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Bam-Bam-Bam, You're Dead!

Al Agnew

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Upper Big River wasn't really good catfishing, but catfishing was the excuse that I and a varied cast of teen-aged fishing buddies used in order to spend long summer nights on gravel bars, lines baited and catching bullheads by the dozens, talking about all the things teen-age boys talked about back in the 1960s (and probably still do), and playing tricks on each other such as putting rotting minnows from the bait bucket into sleeping bags. To actually sleep was to risk all kinds of unpleasant experiences. So we generally stayed awake and watched the rods all night. I can still remember Dale Hulsey saying, over and over, "Shine me, ace." Which, because Dale never remembered to bring his own flashlight, meant that he wanted one of us to shine our light on his rod tips, propped on forked sticks, to see if he was getting a bite. I can remember Rick Crawford catching an eel, and walking up to where Dale was sleeping (bad move) with it dangling from his line, and letting it wave its slimy body on Dale's upturned face, resulting in an incredible series of contortions as Dale frantically attempted to fight his way out of his sleeping bag, all the while screaming.

But the best story of all was the night Toofer shot the coon hunters.

It was a dark night on a gravel bar a mile or two above Bone Hole. I don't remember now how many of us had rods lined up along the bar with baited hooks out in the deep pool beneath the sheer cliff on the other side, but I remember it being at least Dale, Rick, Dave, me, and Toofer. Downstream a ways, there was a quarry with a rock crusher which operated much of the night some nights, and this was one of them. Off in the distance you could hear a rhythmic, measured thump, thump, thump. We were talking about it, and somebody said it must be the old hermit Indian that lived somewhere atop Murrill Ridge across the river, beating his drum. Somehow the talk went from there to Indians in general, and how good they must have been at sneaking up on things--and people. Somebody said they bet an Indian could sneak up on you even across that gravel bar.

Somebody, probably Dave, said, "Shoot, I can sneak as good as any Indian."

And then Toofer said, "Well, I'll tell you one thing. I got good ears. Ain't nobody could sneak up on ME across this gravel bar."

So a gauntlet was thrown, a challenge accepted. All of us but Toofer would go to the other end of the huge gravel bar, wait an indeterminate period of time, and then Dave would try to sneak up on Toofer while the others watched.

We sat on the far edge of the bar, about 50 yards away in the dark, and watched as Toofer built a semi-circular fort out of the huge pile of firewood we'd gathered, and with the fire behind him and the fort half surrounding him, he finally crouched behind the pile of wood with a stick in his hands. Dave waited a bit longer, but just as he was about to begin his stealthy approach, we heard noises in the woods adjacent to the bar, walking past our position, headed toward the fire and Toofer.

We never found out who it was, but we surmised it was probably some coon hunters running their hounds, since we'd been hearing hounds occasionally for much of the night, coming down to the fire to visit. There was an old dirt track leading to the fire, and they hit it and walked straight to the edge of the gravel bar behind Toofer. As they stepped onto the gravel, Toofer heard them. He leaped to his feet, whirled around with the stick pointed at them like a rifle, and shouted at the top of his voice, "BAM-BAM-BAM, YOU'RE DEAD!"

Then, by the light of the fire, he saw that they were not us. He stared at them for a moment. They stared back at this crazy kid with a stick in his hands, alone in the night. Then Toofer turned away from them and toward us, and yelled, "Hey you guys...I done shot the wrong guys!"

We were rolling on the gravel laughing, but we didn't make a sound loud enough for the hunters to hear, and we sure didn't acknowledge Toofer's shout. The strangers stared at him for a moment longer, and just shook their heads and turned and walked away.

Post-script: Dave, Rick, and Dale are all gone now, taken before their time by illness. How I miss those guys, and how I cherish the great times we had together growing up.

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Good story. It brought back a flood of memories, nights when whoever was the first to fall a sleep was doomed to pay a price. I also recall a snipe hunting stunt that every new kid was subjected to. It had something to do with going in the dark woods and shaking some rocks in a bag while the rest of the gang would stalk and tackle the poor kid.

His father touches the Claw in spite of Kevin's warnings and breaks two legs just as a thunderstorm tears the house apart. Kevin runs away with the Claw. He becomes captain of the Greasy Bastard, a small ship carrying rubber goods between England and Burma. Michael Palin, Terry Jones, 1974

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Al, that would be the story and wife Susie just read it for the first time-got a big laugh from a story that is at least 40 years old.Toofer is a nickname for older brother that evolved from our father's days as a baseball player.They called him Tief and oldest brother little Tief but eventually resulted in Tief and Toof.He hold's the world record for badminton racket toss on the annual July 4th celebation several years ago.

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