, like Aunt MayLynne had told him to do. He told my mother he’d be talking to her again soon, and then he hung up.
The man behind the counter said hello to Uncle Jim as we walked in. Uncle Jim introduced me as his brother Win’s boy, just down visiting from the city. I didn’t know what I felt, being introduced as somebody’s son when that somebody’d just run out on me for good. But I didn’t say anything.
Uncle Jim got a basket and started picking things off the shelves—cans of corned beef, beans and peaches. In the back of the store there was a cooler full of meat, and behind it stood a man in a bloodied white apron.
Uncle Jim pointed at a big chunk of meat and asked the butcher to cut it up for stew. While the man was doing this, Uncle Jim asked him about the chickens.
“Fresh?” Uncle Jim asked the counter man.
“Just come in this morning.” The man tugged at his apron.
“I’ll take one,” Uncle Jim said. “With the giblets, if you please.”
The last stop was to get some milk. Next to it on the cooler shelf were some paper cartons. Uncle Jim opened one. Inside, the worms rolled and twisted over and under each other.
“Tomorrow’s Friday, and you know what that means,” he said.
Uncle Jim paid, and the counter man said it had been nice meeting me, and we were just about to leave when another man came into the store. He was leading, kind of yanking at, a puppy on a piece of rope. Once the dog saw me, it stopped fighting and bounced up and started licking my hand. The man pulled it back, and it kind of jumped around at the end of the rope, like it was doing a little dance.
“I’m looking to sell the dog,” the man said. He stood nearly half-again as tall as Uncle Jim. “I bought him for my boy, but he changed his mind.”
It was a good-looking dog, about knee high on a kid, kind of a gold color, with a wrinkled-up face and golden-brown eyes that wouldn’t let go of me.
Uncle Jim got down on one knee and pulled the dog’s lips away from his teeth.
“What you looking to get for him?”
“I paid fifty, but I’ll take twenty-five,” the man said. He scratched his head.
“That’s a lot for a dog.” Uncle Jim stared at the floor, shuffling.
“Yeah, but it’s a purebred Foxhound. Best hunting dog around.”
He asked my uncle if he hunted. My uncle told him yes, some. Rabbits and squirrels, just once in a while.
“This dog’ll grow up to catch you more rabbits than you’ll know what to do with,” the man said.
Uncle Jim told the man that he was retired and didn’t have the twenty-five to spare, but he might have something to interest the man in trade. Uncle Jim went out to the car and came back with a plastic box.
He took out a long, thin fishing lure. It was painted silver with green stripes on the sides. The eyes were dotted red. There were three triple-sided hooks attached underneath the head, belly and tail. It looked very shiny, like a new quarter.
“You a fisherman?” Uncle Jim asked the man.
“I’ve caught a few in my day.” There was a whole lot of pride in the man’s voice.
“Well, then, you’ve probably heard of a Repello.”
“Of course,” the man said, all full of hurt, like he was being called ignorant on something. But he didn’t sound too sure of himself. “I said, I fish!” He nearly shouted.
“Probably one heck of a golfer, too.”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?” The man looked confused.
“This is the genuine article,” Uncle Jim said. “Made in Sweden. Bass see it coming, and they can’t resist. Drives ‘em nuts, absolutely crazy. I’ve seen ‘em actually jump right out of the water into the boat to get at it.”
“No kidding?”
“No kidding.” Uncle Jim pointed at a huge fish mounted on the wall behind the counter. “See that one up there?
“Well, I caught that one on this very same lure. Ain’t that right, Art?”
The counter man said, “That’s what they tell me, Jim.”
“Now imagine yourself hauling in bass after bass while all your fishing buddies just stand there staring at their lines, wondering how you did it.”
I had the feeling Uncle Jim was testing how deep the water ran, so to speak.
He added, “Nothing prettier than a stringer full of large mouths.”
“I see what you mean,” the man said.
“Now, as you know, Fish and Game’s got a little problem with these critters. Say they don’t exactly give the fish a fighting chance, or some such nonsense.”
The man nodded.
“And I wouldn’t want to put you or myself in a position with the law by selling it to you.”
The man nodded and looked at the puppy.
“But I don’t see no harm in a simple trade.” Uncle Jim’s hook was set.
The puppy sat in the back seat of the Hudson, panting, happy.
“Your aunt’s gonna kill me,” Uncle Jim said, as if it was almost funny. Almost.
I climbed up on the seat and looked at the puppy just panting away.
“What’s a Foxhound?” I asked.
“Whatever it is, that puppy ain’t it,” Uncle Jim said. “It’s part Shepherd, for sure, with some kind of terrier mixed in, judging by the looks of it.”
“Why’d the man tell us it was a Foxhound then?”
“Summer people.” Uncle Jim shook his head. “I think the most of them must be salesmen. And crooked. That dog ain’t never gonna catch a rabbit, but then again, that lure ain’t never gonna catch any fish.
“Made it myself. Never got so much as a strike on it. Something about the colors, maybe. Maybe it just moves funny in the water. I don’t know. I gave up on making lures some time ago. Never had any luck at it. I’ll stick to worms. And crickets, in the fall.”
I remembered what Granddad had told Uncle Jim about a wise man being awake and all. The man with the puppy did look kind of half-asleep, come to think about it.
“Uncle Jim,” I asked. “Was that man a fool?”
Uncle Jim laughed hard, but he didn’t answer me.
“What’re you gonna call your new puppy?”
I thought about it a while. Finally, I had a name.
“Skip,” I said.
Uncle Jim laughed even harder.
We drove home, past the cornfields, Uncle Jim whistling his strange song and me picking it up, a little at a time.

End of excerpts. 

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