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"Fun Money"
by Vernon L. Townsend

Donald & Vernon

It was mid-summer of 1959, my younger brother, Don, and I had many money-making ventures such as cutting grass and picking blackberries. Fishing for catfish became one of the most lucrative of these, and the funds generated from this activity were designated "fun money".

The summers of South Carolina promised two things. Foremost, the sun hung unmercifully directly overhead, and, contrary to preconceived notions, the mid-day heat came not at noon but as early as eight o'clock. We would get up early, even before the morning had lost the coolness of the previous night, but, by the time we had gathered up our bait, fishing pole, and our lines and nets, by the time we had walked several miles on hot, sizzling asphalt, the heat of the day was upon us already and it was barely eight o'clock. Another typical Charleston summer day.

The walk to the pier took us past the home of our neighbor who was an attractive young woman in her early twenties. To us she was a woman of the world with all the womanly attributes--like good-looking tits, a nice ass, and shapely legs. Her husband was in the navy and often away aboard ship, so she frequently came over to our house to spend the evening playing cards with us. Sometimes we would play Monopoly into the wee hours of the morning.

On one of these long evenings, our neighbor looked at me and asked, "Do you know how you can tell when a guy has been masturbating?"

I admitted my ignorance in this matter, so she informed me, "You can always tell because they have zits."

"Fun Money", page 2

Donald at Middleton Plantation, S.C.

Being somewhat afflicted by this common teenage malady, Don and I were rather surprised by this statement. Later, we discussed why anyone would say something like that in front of people who obviously displayed some problem with acne. We wondered who she had in mind, specifically, since neither of us suffered as severly as another neighbor who had zits from ear to ear.

We separately and together contemplated our neighbor's bizarre conclusion and reached our own conclusion that she had confronted us with this statement being motivated by a desire for a sexual encounter. Thus, we walked to the fishing pier, pretending we were in the deserts of Death Valley playing games with the shimmering illusions of the mirages created for us in the intensifying heat of the morning.

The fishing pier offered no relief from the stifling heat, as the humidity rising from the surface of the water enveloped us, making us feel as though we were in a sauna. The wood of the pier was saturated with creosote as a preservative and the sun's heat caused the black, tarry substance to seep out of the wood and stick to our shoes. This also made it necessary to carry newspaper to sit on to protect our pants as we sat with our legs dangling over the side of the pier as we fished.

The pier sat low over the water, relatively close to shore with tall marsh reeds showing in the background. We soon discovered a fishing spot that turned out to be a gold mine--a mother lode of catfish. Our catch went into a bucket filled with water from a faucet nearby to keep it fresh from the heat of the day. It was best to cover the pail to shade the fish from the effects of the sun but not to cover them too tightly creating a steaming kettle.

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On many occasions, the oppressive heat of the day made the water look so inviting that we were tempted to go swimming. However, we knew that the water presented a deceptively pristin image, because just under the surface of the sparkling water lay a broken sewer main. This was why this spot was so rich in catfish. The fish abounded there because of the ever abundant supply of food for them. Lord, how they loved that spot. They really grew big. They must have just planted themselves in one spot and sucked up everything that came by, because they were gigantic monster of catfish.

The first time we fished there, it was for the pure pleasure of fishing, just to see how many fish could be caught. Starting for home with our full bucket of fish weighing more heavily with each step, we wondered what should be done with our catch. Knowing where they had been caught, we had no desire to eat them. Luck with us, our path took us past an old fish market housed in a single story, long, narrow clapboard building weathered silver by time and the elements. It had a high false front and an overhang like an awning held up by chains and sheltering the doorway over the sidewalk. A faded hand-painted sign high on the false front indicated that this was Nat's Fish Market. A rusty screen door was held in place by a single nail bent over. This rickety door inhibited the progress of the flies very little.

Inside the market was a long narrow aisle between homemade counters heaped with ice and displaying the catch of the day. There were elevated walkways behind the counters to accommodate the owner's service to his customers. Bare rough planks, worn smooth by the passing of many shuffling feet, creaked underfoot. The interior was lighted by a couple of low-wattage bulbs hanging from the ceiling on cords and topped with round metal shades. Nat's Fish Market was a cool, dark, cave of a place with a ripe fishy smell--fresh mingled with not so fresh--that indicated a long history in the fish business.

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As we passed the market that day, Nate himself stepped out from the shadows to examine the catfish we had caught. He asked us if we would like to sell them. Since we knew that no one in our family would eat them, we thought it would be a great joke to sell them to him. He offered us fifteen cents a pound and said he would take everything in the future we could catch. Thus began our fishing business venture. We quickly replaced our water pail with a big galvanized washtub. On many occasions, a washtub filled with fish would earn us from fourteen to eighteen dollars for our morning's efforts.

Quite often when we caught our limit, the limit being what two boys could carry between them, we started out for the fish market with a lot of water in the tub. As we progressed, Don began tipping water out of the tub. A race developed as we tried to balance the effects of the heat on the fish with the benefits of the decreasing weight of the water--tipping water out, but still keeping the fish alive. Later, the load was shifted to a wagon.

The fish money went into a jar that Don and I kept in our bedroom on our dresser. It was communal property that we decided was to be used for fun. A lot of work had gone into catching the fish, and the joke was on the fish market for buying sewer fish. So, we made a pact to use the money for fun things like going on a date to the movies, bowling, or going once a week to a club to dance. Most of these activities didn't cost much. The movies cost a dime, bowling only a quarter, and when we went dancing, the only things to be purchased were a ticket to get in and our drinks. So, it was obvious something strange was going on when one day we noticed our jar had taken a quantum leap toward depletion.

"Fun Money", page 5

The back bedroom windows

After realizing we were missing small amounts of money that neither of us was taking, we started to keep an accurate account of how much was in the jar and who took what. Still we came out short sometimes by five, seven or ten dollars. It seemed like this deficit in the "Fun Money" jar always coincided with a visit from our neighbor. One evening when she was there, I discovered her set of house keys left on our dresser near the money jar. The top was off the jar. I got up enough courage that night to go to her house to confront her with this evidence.

When I arrived at the cottage, she was just standing there..waiting.As I showed her the keys, she begin to cry and shake uncontrollably. I opened her door and she then invited me into the living room. As we were talking and sitting on the couch, she confessed that she had been taking various amounts of our money. She needed money for buying food and rent. Her husband, it seemed, was always in debt for his gambling losses. She tearfully asked if I were going to turn her over to the police as she had taken what amounted to a considerable sum of money over a period of time. I assured her I had no intention of revealing her secrets to anyone.

As I put my hands on her knee, I felt a scar and asked her about it. Seems that her husband also abused her. She asked me if I would like to see them and processed to take lift up her top to show me. I had never seen scars like that before on a woman's breast. While touching them, I explained to her about the pact Don and I had made committing this money to the pursuit of fun throughout the summer. There were no serious intentions in our saving the "Fun Money". It was there to be used in a carefree way. I told her about the early morning fishing trips, about catching tons of catfish grown enormous in size by feeding off sewage, and about our private joke in selling them to Nat's Market.

The sweet fragrance of honeysuckle filled the air as we walked, laughing together, toward her bedroom. The love learned has alway been one of depth, caring and consideration for the other person.

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This is dedicated to the memories of a wonderful brother who died much too soon and yet, not a day earlier than he would have wanted. July 25, 1984.