52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Going to my grandfather’s clubhouse, on the Gasconade River, in Osage County, Missouri, was fun and games for my family. The river is small and clear due to its rocky bottom. It is full of bluegill, crappie, smallmouth bass, and catfish.

My parents loved to fish. Going to my grandpa’s clubhouse was their way of getting away from the stress of the workweek. My mother spent every Friday afternoon packing food, clothes, and fishing gear.  As soon as my dad got home from work, we would load up the car and drive for two hours to our destination.

The old clubhouse

The clubhouse was two huge rooms on stilts, needed because occasionally the river flooded.  In the beginning, there was no inside water. To get water, one had to go outside to prime the pump, pump water, and carry it up a flight of stairs. There never was an inside bathroom. An outhouse sufficed. Eventually, my grandpa moved the pump inside.

We cooked on a propane stove. On one side of the room were the pump and stove. On the other side of the room was a huge, round, oak table. I often remember the wonderful aroma and the sizzling sound of catfish frying in a heavy iron pan. And, I can’t get the sight of frog legs jumping in the pan from my mind. 

The other room was one big bedroom full of beds. Ten to twelve people could sleep in that room. At night, when you weren’t listening to snores, you could hear the mice scurrying around in the crawl space above the clubhouse. The crawl space was where my grandpa stored the cane poles. I never quite understood how mice could climb up that high, given the house was on stilts.  I remember how freaked out I was when my grandfather told me snakes could crawl up the side of the house to get to the mice. To this day, I think he was pulling my leg. The old clubhouse was destroyed by a tornado about 1959. A new one was built that was much nicer.

During the day, we fished from the dock that my grandpa had built on the river bank. My parents were so patient with us. Very often, we would get our lines caught in the brush on the river bank. They would patiently untangle the lines.  I don’t know how they ever got any fishing done between putting worms on hooks and untangling lines.

At night my grandpa and my dad took the Jon boat out to run trot-lines. The biggest catfish they ever caught was fifty pounds. Most of the time, however, they were three to five-pounders. Because my mother was afraid that we would get bones caught in our throats, we weren’t allowed to eat anything but catfish tails…yum, good eating There was no bass, bluegill, or crappie for us.

Bill and me in the cornfield as the river rises

The biggest adventure we ever had was when we went to the clubhouse and the river flooded while we were there. That weekend we took our dog and our parakeet. My grandmother was there as well. When it became clear to my grandpa and my dad there was a chance that water would surround the clubhouse, they drove our cars to higher ground. They also moved the Jon boats closer to the house. When we woke up Sunday morning, as they predicted, water surrounded the house. My brother scared the life out of me when he fell off the steps into the water. The water was only about a foot deep under the clubhouse. Fortunately, he survived the fall because there was no current.

The water surrounded the clubhouse

That afternoon we left. My mom, dad, luggage, parakeet, and dog were in one Jon boat. In the other Jon boat were me, my brother, grandmother, and grandfather. I’ll never forget floating through the water surrounded by corn stalks. It truly was a great adventure for two kids, ten and twelve years old.

While I love card-playing and board games, my parents weren’t much into this form of entertainment. They did love listening to the Cardinals baseball game on the radio or watching the game on television. Some people would have found our rustic clubhouse on the river too rugged for their fun and games. But for us, it was perfect.