Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A City Slicker Goes Frog Gigging

My friend, Rita, lived in the city, if the small town nearest to where we live could be classified as a city. It has, present day, only ten traffic lights, and that is if a dog hasn’t relieved himself on the pole and knocked the power out to that particular light. Anyway, this gal had never gotten her hands or feet dirty, much less enjoyed any of the pastimes that were the norm for a country girl like me. I invited her for an overnight visit, hoping to introduce her to the joys of country life. Unfortunately chaos came with her!

Rita, the epitome of lady hood and gentility, rode the school bus home with me. Once there, I introduced her to farm chores, the like of which were my everyday routine and responsibility. They were enough, to her city bred sensibilities, to make her want to run back to town as fast as her legs could carry her. Working in our family’s layer house, surrounded by thousands of clucking and pecking chickens and roosters, having to gather hundreds of eggs, all fresh from those same chickens, was an fascinating journey for me, watching her master the art of dodging chicken droppings (to keep her city-bred shoes clean, of course). Then came scooping grain for the horses and filling the water troughs, all the while evading the horses who wanted attention and were determined to get it, no matter what. These tasks were as alien to her as dodging the city traffic was to me. Like being stranded on another planet with no way home.

When Daddy came home from work, we set to washing his truck, most probably with the hope of some sort of reward for our industriousness. The truck was a Ford, red and white, with massive bugs splattered all over the windshield and the paint thick with road grime and farm dirt. We got our reward later that evening, just not one she appreciated or expected. Much to her dismay and my family’s entertainment.

Along about dusk, my Daddy invited us to take a ride with him, with orders to wear old clothes and shoes, prepared to get dirty and muddy. We were going frog gigging! Now me, country bumpkin that I was and having been on such a jaunt before, knew what to expect. Rita had no idea what she had let herself in for. But she was soon to find out.


Rita’s face, when we piled into the cab of the truck, was alight with eagerness and excitement. Windows rolled down, the warm summer air of early night blowing in and stirring the air, we were on an adventure. Things went fine until Daddy turned off onto a muddy and rutted farm road, the trail winding across the a grassy meadow and disappearing into the shadowed darkness of the woods on the other side. Night was falling fast, the lengths of the silhouettes ever growing over the field as the sun became a memory. The opening in the trees loomed ahead of the truck, it’s headlights piercing the darkness and gloom of the trees and Rita was beginning to shift nervously in the seat. There it was, our objective, a small pond, filled with shadowed, murky water, still and black as glass in the hot summer night. Once the engine was shut off, the sounds of the woods were all around us, thunderous in the quiet and spooky darkness. As We got out of the truck, Rita nearly knocked me down trying to remain close to me, afraid of this new and terrifying experience.

The art of frog gigging is a curious one, requiring peculiar apparatus and a certain type of person to get pleasure from it, I guess.. To begin, one has to have a flashlight, of course, to scope out the prey. Now, Daddy being a man of enterprise, had a contraption of the type once worn on the head of Doctors, with a twist. Instead of the standard reflecting disc sported by a physician, Daddy’s headgear of choice was a flashlight, small and round, that sat in the center of his forehead, attached to an elastic strap that encircled his head like a headband. This piece of frog gigging sophistication was complete with a power cord that attached it to a battery he carried on his belt and made scoping out the victims of our nighttime trek easier to catch a glimpse of, while at the same time freeing his hands. The only other piece of paraphernalia needed for frog gigging is a gig, an extremely long round handle (much like an over grown hoe handle), equipped with a three prong tool on the end of it. The handle, and it’s length can be explained simply - to reach the frogs that had been spotted by light of the handy-dandy flashlight, it required a tool that allowed the means to span the distance between the hunter and the hunted, before they had the chance to hop into the water (thus escaping capture). And the gig, or three pronged tool, was the business end of the tackle. Once spotted, a frog was simply poked with the gill and ergo, became a meal! Now to find the frogs….

