I remember this one time, when my best friend Dave and me, drove out to Jake Murphy’s before the sun came up. Jake’s coon dog’s were raising ten kinds of hell, soon as we drove down the dirt driveway. “I hope Jake remembered that he promised to go fishing with us this morning,” Dave said. “He knows, now,” I answered when the lights came on.
Trust, honesty, and fear, went along with knocking on someone’s door at five in the morning. Jake answered the door, half-asleep; pulling on his bib overalls. He didn’t have an undershirt on. Neither Dave, nor myself, wanted to know, if anything else was missing. Jake grumbled something unintelligible, stumbled across the porch; sat on the steps; put on socks and shoes.
“Good morning sunshine,” I greeted. “I knew it was you guys when I seen them headlights,” Jake bristled in defense. He tossed his fishing gear and cooler in the pickup bed. Jake’s slouchy railroad conductor’s cap barely covered his wild gray hair.
Jake, secured himself in the window seat, closed the door. It was a good thing, it was summer, and the truck windows were down. Because the stench of musk cologne was overpowering. It almost made up for Jake’s poor hygiene habits.
Junked out lawn mowers, an old wheelbarrow, an old green pickup truck bed–converted into a trailer, and other miscellaneous junk, leaned against Jake’s old garage. Inside, his trusty Mercury Marquis, sported a crude, hand-brushed, dark blue repaint job.
When he wanted to work, Jake did odd jobs around town. But, mostly, when he needed more whiskey. He was a better house painter half-drunk, than most people were, when sober. Most people avoided him. They thought he was odd–a little too strange. He wasn’t “funny strange” or anything like that. He just wasn’t sociable.
That wasn’t why we invited him to come along. Jake Murphy was a “fish witcher.” It was spooky how good he was. He could read water ripples like pages in a book. “Throw over yonder–by that stump,” He’d say. “There’s a big bass waitin’ to strike.” And sure enough, he’d be right.
We stayed all day at Jake’s favorite fishing hole. Caught a few keepers. The sun went down, day gave way to darkness–cricket chirps, and bellowing bullfrogs. An ambiance that called for a roaring campfire. The mosquitoes were hungry–we were too. Jake and I whittled points on sticks to roast hot dogs.
None of us thought to bring hot dog buns. It was too late to do anything about it–so we did without. “That’s enough to keep us from starving–I reckon,” Jake said. “I would sure liked to have had some beans to go with ’em. I’m going to stay up here for a bit–take a smoke break. You fellas go ahead and fish some more.”
“I’ll bet Jake eats lots of beans,” I said. “That’s probably why he farts so much,” Dave joked. “I’ve heard that he survives on beans and peanut butter.” Neither of us knew for sure. On the opposite side of the pond Jake’s cigarette tip glowed bright orange. Campfire light glinted off his raised whiskey bottle.
The catfish didn’t cooperate, we landed a monster snapping turtle, instead. It was an ugly, moss-covered creature, not one bit happy about being caught by two teenage boys. “You want to keep it?” I asked, looking over at Dave. “Naw,” He answered, “Let’s cut it loose.”
Jake sat in an old rocking chair on the dock–nursed a bottle of “Heaven Hill” bourbon whiskey. He sang some nondescript old country song. The drunker he got–the louder he sang. It was more like, wailing from tortured souls in hell, than singing. Nobody was around to complain.
None of us knew exactly how it happened. Jake might have leaned over too far? In his inebriated state–who could really tell? Somehow, Jake rocked himself off the dock into the water. He didn’t really holler much–it was more of a moan.
Dave and me jumped in, pulled Jake out–wet overalls and all. Almost drowning sobered him up pretty quick. He began dancing, jumping, and hollering around the campfire to dry out. Jake’s “war dance” was hilarious. Jake laughed, checked his pockets for fish. What else could he do at that point?
People around town joked about, old Jake rocking off the dock, for a long time after that. The story got twisted into, “While everybody else was rocking ’round the clock, Old Jake, was rocking off the dock.” The joke was really on them–because they missed the big dance! When Jake was drunk, things could get pretty weird.