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Camping Misery

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Outdoors
Sep 7th, 2022
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article by Dan Chason

I once said that I think that my one and only older brother starting picking on me while I was still in the womb. I was 2 1/2 years younger than my brother Steve. I was a chunky young man, and wore Huskies and my brother wore Slims. He was lean, mean and had an attitude that his job for life was to toughen me up. That is strange, as we did everything together. We did our chores together (which always ended in a fight). Our afternoons were spent fishing, hunting or exploring. For the most part we lived in the country. Our minister father was an engaged dad, who would come home from his work so we could shoot some hoops, toss a football, work in the garden or play his favorite game, paperball. This game was played with no running bases, much like baseball. The “ball” was cylindrical rolled newspaper and a broom handle was the bat. My mom once said that my dad knocked out more church windows than her two sons ever did.  Dad was a gamer.

But my brother Steve was something. I never saw him without a knife. Not just one – hunting knife (that he slept in the bed with me and had it under his pillow) and a sharp folding pocket knife he took everywhere. I can recall four stabbings and one mishap with a dart where he dared me to run and I was stupid enough to do it. Now, of course, he would be very apologetic and I would cover for him, he was my brother. But the one thing we loved to do was to go camping.

We started camping around the age of 10. You have to remember this was in the early 70’s and our camping equipment consisted of a sheet we stole from Mama, a quilted blanket to sleep under and an old pillow Mama had put outside for the dog. We stole wieners, bread if we had any and a jug of water. That was about it. Steve liked camping because he could drag out a machete along with the trusty hunting knife and pocket knife to retrieve a pile of wood for a fire. He would cut enough fire wood for a family of six to survive the winter, but we were never cold. 

We spent our nights running “set lines.” This meant somebody (guess who) had to wade into the edge of the pond and hang the lines.  Daddy always had chicken livers so we had bait. Most times we would dig up under the old oak tree in the back yard and take some night crawlers. Daytimes were spent exploring. Steve was an arrowhead geek and if he found a rock with any point on it, he called it an arrowhead. I never found one as I was always figuring out how to hook up to a big bass on my Zebco 33. Steve cared little for bass fishing and we soon developed a fierce competition when it came to any kind of fishing – all the way into our late 50’s.

Steve had a habit that drove me nuts. I don’t remember a single time he didn’t walk by me and take his middle finger, poke me hard in my belly and call me “fatboy.” He was relentless. I promised myself that one day I would get the courage to challenge him. I didn’t plan it and I didn’t want it, but the constant picking on me was getting old.

Then Steve turned 15. At that time a young man could get their driver’s license at 15. We begged, we pleaded and finally broke my Dad down so he would loan us his truck and his boat to go camping and fishing on Spring Bayou in Marksville, where we lived. Anyone that knows Spring Bayou knows that it is a swamp. To this day I would not let any one of my kids go there and would never loan my boat for them to go. It is a spooky, dark place littered with stumps, alligators and cotton mouths. But dad relented. We hoed the garden, cut the lawn (twice), washed his car, anything to be able to go on our own and enjoy the great outdoors.

The big day finally came and 15-year old Steve and 13-year old Dan took off on our adventure of a lifetime. Now, mind you we took no food, we were gonna live off of what we caught. We caught some crawfish in a ditch and borrowed dad’s bucket where he kept his trot line. Our goal was to fish until we dropped, but then it got dark and the mosquitoes showed up. The one thing we didn’t bring in all of our great planning was mosquito spray. We launched our boat at a ramp we had used hundreds of times with our dad. We set our trotline and went back to our spot to light a fire. We piled every pile of cypress moss and green limbs we could to stave off the mosquitoes and waited. When it got past suppertime, Steve looked at me and said he was ready to go home. The mosquitoes were just too bad. We then opted for the inside of the truck.  About midnight our stomachs were screaming, so I had the bright idea to cook the crawfish we had left over. I’ve eaten crawfish about every way you can, and I will say those were the best I’ve ever tasted. At daylight we left out to check our lines and try the catfish. I hooked a huge one only to see my brother reach out with his hunting knife and cut my line. To make it worse, he laughed. I was furious and I exploded. Round and round that boat we fought until we were exhausted. We went back to the landing and that’s when we could see our reflection in the rearview mirror.  Our disdain for each other turned into fear, as we knew that dad would literally kill us.

We came up with every scenario a kid could come up with to explain my black eye, his  bloody nose and our torn up clothes. To our relief, dad walked out, looked at both of us and said, “Well boys ya’ll look like you had a good time” and walked away.

I lost my brother to brain cancer in 2019.  I think of him and our times together often. I miss those days so badly. I would give my world to have my brother back.  Even if he poked me in the belly and called me “Fatboy.”