Saturdays when I was a kid, were special days. Even though there was no school, there was still a routine. I was up and out of bed by 6AM. Bugs Bunny / Road Runner came on at 7. Once Bugs was over, you went outside...period. The only reason you'd be indoors when the next cartoons came on was if you were sick, or it was raining to hard to go outside. If you watched TV on Saturday long enough to see that funky train animation and hear Don Cornelius' deep voice announcing "Soul Train", it was pretty much a wasted day, because Soul Train came on at 11AM.
By 8 AM we'd be out the door and usually we'd congregate on our front wall to plot out the days adventure. If it was summer, we'd pick sides and then go behind the houses to Manor Park and play pickup baseball for the day. We'd have wooden bats that Frankie Messick got from William Penn high school's baseball team. They were cracked and we'd drive brads into the handles to hold them together. They were far too big for us but we never admitted to that. We were Schmidt and Mantle and Musial and Killebrew and Ruth and Aaron and Mays. Those guys used big bats and so we might as well get started. We'd play games that lasted 30 innings and we'd be dusty and dirty and sweaty when the day ended. But we'd be happy that we got to play our favorite game all day with our best friends. We'd come home and run through the sprinklers before dinner to wash off the days dust.
Saturdays in the summer often meant fishing. For me and Johnny Wilkins and Tommy Riccio and Richard Ferraro it usually meant pedaling our bikes through Chelsea Estates, the neighborhood next to ours, down the firebreak and out to our favorite secret fishing hole...Nonesuch Creek. Now, while that sounds like a name the local kids gave the place, it actually appears on local maps that way. Nonesuch is a small tributary that feeds the Christiana River. The Christiana, in turn, empties into the Delaware which runs out to the bay. Nonesuch was our little slice of fishing heaven when we were very young. Before we became avid bass anglers and outgrew the euphoria of just catching anything. The water was dark and smelled like diesel fuel most of the time. But you were guaranteed to catch something every time you went.
The trip was always planned out in advance. It was never a case of all of us deciding on Saturday morning that there wasn't anything else to do so we might as well go fishing. We would plan all week and decide on a departure time. The night before, we'd wait until it was very dark and then Johnny and I would go out in the fields behind the houses with flashlights and catch nightcrawlers. There is an art to this. You shine the light on the ground but the nightcrawlers are found in the perimeter where the light barely falls. Light makes them suck back into the ground so you have to find them in the fringe of the beam from your flashlight. We all had the same flashlights then. I was a paperboy and Radio Shack had been running a promotional ad where they gave you a free 5 cell flashlight. The idea was to sell batteries I guess. I took coupons out of my newspapers and gave them to my buddies. We were all carrying these grey plastic flashlights for a couple of years. So Johnny and I would fill our coffee cans full of huge slimy nightcrawlers, top them off with dirt and the next morning we'd set out for Nonesuch Creek. I had a knapsack from Cub Scouts and I'd pack a lunch and my tackle box. Then we'd jump on our spider bikes and head out...fishing rods in hand.
Nonesuch Creek was a thick and dense jungle of weeds and scrub trees. It took some work to get there, but it was our spot and we were like adventurers. We were Jerry McKinnis and this was our "Fishin' Hole". We'd tie our hooks on the line, about 12 inches up from the sinker, and cast out into the dirty water. It never took long before one of us had a carp or a catfish on the line. We never caught anything you'd eat from this place. There were no tasty species in these waters, and even if there were, the pollution would have ruined them anyway. We would crack jokes and look for the perfect spot to fish from and dread how fast the day was flying by. We were maybe 9 years old and we were miles from home in a secluded wooded area by ourselves. And it never occurred to our parents...or to us...that there would be a hint of danger. There wasn't. It was a different world then. We never had so much as a whisper of a problem in all those glorious trips to Nonesuch Creek. We put worms on hooks, took nasty catfish off them, then wiped our hands on our jeans and ate our lunch and never thought once about bacteria. We picked ticks off each other and peed in the bushes like real men. We carried pocket knives we got from the Cub Scouts and we entertained ourselves by burning ants with a magnifying glass while we waited for the fish to bite. The sun was hot and the field smelled like grass and honeysuckle and water. We'd catch horrible cases of poison ivy and we'd look like whitefaced Vaudeville players with calamine lotion from head to toe. We wore our old Converse Chuck Taylors on these trips so the new ones didn't get ruined. If we got a flat tire, we all knew how to fix the tube ourselves and get back on the road. On one memorable trip, we had been talking about eating our catch for the week before. We decided this week was the week. My mother had just gotten a new set of "Revere ware" which was the copper-bottomed rage in the day. So I snuck up into the loft area over our garage and took one of her old enamel frying pans that was destined for a garage sale. I stuck it in my knapsack and we went fishing. Tommy Riccio and Me and another kid from the street named Jack Bodzo, Tommy caught an enormous carp and we decided to try cooking it. We built a small fire and broke out the pan I'd brought. Tommy gutted the nasty fish and we cooked it. When it was done, we tried a bite. It was about as horrible as you could imagine. It tasted like dirt, and oil and sewage. Tommy and I spit it out. Jack, for some strange reason, sort of liked it and ate a bit of it. We had no oil for the pan and the inside was scorched and the outside was covered in soot, so the pan stayed behind.
We never tried eating anything from Nonesuch again, but we can always say we had the experience.
As exciting as that sounds...that was a typical Saturday for me and my friends. Every day was filled with adventure and imagination and fun. We stayed busy. We played the games that kids now only play on computer. The days flew by.
As have the years...