Most outdoor people acquire during their lifetime a few items that are so unforgettably useful and well-loved that they never forget them, no matter how long it may have been since the items existed.
The first thing that took on this extraordinary status in my life was a homemade paddle boat that I came to own and love when I was a teenager. At that time, living within easy driving distance of Grassy Lake in Tallahatchie County, Miss., I became obsessed with “bass fever” and plug fishing.
Boats, scarce back then, were all homemade of cypress and usually left on the lake bank for the owner's use. Many times I rode my old Indian motorcycle to Grassy only to find no boats available. Occasionally I would wait awhile and someone would come in and let me use his boat. Unless you had firm permission to use a boat, you went “boatless.”
I put a stop to this uncertainty one fine day when I found the remains of an abandoned wooden boat along the shoreline of another lake, a real “basket case” with one end completely gone and one of the bottom planks missing. I dragged it out, and with the help of friend Claude Fox, got it to my house. For two weeks or more, I worked to restore it by replacing the missing boards and covering the entire bottom inside with melted pitch that did a pretty good job of keeping it from leaking. I painted it a sickly green and inscribed the fine name “Sea-Hag” on the stern, in honor of a witch that appeared occasionally as a character in the Popeye the Sailor comic strip.
Truthfully, the Hag was the worst boat to paddle in history. It was shaped more like a mule-watering trough than a boat. Nevertheless, it would float and it got me far back into the cypress- and Tupelo gum-watered wilderness that was Grassy Lake hundreds of times over its lengthy lifetime.
I have no idea the number of bass and great catches of bream that that old boat accounted for, but they were legend. Its ownership provided me with a certain degree of freedom that I reveled in and the old Sea Hag still holds a permanent spot in my cherished fishing memories.
Another item equally important to my outdoor life was my first Jeep. Prior to the appearance of the 4-wheel-drive Jeep, getting to where you wanted to go as a hunter or fisherman was often quite a job, especially if you lived in the Delta and hunted along the Mississippi River front. Quite often the only way to get to a particular spot was to walk and that meant you had to travel light. And, of course, you couldn't carry a boat. Model A Fords did a fairly good job of traveling in heavy mud but they were by no means what you really needed
The need was met when the Jeep came along. My first one was an Army model. One of the last ones built during the war, it was manufactured by Ford Motor Company under the Wiles specifications. (This farming out of products was common during the World War II.) It was painted maroon instead of olive drab and was virtually brand-new with only about 2,000 miles. I paid a hard-earned $600 for it and it remains one of the better buys of my life.
That old Jeep would go anywhere. Back in those days directly after the war, we had none of the good roads that exist on hunting clubs today. During the winter and spring, especially during turkey season, trails through the swamp were unbelievable. Running from the main levee to wherever you were going, they were solid muck from start to finish. At times, I ran that old Jeep in double-low, 4-drive (the gear we called Grandma) all the way from the levee to my camp 6 miles away.
Down through the years it pulled every member of the Burke Club out of a mud-hole at least once and only had to be pulled out once or twice. The only other vehicle I've ever seen that could equal it was an Army Jeep owned by my friend Potts Williams. Potts had installed a set of iron “paddle-wheels” bolted to the outside of the rims, making it virtually un-stickable.
The only place my old Jeep ever put me in a position where I knew not what to do was on a mucky, buckshot trail over on the Double-Cypress Hunting Club in Grenada County, Miss., one miserable January day. This two-track road was so bad in spots that the members had constructed some wooden runners out of 2×4s with lattice-type boards nailed every few inches. These had been placed in one rut in some of the worst places. Somehow I hit one of the runners too fast and skidded it under the Jeep where it hung with all four wheels in the air, high and dry and spinning. Fortunately, within yelling distance was a huge gang of black men and boys rabbit-hunting with beagles. They came to my rescue. There were at least eight or 10 of them and they simply lifted the little Jeep clear of the ground and walked it to drier land!
I admit I had a lump in my throat when I finally traded that Jeep off for something newer but surely not a bit better.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mabry Anderson is recovering from recent illnesses. This column orignally appeared in the June 14, 1996, issue of Delta Farm Press.