As a seventh-grader, I unexpectedly achieved that elusive goal, and attained notoriety and thanks from my whole class. Not easy to accomplish in a class of do-gooders, miscreants and a few who may have gotten into the slug bait.
Terribly shy and awkwardly lanky, I quaked at the thought of the teacher’s assignment. We each had to deliver a 10-minute speech in front of the class. No way could I stand in front of the class and do that. But then Teacher said, “Just pick a topic you know about, something you really like. Bring props if you want.”
This was in my wheelhouse. Fishing! Fishing excited me most. I put together a 10-minute talk about the different kinds of fishing, fish and fishing techniques for our area. I brought in my cane pole, casting rod, spinning rod and fly rod. I showed the class my different types of spinners, lures, hooks. I explained how water levels, temperature and the weather played their roles. I was on a roll.
Ten minutes quickly went by, but I had much more to say. Even the girls wanted to hear more, and said so. Teacher gave me another 10 minutes. I was still going a half hour later. My instant fan base was in a frenzy to go fishing. I can’t recall if I suggested the field trip or the class forced the issue.
I said I knew just the spot, within walking distance. People could bring poles if they wanted, and we could take lunches. I had plenty of bait and could help people rig up. Our school sat at on a rise just above Plum River, only a few miles from where it dumped its mud into the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois. It would be easy to walk less than a mile down the banks of the Plum to a small pond called Mesquakie. I played up its Native American name to make it more special. I also played up how a nice grassy area, like a secret shoreline park, was made just for picnicking. It was really a small wooded cow pasture, but I didn’t say that, nor that we would be trespassing on private land.
The class went wild when Teacher agreed to the trip. We circled the date on our home calendars. The girls excitedly planned their clothes and lunches for our great adventure. Boys focused on being able to bring pocketknives to cut fishing line and ward off any large carnivores.
When the long-awaited day arrived, I had second thoughts. The river had earlier flooded over its banks. Mucky banks meant someone could slide into the river at worst, or kids would ruin shoes and clothes at least. Even if the banks had dried out some, the standing puddles of water might breed clouds of mosquitoes. Then there were wood ticks. I had to pray that the spring weather was still too cool for the hatch of miniature vampires and creepy crawlies, not to mention snakes.
Poison ivy also had slipped my mind. It would be just starting to leaf out. It grew prolifically along the river, even in Tarzan vines that festooned the river woodland. I knew boys would try to swing on them. I would also have to guide them around patches of stinging nettles, or the trip would be called off before we even started, and I would be cursed. I hoped Teacher wasn’t a good botanist.
And then there was the bull. Sometimes the farmer ran cows into the woods around the pond. The previous year, I had escaped the bull by crawling out on a log that extended into the lake as the brute pawed ground and snorted from the shore. The log could not hold an entire class of seventh-graders and one adult.
But the river banks had dried out enough, no mosquitoes. No one got into the poison ivy. No ambulances for anaphylactic shock or severed limbs. The bull never showed, and I kept my mouth shut about it. We caught fish, played, enjoyed lunch on an exceptionally nice spring day. We had more fun as a group than we dreamed of. And our now-favorite teacher kept his job!
I avoided being shunned by men and undatable by women forever. Everyone wanted another trip, but we were graduating on to eighth grade. I had pulled it off.
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