Home > 000008. Walter Andrew Mattocks, 000009. Rachel Idella Crane > Memories of Grandpa’s Fish Camp

Memories of Grandpa’s Fish Camp

Source: Ma Fisk [Lola Jordan], “Memories of Grandpa’s Fish Camp,” Illinois Sports Outdoors (February 1997), page 22.

[page 22]

At age 84, there are many fond memories of family and times long gone. My lifetime of outdoor memories began on a homestead on the prairies of Montana and have paddled along with me on the lakes and rivers of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

But what I am writing about now are my precious days of camping on the Kankakee River in the 1920’s with Grandpa, Grandma, and my three sisters. We granddaughters ranged in age from three to ten. I was the ten year old.

When the cruel disease took our mother away, Grandpa and Grandma Mattocks took us in and our father traveled to the big city to find work. We would only see our dad on weekends, but our grandparents had lots of love to spare.

I think most of Grandpa’s life was spent outside. He was thin, wiry, and strong. Every summer before school was out, Grandpa would go out along the Kankakee River scouting for a campsite. It would not be a fancy cottage. Sometimes it would be just one room downstairs and up a ladder to one room upstairs, or often no cottage at all, just an area for tents. There would be a large one for sleeping and another for storage.

Grandpa would clear the land by the riverbank, making stacks and stacks of firewood, and then spade the soil to plant a big garden. When he had erected our table and benches under a canopy and had a big grate ready for cooking, he would get his boat ready for fishing.

After the end of the school year, the uncles would load up Grandma and us girls along with the grocery staples, dishes, pots and pans, bedding, and clothes. Then off we’d go to join Grandpa on the banks of the river.

In western Indiana near Roselawn, Shelby and Thayer, the Kankakee River had been dredged and straightened so there were huge sand hills and extra oxbow sloughs of water from the old channels…. an ideal place for adventurous children. It seems we played and swam all day! Bathing suits were the usual attire. Up and on the go in the daytime, in bed at dark.

Grandpa was a great outdoorsman, mostly a fisherman. He seemed to know where to fish, when to fish, and what bait to use. He would put our lines out or sit along the bank. Sometimes he might travel little up river. There was no motor, just oars or his hand made a paddle.

Occasionally, a relative stopped by with an order of extra groceries. We also would get eggs and milk from a local farmer and vegetables from our garden, but we mostly ate fish…. lots of fish! Since I was the oldest child, I had to help Grandpa with the garden and fishing. I remember once we went to a slough and there were as many mud turtles as fish. How I hated those mud turtles! They’d swallow your hook so you would have to stretch out their neck and stomp on their back to retrieve your hook. Grandpa put the fish in his wire net basket and the turtle carcasses were thrown aside for the wild creatures of the night to clean up. We sure didn’t want them to come alive and bite again. Grandpa teased that I was fishing for turtles and accidentally caught fish.

Another time Grandpa took his spear along some shallow back water. The water was very clear and we had to be very quiet. “Don’t move, don’t move.” Then all at once Grandpa’s spear went sailing out! I couldn’t believe he could throw it so far and impale a big buffalo or carp. I can close my eyes right now and see him pulling up his boots to wade out after that flopping handle with a big fish attached to the prongs of the spear! Holding the fish to the bottom, he would ease his way to the shoreline. Then the water would explode as he would swing the thrashing carp out onto solid ground! I can keenly remember being very proud of Grandpa!

I have always loved the outdoors and the times that were shared there. In those carefree years of childhood, my sisters and I were happy and healthy. Thank you, Grandpa and Grandma! I believe you knew how to care of us four little girls after having raised two girls and seven boys of your own.

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