Bits of Life

For those of us who drink coffee, we take it for granted.  We seldom think of how many processes, and miles it had to travel for us to consume it.  Did you ever think of your best cup of coffee, ever?  It was a long time ago when I experienced my finest cup of coffee, but I remember it vividly.

My Dad, his friend Charlie Smith, and I were on a fishing trip. It was 1948; that would have made me thirteen years old.  That’s a long time ago to think about a cup of coffee, but in a minute you will understand why.  We were fishing on the Tennessee River at Lake Guntersville, Alabama.   To me, Lake Guntersville is the best lake on the TVA system.  The lake is about 69,000 acres large.  That’s not the largest lake on the TVA system, but it has more deep water than any other lake.   Today, the lake is full of yachts and sailboats.  There are only three or four islands that the sail and power boats have to avoid to keep from running aground.  The people who own those boats sure know where those islands and shallow waters are.  Mountains are all around the lake in many areas; it is beautiful almost everywhere.  The lake is long, about 75 miles, following the channel of the mighty Tennessee River.  Guntersville Dam was completed in 1939.  My dad traveled that area before the water was backed up and remembered the old roads, hedgerows, and natural terrain.  As is most always the case, the dam backed up water to cover the prime farmland of the area. By the time I was 12, I knew the lake as well as a seasoned angular.  The lake was good fishing back then, and is now one of the nation’s best for Largemouth Bass.  Bream, Crappie, and Catfish are also plentiful.  With mountains all around, it’s reasonable to assume that creeks flowed into the valley of the Tennessee River.  The river beds of those creeks and streams are now at the bottom of various parts of Guntersville Lake.  If you know where those places are, it’s a secret, because that’s where the best fishing is.  In recent years the habitat includes milfoil and hydrilla weed beds, which are excellent fishing areas for bass fishing with top water baits.  My hometown of Albertville, AL is about twelve miles from the lake. Guntersville Lake is where I became a fishing enthusiast.

It was suppose to warm up that morning, but so far it was still cold.  It was early spring in mid March and we were fishing for Crappie.  It was a cold, gray, overcast day. You couldn’t see any sun or any clouds; nothing but gray sky.  We had not caught any fish where we were, so we were moving closer to the mouth of Town Creek.  Then it started to rain; that wasn’t in the forecast either.  The rain was really cold, and all of a sudden we were in the middle of the lake in a downpour.  It was spring of the year, but the rain felt as if it were mid winter.  By the time we could find a place on shore with a place to pull up and tie the boat we were all drenched and freezing.  We got under some trees for a few minutes, and fortunately the thunderstorm passed.  Daddy and Charlie immediately started building a fire. I was looking for firewood when I came across an old campground and cooking area.  The previous campers were not very tidy, and guess what I found, a quart jar of coffee with a sealed lid, the coffee was still dry.  Daddy and Charlie thought I made a real find.  Daddy told me to go find us a coffee pot.  The best I could do was a big #10 can.  I got some sand and a handkerchief and cleaned out the can (the can I found cleaned up pretty good, but apparently the cleaning job was too good, it leaked like a sieve when filled with water).  Another big can was found and it did better this time, clean and no leaks.  By now Daddy and Charlie had a good fire going.  We put a can of lake water on the fire and waited for it to boil.  My glory hole old campsite supplied us with some smaller cans to use as cups. The small cans cleaned up easier than the big can and we all waited for the coffee to be made.  Daddy was a good cook, he knew not to boil the coffee very long.  He boiled the coffee for about a minute and then sat the can off the very hot part of the fire to a place for the grounds to settle and the coffee stay hot.  We made clothes hangers out of sticks and limbs and hung our clothes out to dry by a roaring fire.  We were about half naked, our old fishing clothes, and rumpled hats were drying by the fire. We were enjoying a delicious cup of hot coffee.  We made coffee several times, by the time the coffee was gone, our cloths were dry.  That may not have been the best coffee from a culinary standpoint, but it was certainly the most memorable, ever.

We never did catch any fish that day, but the fishing trip will not be forgotten.