Page 3


SPECIAL ORDER THE MOLLY TRIBUTE ISSUE The Observer published and mailed to our subscribers a special issue on February 9 that includes tributes from Molly’s friends and colleagues, and photos from her life. Many readers have requested additional copies, and Molly fans have asked how they can obtain one. through our web site: or MOLLY WINS Most of the time, however, the tank was a semi-arid bog. First the water would soak away until only a few isolated pools remained, and then that would soon be gone too. A blistery pudding skin would develop. As the days grew hotter, the tank emitted a fetid smell. Dragonflies flourished, feeding on something nobody else could see. The surface of the tank would bake slowly until it took on the hue of the surrounding pasture, cracking into segmented tiles whose edges would curl up, allowing the sun to begin baking the next layer below. Still, no matter how dry it got or how long it stayed that way, if you poked a stick through the crust, no more than a half inch down you’d find the ground cool and wet and firm. In that eternal miasma, below their mud towers crumbling like abandoned cities, the crawdads lived on, waiting for the next thunderstorm. After the rains we trooped down there, we threemy mother, my sister and Idown that rocky pasture, carrying twine, bacon, a chicken bone, baloney, whatever we had in the house a crawdad might like, and, optimistically, a 5-gallon bucket. Crawdad fishing. It’s delicate work, requiring great patience, tedious for anyone but the very young and the very lonely. You tie the bait to a string and toss it into the water, not more than a couple feet off the bank. You wait for the slow tug, the crawdad backing away with your line. You match its tug with one of slightly greater force, pulling the line in slowly, an inch at a time, between forefinger and thumb tip. The crawdad might let go, but not if you do it slowly and evenly enough. The trick is knowing when to jerk the line. If the crawdad sees you, it will let go immediately. So you keep an eye out for the place in the muddy water you think it will emerge, and when you see the first whiskery antenna break the surface, you snap the line like cracking a whip. If it is done well, the crawdad can’t let go, and is launched out o f the water and onto the bank behind you. Pick it up just behind the pinchers, using thumb and forefinger; the pinchers stretch up like the arms of robbed stagecoach passengers. Later in the afternoon the bottom of the bucket was barely covered, but we picked up our gear and traipsed back up the slope to the house, my mother telling me to hold my little sister’s hand and watch for snakes, which I did with great vigilance. On the cement pad beside the cistern, she picked one crawdad at a time from the bucket and shook loose those clinging to it; they dropped like refugees from the runners of the last helicopter out. She snapped the tail from the living body, squeezed the cold meat from the shell, extracted the fecal tube that lay along the spinal ridge, and dropped the little white nugget of meat into a bowl. The rest of the crawdad went into the yard, or the cistern, or back into the bucket to be cannibalized. The handful of tail meat in the bowl, the point of all this, she fried in cornmeal and bacon grease in a skillet on the stove. We waited for Daddy to come home. That little family I was a part of didn’t stay together long. A few weeks into second grade, we moved back to Young County, the home I didn’t remember, where I would spend the rest of my childhood and adolescence, and which I would leave for good at 18. So it turns out that the time in Scotland, on that muddy lake, had been destined to be temporary. How was I supposed to understand that when I was 4, 5, 6 years old? Within a year or so after the move, my father had pretty much stopped coming home, but still I would stand outside until after dark, on the dirt road in front of another rented farmhouse, waiting to see the headlights I hoped were his. As it turns out, my wife is from Scotland, but I mean the country this time. We live in Houston. So we’re both a long way from home. Our children are not. It’s something I remember when I come upon my son, not yet 5, wearing glasses he’s worn almost half his life, crouching beside the flower bed staring at something bug, leaf, wormthat only he can see because only he is seeing it for the first time. I remember, with intermittent bursts of clarity and haze, the look on my young mother’s face as she watched my sister and me pulling in our crawdad lines, and on my son’s behalf I feel the old familiar regret: Whatever he’s looking at with such intensity and concentration, however completely he has memorized it, he’ll never see it again. Or when I hear my little girl, just turned 2, singing to her dolls as she puts them to sleep, in one long row, while the refracted light of the backyard pool through the patio door unsettles the shadows around her on the carpet. I don’t see that light because it’s a light that exists only in childhood; I am seeing only the diluted memory of it. The infinite splendor and mystery of the world for them starts here, I remind myself, as does all the rest. In those moments I marvel at their innocence and beauty, even as I worry how fragile all this is, how easy it would be to screw it up, and how I still wouldn’t put it past myself. Wade Williams, a former James A. Michener Fellow, lives in Houston. MAY 18, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31