Since all of my favorite fishing lakes are too low to launch my boat, I might as well reminisce a bit. Enjoy:
Fishing with the Walking Dead
From a distance our silhouettes must have resembled those of a modern day Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We were two young boys carrying fishing poles over our shoulders; one lugging a diminutive silver tackle box, and the other clutching what looked like a loaf of bread. The curious onlookers that raced down Wolf Road in their vehicles wondered where in the world we could be headed. We had no doubt of our destination as we approached the entrance to the Queen of Heaven Cemetery located just west of Chicago for an afternoon of rest and relaxation.
My brother and I had awakened early on a Saturday morning to watch our favorite outdoors fishing program and had been inspired by the sight of huge King salmon being pulled from the Rogue River in Oregon. As the program concluded I turned to my brother and said, “We need to catch some fish.” Before I knew it, he had bolted out the door to retrieve the aluminum tackle box in which we kept our tools of the trade.
Prior to wetting our lines we needed to secure some bait. This is where we held a decided edge over the sport fishermen who purchased costly plugs and artificial baits in their pursuit of bass and trout. We merely gathered thirty-five cents to buy a loaf of Wonder Bread from our local grocer: the Cortez convenience store. We often had debates on whether Butternut or Wonder Bread had the most appeal to the lunker carp at the Queen of Heaven, but I was convinced Wonder Bread had the optimum moistness necessary to produce world class dough balls. As we approached the clerk our practical demeanor conveyed that what we did not use as bait, would serve as sandwich-based bread. “One loaf of Wonder Bread,” I said to Mrs. Cortez.
She gave me a foul look and then asked, “Are you two going to feed the fish where the dead are supposed to be resting? Don’t you know that you’re not only disturbing the deceased, but that there are children starving in China?”
“That’s why we are going,” I said. “We’re going to catch some carp and send them to China.”
“Take your bread and get the hell out of my store you little smart ass,” she said with a scowl on her face.
Following Mrs. Cortez’ unrefined request, we vacated the premises and continued our journey to the Queen of Heaven Cemetery. We entered the large iron gates that guarded the entrance and began our trek. Our honey hole was actually a large cesspool located in the middle of a massive cemetery in our Chicago-land community. Rather than being in the company of majestic mountains as we had viewed on television, we were surrounded by thousands of creepy crypts and tombstones; instead of communing with nature, we communed with the dead. The ominous background did little to dampen our enthusiasm as we prepared to do battle with some world class carp. If by chance the fishing was slow we could always resort to some ghoulish sightseeing. Our favorite haunt was the resting place of Al Capone. Rumor had it that when “Scarface” died in jail, no cemetery in the Chicago area desired to have him as a permanent resident. Finally, Mount Carmel (the cemetery across the street from Queen of Heaven) decided that in a magnanimous gesture, they would offer a plot for his remains. This of course, beat a fifty-five gallon drum at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Upon reaching the pond we immediately set up shop. Treble hooks were tied to the end of the line and three split shot sinkers were secured in place by vice gripping with our teeth. We opened the bag of Wonder Bread and both grabbed a slice. Carefully tearing the white bread from the crust, we molded a small ball the size of a marble and placed it on the treble hook. With a mighty heave we cast the dough ball as far as we could throw it and then sat back and enjoyed our Goth-like surroundings.
After a half an hour without a bite I became bored and decided that this would be an opportune time to scare my brother. “Let’s go see what big Al is doing,” I said.
“I don’t want to do that again; it’s morbid,” he groaned.
“C’mon, we can put some of those rocks on our poles and leave our lines in the water.” When we come back we’ll probably have some fish on the line.” Against his better judgment he stood up and prepared for the hike.
We walked around to the opposite side of the pond, past the mausoleum, and rushed across Roosevelt Road up a steep hill. “There it is,” I said.
“That’s great; now what do we do?” he replied.
“Ya know when big Al was going to kill somebody he would place a fish in the middle of a newspaper, wrap it up, and place it at the unlucky person’s front door,” I told him.
“That’s it; I’m out of here,” he said.
We marched back across the street down to the pond and found that one of the poles had been dragged halfway into the water with the rock still lodged on top of the reel. I lunged at the pole and grabbed the handle just before the fish could drag the rod into the murky depths. I felt the fish pull and tried to adjust the drag while lying on my stomach. After five minutes of battle, I pulled a huge ten pound carp onto the muddy shore. We both stood in awe and marveled over the catch. “Take him off the hook,” I directed my brother.
“I’m not touching that slimy thing,” he quickly shot back. Realizing that my trick was not going to work, I took the pliers and carefully removed the treble hook from the mouth of the fish.
“What are we going to do with it?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.” I looked at the fish and thought of all the starving children in China and suddenly everything became clear.
The carp was stuffed into the plastic Wonder Bread bag and we gathered our gear for departure. We arrived at the back of the house and stashed the fish under the tomato plants so that our mother would remain oblivious to the plan. “You wait here and I’ll be right back,” I told my brother. I ran into the house, grabbed the Chicago Tribune, and high-tailed it back to my brother.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“You know how Mrs. Cortez keeps going on about the starving kids in China?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“We can make her a little package to keep her happy,” I said. I took the fish, wrapped it up in the newspaper, tied a piece of cord around it, and decided that it was time to make a delivery. I jumped on my bicycle and sped the few blocks to the Cortez convenience store holding the fish under my arm like a football, pretending I was Gale Sayers. As I rode past the store, I threw the paper toward the front door and made my way home.
That evening before dinner, my father began a frantic search for his newspaper. “Where is my paper?” he asked.
I looked at my brother and casually said, “Haven’t seen it.”
“Tell your mother I’m going down to Cortez to grab a paper.” Twenty minutes later he returned with a stunned look on his face.
“What is it?” my mother asked..
“The ambulance was up at Cortez. Apparently Mrs. Cortez had become excited about something and passed out,” he said.
“Is she all right?” my mother asked.
“I suppose she is. As she was coming to, she appeared to be very confused and was mumbling something about Wonder Bread and all the starving kids in China.”
“That poor lady has been watching too many Feed the World commercials,” I said as I tuned in the Untouchables on our television set.
From G.O. Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box
Available at amazon.com/books/garyocallaghan