March 18, 1892 - Day 12


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Dear Martha,
We had fresh fish for breakfast this morning. I’ve never tasted anything so good.
Last evening, we camped by a river. Pap and I went fishing. He cut two bamboo
poles and strung them with line while I caught crickets. The fish were biting! As fast
as I could bait my hook, there was a bluegill on the line.
Pap said, “Teddy, if you know how to fish with next to nothing, you’ll never
go hungry. See how I cut these poles? Bamboo grows all over. You just have to
look for it growing near water. I keep a length of fishing line in my pocket, but you
can use string or thread or whatever you have handy. I’ve caught a fish on my boot
string before.”
I said, “And it wasn’t hard to catch crickets. I just swooped my hand through
the tall grass and looked for whatever tried to hop away.”
Pap said, “Most fish like to bite when the sun is just coming up or going down.
They get hungry, just like we do, and a cricket looks mighty good. You can use
anything for bait: worms, minnows, crickets.”
I said, “Did you fish when you were a boy?”
Pap said, “All the time. Me and my dog, Darby. He went everywhere I went.”
I thought about that. “I’d like to get a dog.”
Pap said, “That’s a fine idea.” I thought it was a fine idea, too. Why hadn’t
I thought of it before?
I said, “Where would I get a dog? We’re on the move all the time.”
Pap said, “At the right time, a dog will find you.”
We caught 13 bluegill. Pap strung them together by running the line through
their gills. He slipped the fish back down in the river to keep them alive and tied
the line to a big rock. I used a chalky rock to write BODAIN on the big rock, so folks
from the train would know they were our fish if they came to the same spot. Pap
went back early this morning to clean the fish with his knife.
“Always bury the heads and guts,” he said. “Never leave a mess behind.”
Now, this morning, I fried the fish over our campfire. Mama was feeding Dylan,
but she told me what to do. I dipped the fish in cornmeal and fried them in our big
black skillet in lard. When they were brown on one side, I turned them over on the
other side. I made a pot of grits, and that was our breakfast. Mama said I did as good
a job as any grown woman.
One thing about being in a wagon train: you have to do everything, or as much
as you can, while the train is rolling or in the little time before we leave in the
morning or before the sun goes down when we stop to camp. In the morning, Mama
puts our clothes to soak in buckets of river water and hangs them on the side of the
wagon. Then, in the afternoon, she scrubs them on a board, rinses them, and hangs
them on a line Pap strings beside our wagon for the night.
It’s my job to redd up the wagon each day. Once we get rolling, I shake out our
featherbed and roll it up. I fold the blankets and Pap’s quilts. Then, I sweep the floor
and set up Dylan’s playpen. Mama and Pap made it before we left. It’s almost as big
as the center of the wagon. Dylan can play with his blocks and toys while we are on
the move. A wagon can be dangerous for a baby because the back is open, and he
might tumble out. Sometimes, Miss Emily invites Dylan over, and he and Lucy play
together in her playpen.
Dylan is getting so smart. He calls me “Taddy,” and he can name some of the
animals in my picture book. But one thing upsets me. He ALWAYS wants to play
with Veronica. When he sees me take her out, he screams, “Ronnie! Ronnie!” and
tries to reach her. She is too beautiful and delicate for a baby to play with.