By Norris Chambers

          One of the first critters I became aware of as I started noticing things was a crawfish, or crawdad. At about the same time I began to notice mosquitoes, bees, snakes, horse flies, frogs and red ants. But the crawfish was a character Clifton and I could react with in several pleasurable ways. We could capture them from a ditch or pond by tying a little piece of bacon on the end of a string and using it as a fishing line. We could attempt to harness them to small, improvised farm implements. We could build little wire fences and pretend that they were horses or cows in a pasture. As we grew older we discovered that we could remove their tails and fry them on any metal surface placed over a small fire. A big, fluffy tail could even be roasted on the end of a willow stick held over a crackling campfire.

            A crawfish was not completely without some means of defense. Two big front feet (if you could call them feet) stuck out like feelers on a bug and had pinchers on the end that could grab a mischievous youngster and make a wound that looked bloody and dangerous. We learned early in our crawfish capers that we could take a length of string and by carefully roping the pincher pull the string and tie it shut. The weapon was then useless as a wound maker. The other legs with their smaller pinchers were not strong enough to be dangerous.

            Crawfish usually just wander around in the mud in a pool. The muddy bottom is probably rich in insects and edible vegetable material and a crawfish has to eat to grow big and strong, just like little kids do! They appear to be so fond of the mud that in some areas they are called “mud bugs.” Some big crawfish dig a hole at the pool’s edge. Sometimes you can see him in his space with his big claws open and extended forward. We always guessed that in this position he was waiting for larger game. A crawfish in this position is anxious to grab the bacon bait on a string and hang on while you pull him out and maneuver him onto a nice dry spot. Even after being removed from the water he is slow to give up his morsel.

            There is a proper way to hold a crawfish. Let your hand approach him from the rear. Apparently his eyesight is not good in that direction. With your thumb and forefinger gently grasp his body and lift him off the ground. You now hold a nice looking creature with big, waving claws in front and an angry look on his face! You can proceed to move him toward a smaller kid and really scare him. You can also get the attention of a lazy cat by bringing the gyrating creature close to old Tom’s whiskers.

            In the country crawfish make excellent subjects to take to school and use in all sorts of fun pranks. I remember one time a fun-seeking student brought a very large crawfish to school with a nice little ribbon and bow attached to its head and managed to conceal it in an often used drawer of the teacher’s desk. When she opened the drawer and saw the big fellow with his fancy head dress and his waving pinchers she screamed like she had been stung by a bumble bee. The scream scared many of the students and I think some of them must have screamed too. Clifton and I were surprised, but we didn’t scream. After the commotion quieted down and the students found out what had happened an older boy carefully picked up the star of the show and carried him outside. We heard that he placed him in the water bucket that sat on a small table in the hall.

            Another time someone brought a few smaller crawfish and hid them in the flower box by the window. This was a Friday and apparently no one noticed them. Monday was a holiday and the school was closed. When we came back Tuesday there was a terrible odor in the room. The crawfish in the flower box had died and were decomposing. Those who have had experience with crawfish know that nothing smells worse than one that has died. I don’t remember who cleaned the window box. But I do remember that we missed a penmanship class while the operation was in progress.

            Fishermen in the community used crawfish as bait for trotlines or poles. Sometimes just the tails were used and sometimes the smaller ones were placed on the hooks while alive and wiggling. There was no better bait for catfish than crawfish. When a large quantity of bait was needed for an extended fishing trip the bait was gathered by dragging a seine a few times through a dirt tank with a large crawdad population.

                 When released on dry land a crawfish crawls backwards. I guess he wants to see where he had been more than where he is going. This mode of movement has created a term called “craw fishing” which means backing out or changing of your mind about something. If you couldn’t read and your mother promised to read an Old Timer’s Tale for you, and then decided not to do it, she would be “craw fishing”!