When I was twelve or fourteen years old, I was privileged to be the regular fishing partner of my maternal uncle, Dean. Uncle Dean and I were down-and-dirty bait fishermen of the first order, and we had many memorable adventures, caught many, many fish. The summer I was 14, I bought my first fly rod, and we didn't fish together much after that. Pity.
One summer Uncle Dean planned a weekend safari for us, to camp and fish in the sloughs, colloquially known as borrow pits (pronounced ' bar pits'), in an area of flood plain a few miles from our homes. These borrow pits were lakes created when the highway department dredged out dirt to build a dike, upon which the county road was built across the flood plain. The pits filled with the first flood, and Presto!, instant lakes, complete with fish.
Our favorite bait for the catfish and bluegills we fished for were immature crayfish, about two inches long. We used only the tails, like fishing with shrimp tails. We went to our favorite farm pond for gathering them and seined enough to fill our bait can, a large tomato juice can with a wire bale.
Gathering up our camping gear, complete with a pup-tent of two shelter halves, US military surplus, we drove the hour or so to our spot, dragged all the gear for a mile to a secluded grove in the woods along one particular slough, and prepared to catch every fish in the whole pit.
My uncle was a temperate man, neither drank nor smoked, but he was a fiend for coffee. Life without coffee was an unimaginable concept for him, and that was always a part of camp life for us, making coffee over an open fire, in an old black, dented percolator. I wasn't allowed to drink it, stunts a child's growth, you know.
As per usual routine, we set up camp, baited and put out our array of cane poles, then set about making coffee. Disaster! Uncle Dean had gone off without the coffee pot!
Stunned at the thought of two days sans coffee, he immediately began preparing to return to town for the pot. Then, with a studious look on his face and a strange glint in his eye, he said, "Bob, bring me that bait can".
He grabbed the folding shovel, US military surplus, and began frantically digging a hole near the water's edge. He dug a deep pit with vertical sides, scooped in some water, then emptied the crayfish from the can into the hole. Rinsing the can quickly in the slough, he rummaged through our baggage until he found a clean white sock in my bag. Pouring an ample measure of ground coffee into the sock, he then tied a knot in the sock top, and chunked the whole thing into his improvised coffee pot. Setting it on the fire, he boiled it until the white sock couldn't be seen, then poured us each a cup of hot, black coffee. Offering one cup to me, he said, "It's time you learned to drink coffee".
Now, I had smelled many, many pots of coffee cooking in my short life, but none of them had ever smelled like that one. I tasted the brew with considerable trepidation, but found that I liked the taste. We both enjoyed many cups of that concoction during the weekend. Brewing coffee brought peals of laughter, every time.
It was years later before I became a regular coffee drinker, but after that I drank thousands of cups. Occasionally, to this day, the smell of freshly brewed coffee transports me instantly to the side of that slough, and I can smell crayfish coffee, taste once again that strange taste, and hear myself and Uncle Dean howling with laughter at our accomplishment. That was the best cup of coffee I ever drank, or ever will.
Copyright © B. E. Spencer 2000 All rights reserved.