By the time many of you read this, the skies will be crystal clear and me rambling on about summertime downpours and all-day soakers, will seem odd. But this September day has been a wet one mixed with extended periods of deluge and gentle raindrops falling on my head.
To be honest, I love days like this. In part, I suppose, because my personality can be…and often is.. as gloomy as the skies. But, more than that, I just like the experience of being surrounded by a good, non-threatening life-giving rain that lasts a while; unlike those lightning and thunder filled downpours driven by hurricane force winds that come and go with frightening speed causing flooded basements, power outages and interviews on the news with long faced people standing in their front yards next to a hundred year old cottonwood tree that their great granddad planted and now lies in a giant crumpled heap on the ground.
I’ve been known to stand out in a warm summer rain and just look skyward allowing the soft droplets to splat against my face and think about my youth when you might find me strolling the sidewalks of my little town imagining myself as god with the power to grant worms, who had ventured from their comfortable confines underground to bask on the dangerous but still warm concrete, life or death. I was a good god, for the most part, granting every squiggly creature at my feet a second chance to redeem themselves unless, of course, there were just too many on the cement to dodge and their souls wound up squished by my soles.
In 1950, dad bought the property for our house in Volga from Joe Dahm..who ran the local bait and tackle shop. Eventually, we kids discovered that for years, Joe had been seeding that lot with night crawlers from his store where they would be fruitful and multiply in the rich black dirt.
It wasn’t until my parents started digging up the back yard for mom’s garden that they discovered loads of the big worms at every turn of the fork.
By the time our house was built and for a few years following, nobody thought much about the huge night crawler population wiggling away just a few inches below our feet but soon, kids in the neighborhood heard that the new owner of the bait shop was paying 25 cents a dozen for them especially when the fish were biting at lakes Campbell, Goldsmith, Oakwood, Poinsett and Sinai.
Well, it wasn’t long before young entrepreneurs in my town began prowling the neighborhoods after dark with their flashlights trying to capture worms which, in search of fresh air I suppose, had ventured far enough out of their holes to fall victim to the lightning fast reflexes of youth and wind up in a Butter Nut Coffee can where..when enough had been gathered.. would be redeemed for cold hard cash at Jones’ bait shop.
I never thought much about worms; either angleworms or night crawlers..other than I found them disgusting. Not as disgusting as tape worms which reportedly would lodge in a little kid’s guts and grow to great lengths before being expelled in the biffy after the administration of prescribed treatment from the doc. I don’t know anybody who had a tapeworm..but then all my friends and family preferred their meat prepared as God intended: well done.
I did know lots of kids..mostly farm kids…who came to class with a telltale ring on their head..etched there like a crop circle by what we assumed was..because of the name..a worm.
Turns out ringworm isn’t a worm at all but a highly contagious fungus often picked up from animals or other infected humans.
I am instinctively fearful of snakes and have always put worms in that category of creatures I’d rather not touch. But as a youngster, it was the lure of great wealth that helped me overcome such phobias when I learned that Jones Bait Shop was paying big money for night crawlers and I was living atop a gold mine.
Still, I would never have ventured out and after them had it not been for a kid by the name of Lanny Lee. I really don’t know too much about Lanny except he was a little older than me and was living with his grandpa or uncle; Oscar Lee in Volga who was a gifted artist but had to earn his meager income by painting houses and other buildings.
Lanny was memorable for his small stature..his dark complexation and a speech impediment in which his L’s and R’s became W’s…much like Bawey Kwipke on “Big Bang Theory.” Unfortunately, Oscar’s grandson was cursed to have both his first and last name begin with L. which made him vulnerable to insensitive teasing by classmates; Wanny Wee…wapped all up in toiwet papew. I’m ashamed to admit it now but I was among those cruel clods. Surprisingly, though, Wanny..I mean Lanny..never really let on that he was bothered by it. He was too preoccupied by cashing in on the crawler crop and, through Oscar, he knew just where to look; our yard!
Many nights..way after bedtime..I’d hear a tap, tap tap on the screen of our bedroom window and hear this; “Doug..you awake? It’s Wanny. Wanna hunt night cwa-wers?” I’d round up a flashlight grab a coffee can and quietly sneak out the back door where I’d join him in our great quest.
It was Wanny..er, Lanny who taught me how to put a red handkerchief over the flashlight lens so as not to spook the worms which would venture most of the way out of their holes especially on a rainy night. Then you had to make sure to snatch them with lightning speed and hang on tight. Not too tight, though, because once in our grasp, night crawlers had an incredible ability to slither back into their holes with inexplicable power. Without proper finesse and pumping action, they’d break in two.
Some nights it was a real bonanza and we’d manage to extract four dozen or more worms which had to be kept alive long enough to collect our two dollars from the bait shop. It finally dawned on me after sneaking back into the house after three back breaking hours had passed, that we weren’t going to get rich at this.
Soon after, my dad bought a power lawn mower and I began cutting the grass for several elderly folks in our neighborhood..earning fifty cents a yard…even more if Mrs. Berg was in a generous mood..and I managed to get each one done in a half hour.
Oh, Lanny would still come around on occasion tap, tap tapping on our window in the middle of the night making his wequest…but I’d had enough.
I was reminded of those nights on a recent fishing trip in which night crawlers were what the Walleye were hungry for and I had to reach into that Styrofoam bucket filled with cool dirt and a few reluctant worms hiding out at the bottom.
It still gags me a little to handle those slimy buggers and I continue to marvel at how stwong they are in their wesistance to becoming a tasty tweet for some waweye.
UPDATE: That gentle rain which inspired this essay turned into the largest one day rain fall in memory..up to and exceeding six inches in places. Hope the night cwa-wers didn’t dwown.