"Careful, Ray. You'll high-center and bust the pan."
Thus my Uncle Charlie warned my Father during our fishing forays along two-track roads that wound off the highways of the West and into true trout waters. It was axiomatic: the worse the road the better the fishing. A boy could not figure what a "pan" was but could guess it was something mighty important and in fact essential to completing the trip. "Oil pan" probably would not have helped define it either, but the frequency of these warnings and the care with which my Father kept the car from sloughing into the center of the tracks explained enough. The center of the tracked road was dangerous. Keep two wheels in the center and the other two on the side.
It was a simpler time. The entomological arts of fly-tying in the East had not yet penetrated the west. Thus, the choice of lures was simple: a gray hackle (peacock body),a gray hackle yellow, or a Royal coachman fly. Usually snelled, or attached to a short length of leader pre-looped for easy attachment to the leader itself. It was a time prior to plastic and many if not most fly fishing poles were bamboo and easily obtainable, not the thousand dollar jobs offered today as works of art.
It was the day of nearly limitless catches, long strings of fish which reach into this current time as a reproach: how could this be allowed to happen? And it was the pre-TV time of long argument and some suspicion.
Evenings in our basement apartment, Charlie and Father would discuss the merits and demerits of the NRA -- not the gun lobby of 1871 but the National Recovery Act of 1933. It was FDR's pre-Obama recipe for federalizing economic power with an eye to combating the recession. Two years after passage, the U.S. Supreme Court would negate its most important and empowering aspect, but the subject provided grist for long evenings. That unemployment persisted at a rate of 17 percent up until World War Two underscored the importance of the subject. When not fishing those trail-like roads, Father traveled for the National Cash Register Company, "keeping the territory open," as the company would say, until the better days would arrive. It took an act of faith to suggest to a store-keeper that he should buy a cash register when there was not much of it and no problem of storage.
There was a lighter issue for Ray and his brother to debate: razor blades. The Gillette blue blade was being challenged by the red or thin blade. Which was better, a sturdy blue or a razor-thin red? The basement apartment debate may still be raging somewhere.
The Eastern art of tying flies and "matching the hatch" has since penetrated the simplicity of the western trout world. Dry flies are now legion. The roads have improved along with tapered lines and leaders. German brown fish have supplemented and in places overrun the natives. An English razor blade's arrival has muted the thin or thick argument. But wait. Does something linger?
We have high-centered. The economy's oil pan is leaving a trail of greedy innards along the highway of a new century. The federal chief executive has surmounted the old beliefs regarding limits much as the NRA was designed to do.
And there is no Uncle Charlie to warn his absent brother Ray to be "careful, you'll high-center, and.…"
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