Hatchling of the Chickasaw
By Ed McClanahan
This is part two of an intermittently serialized memoir by Ed McClanahan that takes as its working title “Hatchling of the Chickasaw: A Kentucky waterways story.”
My father, Eddie (Edward Leroy, officially), was born and raised—or, as they liked to say around there, “reared”—on a rocky little hillside tobacco farm in a rural community called Johnsville in Bracken County, Kentucky, about 50 miles east of Cincinnati, within a couple of miles of the Ohio River. As a boy, he swam and fished in the Ohio in the summertime, and even crossed it on the ice a few times, in bad winters. My mother, Jessie Poage, grew up in Brooksville, the county seat. During their courtship, she was a schoolteacher in Neville, Ohio, to which she commuted via the mailman’s rowboat. My own earliest clear memory is of moving out of our house in Augusta, a Bracken County town on the Ohio, in the flood of 1937 … in a rowboat. I was five years old, and I had the chickenpox. We three wretched refugees—Eddie and Jessie and this meager, itchy little fellow they called “Sonny”—disembarked at the soonest opportunity and immediately skeedaddled to Brooksville, the highest point in Bracken County, where we stayed for the next ten years, high and dry.
But the Ohio was never far away. Sometime around 1940, my dad and his brother Don and their cousin Charlie McCarty had partnered up with a jackleg carpenter named Punch Vermillion and built a little fishing camp (maybe the world’s first timeshare) on the riverbank at Bradford, near Augusta, fifteen miles or so from Brooksville, and my folks and I and the other partners and their families spent great chunks of our summers there during most of the 1940s. It was my favorite place under heaven: a broad river bottom, a sandy riverbank overhung with great, grieving willow trees, a serene river flowing before them like a benediction.