For the next couple of weeks our area will celebrate hundreds of graduating seniors. Ceremonies are being held at all of our local high schools, and our two universities (William Carey and the School Across Town) have already held their commencements. Many, if not most, will all wonder the same question, “What do I do now?” Don’t worry troubled graduate, I’ve got the answer to your question.
Most of my life I’ve gone against the grain. I’ve never enjoyed the ritualistic side of life. Senior parties weren’t really my thing in high school (at least not the ones chaperoned by parents). As I’ve previously mentioned, I skipped my Senior Prom. That’s a longer story than what I divulged, but being there wasn’t important to me. A lot of high school seniors take outlandish trips at the end of school. Yep, skipped that one too. I do not enjoy weddings. I would have skipped my own had my wife been able to find a “stand in” for me. Carnivals? Nope. Birthday parties? Not at all. You get the point.
I am admittedly selfish when it comes to attending functions with large groups of people. I was social distancing before social distancing was cool. The “six feet away” rule was quite possibly the greatest thing to happen to me since the birth of my children. My wife scolds me when I whimper about having to attend an event, and I understand her complaint. The truth is that I spend plenty of time in the company of large groups of people, and when I don’t HAVE to do it, I just don’t want to. So, graduates, here is your next move. You’ve spent the last few years in the fast lane around tons of people. You’ve gone from event to event to event. Upon receiving your shiny, new piece of paper proclaiming your knowledge of the required content, slow down and go fishing.
Graduations, like so many other things, are about making memories. I’ll never forget my high school graduation for sure. The day of graduation was spent on a sandbar at the Leaf River. What started as a fishing/swimming trip turned interesting when a character named Doug came floating down the river. He pulled up at the sandbar that myself and a friend had been fishing from and struck up a conversation about fishing. It took a hard left turn when out of nowhere he started offering us wine coolers to drink. Naïve as we were, we didn’t think anything of it, but looking back that might be one the strangest encounters on the river that I’ve ever had. Doug was a strange bird, but at least he didn’t steal our catalytic converter.
We made it back in time for graduation with a sunburn and a sore belly. The ceremony went like every other graduation event (in case you were wondering, yours isn’t special). Then it was time for pictures, and hugs, and goodbyes to teachers and staff. Of course there’s usually some sort of party afterward, then a real party after that. However, in all of the hoopla my mind was focused on one thing, the next morning. You see, the next morning I got to do what I enjoyed most, handgrabbing catfish with my uncle and my cousin. No crowds, no awkward hugging, no tears, just us and the river.
I woke up (or stayed awake all night) and met my uncle at a non-disclosed boat ramp in South Mississippi. I say “non-disclosed” because the key to being able to continue catching fish is not telling anyone where you catch fish. I will gladly take friends handgrabbing, except to one particular spot that is reserved just for us. I trust my wife more than anyone that I know and I won’t even take her to this log. All of that aside, we loaded up the boat and headed down the river. The old aluminum boat cut through the fog that was rising from the water. Every now and then, water would splash up on me sending chills down my back. Even though it was late May, the water was still cold in the early morning. After a lengthy ride of dodging stumps, and navigating through stretches of shallow water, we arrived at the log.
My uncle found this log years before and it rarely ever let us down. Hollow, and beneath the surface, the average passing boater would never have known it was there. My uncle is not the average boater. We pulled the boat up on the bank and went to work. Hunter and I plugged the hole up while my uncle disappeared under the water. Seconds later, he surfaced and assured us that there was a fish in the log. Once again, he went back under. Seconds seemed like minutes (it could have been minutes, he can hold his breath forever) and he surfaced again, this time holding a 30 pound catfish. My heart pounded with excitement and I started to help him secure our catch. He quickly snapped back for me to keep the hole plugged because there was another fish in there.
One more time, he sank into the dark water. I could feel the fish bumping the log as he was trying to grab it. His feet kicked violently trying to hold himself in the log. Finally, he emerged with another catfish, this one larger than the previous one. The fish exploded out of the log and eventually all three of us had our hands on him. We wrestled the giant catfish to the boat, all of us bleeding from our arms and hands. One hollow log provided us with enough fish to have a cookout that would put Jerry’s Catfish to shame.
That’s been almost twenty years ago and I still fish that log. Sometimes it’s empty, sometimes there’s a fish in it. I’ve never had another encounter with it where I’ve caught two fish. A couple of years ago, I took two of my daughters to our log (only because they are too young to remember where it is). We fished it and I felt like Superman when I pulled a large catfish from it. Each time I fish that log, I’m taken back to my high school graduation. That’s my favorite memory from that week. 2022 graduates, I congratulate you, and encourage you to go and find your log.