As we walked along the sides of the pond, the loud croaking of numerous bull frogs shattered the peaceful wooded serenity. Rita, being the nervous sort, was tripping over every clump of grass and mound of dirt she encountered along the way, often slipping and sliding as she encountered a spot of mud near the dark, stagnant water. She stumbled along behind us, Daddy and his trusty light leading the way through the gloomy darkness, mumbling under her breath about never leaving the safety of the city again. And carrying the tote sack Daddy had given her with no clue as to it’s use on this idiotic, in her opinion, expedition.

Here we are, silent and ever alert in the darkness, the echoes of bullfrog calls ringing in our ears and occasionally the splash of the water when we ventured too close and startled one into a flying leap into the water. With Daddy admonishing us to be quiet, we struggled to keep up, knowing if we got out of range of the light we were doomed. Suddenly Daddy stopped walking and held up his hand, a signal known everywhere that meant not to move or breathe, his arm darting out suddenly several feet in front of him as he speared the first victim of the night. As he slowly brought his arm back, we edged closer. There, twitching and jerking on the end of the gig was a huge bullfrog. Rita stepped back, much too quickly for balance, and landed flat on her bottom there on the edge of the pond. Daddy told her to get up and bring him the sack, and as she did so, he calmly un-forked the still living frog from the gig and dropped it into the sack. And handed it back to her, with strict orders to carry it and to hold on tight, no matter what! She almost died as we calmly walked off and left her standing there, bag full of frog dangling from her outstretched arm and her mouth hanging open. She quickly followed as she realized we were moving on without her, scared of being left alone there in the pitch blackness of the night.

Daddy gigged nearly a dozen frogs after that, a bag full of squirming and bleeding (ugh!) amphibians. We took turns carrying that bag, heavy with water and the weight of the wounded, then headed back to the safety of the truck. Arriving at the side, my Daddy calmly took the bag of frogs and bashed it against the top railing along the side of the truck. Our just washed truck!! I am not really sure if the purpose was to knock them unconscious or to finish them off, but either way, their fate was sealed. It was a silent ride back to the house, I guess Rita was in shock at the violence she had been witness to that night.

When we got home, the tote sack was brought into the kitchen, dripping water and who know what else onto the floor. Daddy hoisted the sack onto the counter and began to dump the night’s trophies into the sink, trash, algae and what have you following along. He proceeded to clean them, cutting off the legs (the only part of the frog worth eating) and placing them into a bowl of cold water. Rita was watching, aghast at the spectacle before her, most likely alarmed. Thinking back, I have to wonder if she knew what she had gotten into, coming home with me……

Cooking frog legs can be every bit as adventurous as collecting them. For frog legs, once put on the heat of the stove, well ….. move. They twitch and writhe as if they are still alive, and will likely leap out of the pan if the lid covering it is raised too high.
I remember Mom just breaking the seal of the covering over the skillet, letting Rita peep into the depths and her jumping back as if the frog legs were likely to attack. She refused to eat any of this southern delicacy, as did I. Me because I don’t care for them and her, well your guess is as good as mine.

Never again would she go on any excursion with me, at least not without an itinerary up front. A city slicker in every sense of the word. Initiating city friends to country amusements was an entertaining pastime for me and for my family. We never failed to get a laugh at the expressions of dismay on their faces at some of the things we took as everyday life.

5 comments:

From Grits to Gringa said...

Donna... this is so funny! I just kept wondering if I'd be more like you or like Rita if this happened to me. I grew up in the country part of my area but I've never gone Frog Gigging or eaten frog legs. My father used to take me and my friends "snipe hunting." I fell for this only a few times but my friends always took the bait. Life is grand and memories are grander. I love it that you embrace your past and our southerness!

Junebugg said...

No Snakes? Dad always seemed to run up a wad of cotton mouths when I went with him!! Ain't it funny that Rita wound up getting hitched to a redneck like Cowboy (Danny).

FRANCES said...

she'd have droppings if she read this.of course what would be new about that.I'm only mad I never got to go. I think your stories are getting better as you go.

Donna said...

Yeah, she would. But, I preserved her innocence.....................did't use a last name or nothing! She can't sue me for that can she?

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna, I am very interested in using this story for an animated student film. I too am from a country childhood and now i live in LA, where no one has even seen a bug. Please email me at kbushue@calarts.edu and we'll chat. Thanks!