Catching The Past on the Clinch River by Wayne Johnson
External imageYou never know who you will run into when fishing the Clinch River. Several months ago my son, Dylan, and I traveled to Castlewood with just one thing in mind: fishing. We even have a favorite spot that we often visit . across from old Castlewood near where the old bridge used to be. This trip we were in for quite a surprise. As we approached our preferred fishing hole, I noticed that someone was already there. A little disappointed, I asked if he would mind us setting up just a little up-river from him. “Not at all. In fact, you two are welcome to join me right here. I would enjoy the company.” He didn’t have to ask twice. I was more than ready and so was Dylan. After the proper introductions (he told me his name was ‘June Townes’) and a heartfelt 'thank you’, Dylan and I baited our hooks and cast them into the water. “You boys from around here?” our host asked. I explained to him that we were from Atlanta and that we came to the Castlewood/St. Paul area to visit friends and family and to fish and that we were staying with my grandmother this trip.
He told me that he had been fishing the Clinch River for more than 75 years and proceeded to tell me how things were different prior to the chemical releases that had killed all of the fish in the 60s and later. He told me that he had worked his entire life in the mines and that he had been retired for some time now but that he had never lost his love for the river and for fishing. Not long after, he started telling me how much other places in the area had changed, including Dante, where he used to work. “Yeah, I know. I was in Dante not too long ago. That place is slowly disappearing. They just tore down the old theater,” I said. “Why would you visit Dante?” he asked, just a little surprised. “My great-grandparents lived there,” I told him. “Who were your great-grandparents?” he asked. “I might have known them.” “My great-grandmothers are Lillian Griffith and Bessie Clay.” “I knew them both. I knew Bessie quite well. I grew up with many of her kids. Which one are you kin to?” he asked. “Josephine,” I told him. “You mean to tell me that Josephine Clay is your grandmother?” “Yes sir, and that is her great-grandson right there,” I said, pointing to Dylan. “I grew up with Josephine,” he told me shaking his head in disbelief. For the next hour he told me stories of my grandmother, her family, my grandfather (he was quite apologetic when he told me: “I didn’t like him, but your grandfather did save my life once when we had a big flood in Dante.”) and life in Dante in the 20s, the 30s and the 40s. I wish I had had some way to have recorded everything that he told me as this was a treasure that I never dreamed to have run across. For the first time I had an idea of what my grandmother might have been like as a young girl and as a young woman.
That evening she would be surprised to hear that we had run into an old friend of hers. (She was, and she told us a thing or two about him just to get even.) The next morning, Dylan and I headed to our favorite fishing hole again. We were both more than a little disappointed that our new friend was not there. But that feeling of disappointment changed very quickly when Dylan discovered that we were out of worms. “Stay here, don’t get in the water and don’t even fish until I get back,” I told him and headed back toward St. Paul. When I returned, there was someone familiar there with Dylan. “Good to see you again, sir,” I said to him. “You know, I was just thinking how amazing it is what you might find fishing on this old river.” “Yes sir,” I agreed. “I’ve been thinking the very same thing. Care to join us this morning? There’s plenty of room for you.”
Map to Old Castlewood. You should still be able to see the old bridge pilings if you look out over the “new” bridge when you cross the water.