GORDY TELFER: The Woods

Gordon Telfer is a 4th generation (near) native to Big Rapids. He is the husband of a most wonderful wife and father of two fantastic sons. He is a graduate of Big Rapids High School and has worked many jobs in Big Rapids, retiring after thirty years from Ferris State University College of Pharmacy.

“The Woods” was the area now occupied by Hemlock Park. Years ago, Hemlock Street became River Street after crossing North Warren Avenue. River Street was a gravel road which ran parallel with the river and connected with Maple Street at the east end of the Maple Street bridge. There were two or three houses and perhaps a barn — though I don’t really recall one — and there was a garage below Jake Swineharts house on North Stewart Avenue.

On occasion, someone kept a horse or two in the area so you had to watch your step whether you were barefoot or shod.

Most of the area was wooded with many large Aspen, Cottonwood and Willow trees. The air was filled with their airborne seeds in the springtime with great downy clumps of them collecting in areas protected from the wind. There were berry bushes, black (black caps we called them) and red raspberries as well as a good crop of elderberries. You could strip off a whole handful of elderberries with one swipe of your hand. Of course your hands, mouth and chin ended up being stained with their purple-black juice. Mom was not too happy with that, and it took some real scrubbing to get the stain off. Plus there was a high price to pay if you got any on your clothes. But when the berries were ripe, a kid just has to do what a kid has to do.

Early spring runoff would flood some of the lower areas, especially along the mouth of the creek. It also triggered the spring spawning runs of suckers. The mouth of Mitchell Creek was a real hot spot for sucker fishing. Most of the fishermen would arrive on the north side of the creek with their fishing poles and pails to sit on and gunny sacks to carry the fish home in. To this day, I don’t know why they fished from that side, because the best place to fish and hook the fish was from the south side. Of course, on this side of the creek you needed to wear hip boots or chest waders to fish from here and there was no place to sit down. So, perhaps comfort was the reason. But on the south side you could out fish them at least two to one, and I was there to catch fish.

My reason for being interested in sucker fishing was twofold. One was a gentleman on the corner of South Michigan Avenue and Locust Street who would pay me 10 cents each for any suckers in the spring, and the same amount for black suckers the rest of the summer. When I had a dozen plus or minus on my stringer I would toss a few across the creek to the less fortunate. It remains a mystery to this day as to why they were called “black suckers” when technically they were “white suckers.” At any rate, the meat of the black (white) suckers remained firmer in the summer while the meat of the stone rollers and others became a little mushy. The second reason was that trout season opened at the end of April and catching suckers honed my fishing skills a little. I would get a little rusty between the end of trout season in September and the opener in April.

Later in the summer, a short distance downstream from the mouth of the creek also was a good bet for trout and walleye. The fish would hold in the cooler water coming out of the creek.

One summer, a few of us rich kids were down toward the Maple Street bridge. A few of the poor kids began yelling at us from the east bank of the river. I am sure that these were some real mean poor kids from the First and Second Avenue area. (Real ruffians like Ron and his cousin Donal. No last names here as they became some of my best friends later in life. Plus the fact they might want to get even for calling them poor kids.) This led to an exchange of very uncomplimentary remarks from both sides and they began to throw rocks toward our position. Most of these missiles fell short of our bank, but some went zipping through the tree branches.

We found ourselves at three distinct disadvantages. One was that there was scarcely a stone on our side which was small enough to throw at them. And two, even if we found one of the proper size, it was impossible to throw it more than half way across the river. Add to that the height of the bank on their side and it was absolutely futile. Even our trusty BB guns would only reach about half way to the other bank.

This was a good early life lesson all for us to learn from, “If you’re going to do battle with someone, it would be a wise decision to control the high ground.”

— Gordy

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