My sister and I were in her car and headed for the horse stable when she asked me if I was thirsty. We were passing a small store on the corner of what was otherwise a deserted intersection along a country road. Out in front of the store was a line of vending machines. Several were beverage machines, and several more contained various snacks. Right next to the Pepsi machine was one that said "Live Bait."
My first thought was, "How hungry does someone have to be in order to use that machine?" Then I realized that there was a large reservoir nearby and that fishermen probably buy bait from that machine. I wondered if the bait consisted of worms or minnows, and how they were dispensed. Were they in little bags of dirt or water? If the weather went down to freezing did the vending machine keep them warm? What did the animal rights people think about this? Fishing obviously had evolved considerably from when I last fished as a little kid, but then back in those days everyone walked five miles to school, and it was up hill in both directions.
I don't fish. I'm of the same opinion as Steven Wright who says, "There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the bank like an idiot." In fact I've only been fishing once in my life -- when I was in grade school and a neighbor took me fishing. Jess Smith was a retired farmer who lived across the street from us. His wife's name was Lulu. Jess and Lulu Smith were both wonderful old folks, and I loved to hang out there when I was young. I spent many summer evenings sitting on their porch steps slapping mosquitoes, listening to his stories, and occasionally getting a couple of fresh cookies that Lulu had baked.
Jess got permission from my parents to take me fishing. I had never gone fishing so my father gave me a long 8' bamboo pole to which he attached a fishing line, a bobber and a hook. I was also outfitted with a bucket to bring home all the fish I would catch. A week before the trip my dad started dumping coffee grounds out by the garden and explained to me that it would attract earthworms. I'm not sure why earthworms were attracted to coffee grounds, but they were. The night before my fishing trip we went out with a flashlight and dug up a whole mess of earthworms where the coffee grounds had been dumped.
In reflecting back on that process of digging for worms, I realized that it was something that few kids these days ever experience. I'm not certain that it was a valuable experience, but somehow it seems to have been an essential one for that era. And like so many experiences that we 'older folks' had in our youth, we feel that the youth of today are missing out. I don't believe that buying live bait from a vending machine is nearly as memorable.
If digging for worms was memorable, putting them on a hook was even more memorable. Also memorable was coming home from that fishing trip with 57 bluegill. The pond we fished was a private, stocked pond, which had so many hungry fish that as soon as my hook hit the water a fish grabbed it. I don't think the worms were even necessary. I was quite proud of my catch until I got home and mom said, "That's nice, now go clean them." To me, cleaning the fish meant washing them. My dad demonstrated the proper way to clean them by cleaning several and totally grossing me out. Then he told me to clean the rest of them. I protested, but was told that a fisherman must clean his own catch. I took the remaining 54 bluegill down the street and gave them away to any neighbors who would take them, and I never went fishing again.
That one fishing experience is vivid in my mind to this day, and it fulfilled my need for such experiences quite nicely. There are certain things that needed to be part of a boy's set of experiences growing up in that era, and often only needed to occur once. Cleaning a fish, the first kiss, the first swing out on a rope and dropping into a swimming hole, and getting paddled at school are all in that category. A machine that cleaned fish would have been greatly appreciated, but I'm glad they didn't have vending machines for worms.