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Trotline Bait


By —— Bio and Archives--January 10, 2019

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Trotline Bait
On his Mississippi Delta farm, my father built a commissary store. Between its front porch and the only paved road running through that remote corner of the county stood a huge sycamore tree. Its limbs were broad enough to hold my pal Lamar and me on summer nights when we threw hard, green sycamore balls at passing cars.


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On his Mississippi Delta farm, my father built a commissary store. Between its front porch and the only paved road running through that remote corner of the county stood a huge sycamore tree. Its limbs were broad enough to hold my pal Lamar and me on summer nights when we threw hard, green sycamore balls at passing cars.


“You boys keep up that foolishness, and one of these nights somebody’s going climb that tree and chop y’all up into trotline bait,” my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird warned.



“You’re just trying to scare us,” Lamar sneered. “Nobody will ever look up in this tree. We hit four cars last night, and all the drivers done was get out, look around, cuss a little, and drive on.”



“Don’t say I didn’t warn y’all. Better not chunk at Thaddo. He’s out o’ the penitentiary, and working down the road at Mr. Jeesto’s. Hit his car with them balls, and y’all will sho-nuff end up being trotline bait.” We heard his raspy, creaking chuckle as he ambled off. A master yarn spinner, the old black man often told horror stories that made us look under the bed before going to sleep. They scared the breath out of us, but we loved them.



In the Delta, Thaddo Rathbone was known as a “tush hog” — a term applied only to the meanest of the mean — who wielded his switchblade with surgical efficiency. Jaybird told us he could cut buttons off a man’s shirt without even nicking the skin. A few years back he was sent to the penitentiary for carving a hot-blooded opponent into cold cuts at Hugo’s Hideaway, a country juke joint that had been the last scene seen by numerous ne’er-do-wells.



Despite Jaybird’s advice, Lamar and I continued pelting passing cars. One Saturday night we were in the tree with an arsenal of sycamore balls between us. They were just the right size for throwing three at a time — six projectiles per salvo.


Spotting headlights in the distance, we got ready. Lamar whispered, “One, two, three — chunk!”



Following the rat-tat-tat of direct hits, brakes screeched, a door flung open, and a female passenger’s words struck terror in our hearts.



“What was that, Thaddo?”


Footsteps on gravel crunched beneath us. Like treed raccoons, Lamar and I were paralyzed with fright. Then we heard a growling voice and a switchblade’s metallic click.


“Come down — get in the car.”



Jaybird was sitting on his porch swing when we pulled up in the yard. In the pitch black, only the whites of Thaddo’s eyes showed, as he stared at us in the back seat. After a long silence, a white, smiling, gold-toothed arc flashed below the eyes.



“Get out,” he ordered.



“Whose car was that?”  Jaybird asked. Trembling with fear, neither of us could utter a word.

He put his arms around us, pulled us up close, and said, “Uh, huh … Thaddo, wasn’t it? Y’all came mighty close to being what I said: trotline bait.”


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Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran (Vietnam Era), former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer and ginner, author, and retired college teacher. His short story anthology, Boss, Jaybird And Me, is available at Squarebooks.com (telephone: 662-236-2262). His latest collection of faith-based short stories, entitled One Hundred By Five Hundred, is also available at Square Books (telephone: 662-236-2262) and at amazon.com. To receive Reed’s free weekly newsletter, send an email address to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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