“Hey, Dad, I’m
reading this book about men who stick their hands down in the water,
wiggle their fingers, let catfish grab them and then yank them out of the
water. Would you like to read
it after I’m through with it?” I ask over the phone.
“You bet, son.
You know, my father used to do that.”
Only, he called it 'hogging.'
He told us once how he went down to Lake City, Arkansas and entered
one of the caves down along the river.
Those caves were full of catfish that were stranded when the water
went down. Well, he went in
one cave where it was dark but he could just make out a log nearby and
went to stand on it so he could bend over and go 'hogging,' when
suddenly the log swam away from him when he tried to step on it.
I was a giant catfish!”
In one paragraph my
father confirmed three things I had read in Bilger’s book: #1-the
reality of “noodling”, #2-the renaming of it in different parts of the
county, (called “noodling” in Oklahoma, “hogging” in Arkansas
where my dad grew up) and #3-the stories of giant catfish and their
I have to tell you, I
was impressed. So I read
further. What I found was a compelling narrative of men and women of
the South who pursued hobbies and pastimes that most would find unusual to
say the least, but which these individuals were most passionate about.
From moonshining to cockfighting to marble-playing, the folks whose
stories were told within these pages were willing to give it their all to
be the best at what they did. It
is a thread of consistency that runs all the way through Bilger’s book.
And don’t think that
he glamorizes anything in the process.
No, these are real people and they have real lives, just like you
and I. In this subculture of
the South which Bilger explores, there are lawful and unlawful acts,
achievements and disappointments, sickness and suicide, humor and irony.
All of which is put into a wonderful perspective by an author who
pulls in historical accounts, folk stories, modern-day medical practice
and tediously researched facts, making the stories he tells more than one
man’s whimsical tales.
From crashing around in
the woods, coonhunting, to sitting down at a table to eat hog chitlins,
the author does it all. He is
not just a spectator either, as he explores the dark netherworld of
moonshining, doing interviews with both law enforcement officers and also
those doing the bootlegging, putting his life in possible jeopardy in
order to obtain his story.
His willingness to go
this extra mile is what gives the book its credence and also makes it an
absorbing read for the Southern in fact and the Southern at heart.
© 2001 Southern Scribe, All Rights Reserved