Hunting Nightcrawlers

It appears that we’re in for a few rainy cooler days as we start this downhill run to the end of June. That’s fine by me as I’ve not been terribly appreciative of this leap from Spring to swelter with very few sublimely perfect 70 degree sunshiny days in between.

No, Iike the experience of being surrounded by a good, non-threatening life-giving rain that lasts a while; unlike those lightning and thunder filled downpours driven by hurricane force winds that come and go with frightening speed causing hail damage, flooded basements, power outages and interviews on the news with long faced people standing in their front yards next to a hundred year old cottonwood tree that their great granddad planted and now lies in a giant broken heap on the ground.

I’ve been known to stand out in a warm summer rain and just look skyward allowing the soft droplets splat against my face. (I know, “not enough sense to come in our of the rain’ and all that but, as a kid, I used to love strolling the sidewalks on mild rainy evenings in my little town pretending to be a god with the power to grant worms, who had ventured from their comfortable confines underground to bask on the dangerous but still warm concrete, life or death.  I was a good god, for the most part, granting every squiggly creature at my feet a second chance to redeem themselves unless, of course, there were just too many on the cement to dodge and their souls wound up at the mercy of my shoe soles.

My dad bought the property for our house in Volga from Joe Dahm..who ran the local bait and tackle shop.  Eventually, we kids discovered that for years, Joe had been seeding that lot in town with night crawlers that hadn’t been sold at the store.

It wasn’t until the folks started digging up the back yard for mom’s garden that they discovered loads of the big worms at every turn of the fork.

I seem to remember dad saying something like “It looks like this is where Joe Dahm disposed of his unsold night crawler inventory.”

By the time our house was built and for a few years following, nobody thought much about the huge night crawler population on our land…but then kids in the neighborhood heard that the new owner of the bait shop was paying 25 cents a dozen for them especially when the walleye bite was on at lake’s Campbell, Goldsmith, Oakwood, Poinsett and Sinai.

Well, it wasn’t long before young entrepreneurs in my town began prowling the neighborhoods after dark with their flashlights trying to capture worms which, in search of fresh air I suppose, had ventured far enough out of their holes to fall victim to the lightning fast reflexes of youth and wind up in a Butter Nut Coffee can where..when enough had been gathered.. would be redeemed for cold hard cash at Jones’ bait shop.night crawlers

I never thought much about worms; either angleworms or night crawlers..other than I found them disgusting. Not as disgusting as tape worms which reportedly would lodge in a little kid’s guts and grow to great lengths before being expelled in the biffy after the administration of prescribed treatment from the doc. I don’t know anybody who had a tapeworm..but then all my friends and family preferred their meat prepared as God intended: well done.

I did know lots of kids..mostly farm kids…who came to class with a telltale ring on their head..etched there like a crop circle by what we assumed was..because of the name..a worm.

Turns out ringworm isn’t a worm at all but a highly contagious fungus often picked up from animals or other infected humans.

I am instinctively fearful of snakes and have always put worms in that category of creatures I’d rather not touch…but it was the lure of great wealth that helped me overcome such phobias as a kid when I learned that Jones Bait Shop was paying big money for night crawlers and I was living atop a gold mine.

Still, I would never have ventured out and after them had it not been for a kid by the name of Lanny Lee. I really don’t know too much about Lanny except he was a little older than me and was living with his grandpa or uncle (I’m not sure of the connection) Oscar Lee in Volga who was a gifted artist but earned his living by painting houses.

Lanny was memorable for his small stature..his dark complexation and a speech impediment in which his L’s and R’s became W’s…much like Bawey Kwipke on “Big Bang Theory.”  Unfortunately,  Oscar’s grandson was cursed to have both his first and last name begin with L. which made it too easy for torment and teasing by classmates; Wanny Wee…wapped all up in toiwet papew. I’m ashamed to admit is was among those cruel clods  But, surprisingly,  Wanny..I mean Lanny..never really let on that he was bothered by it.

He was too preoccupied by cashing in on the crawler crop and, though Oscar, he knew where to look; our yard!

Many nights..way after bedtime..I’d hear a tap, tap tap on the screen of our bedroom window and hear this; “ awake?  It’s Wanny. Wanna hunt night craw-wers?”   And, find my flashlight grab a coffee can and quietly sneak out the back door where I’d join him in our great quest.

It was, Lanny who taught me how to put a red handkerchief over the flashlight lens so as not to spook the worms which would venture most of the way out of their holes especially on a rainy night. Then you had to make sure snatch them with lightning speed and hang on tight. Not too tight, though because once in our grasp, night crawlers had an incredible ability to try slither back into their holes with inexplicable power and without proper finesse and pumping action, they’d break in two.

Some nights it was a real bonanza and we’d manage to extract four dozen or more worms which had to be kept alive long enough to collect our two dollars from the bait shop. It finally dawned on me after sneaking back into the house and three back breaking hours had passed, that we weren’t going to get rich at this.

Soon after, my dad bought a power lawn mower and I began cutting the grass for several elderly folks in our neighborhood..earning fifty cents a yard…even more if Mrs. Berg was in a generous mood..and I managed to get each one done in a half hour.

Oh, Lanny would still come around on occasion tap, tap tapping on our window in the middle of the night making his wequest…but I’d had enough.

I was reminded of those nights on a recent fishing trip in which night crawlers were what the Walleye were hungry for and I had to reach into that Styrofoam bucket filled with cool dirt and a few reluctant worms hiding out at the bottom.

It still gags me a little to handle those slimy buggers and I continue to marvel at how stwong they are in their wesistance.

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  1. Once again Doug…. thanks for the memories!! Your brain works overtime but I enjoy everything you write about!!

  2. Enjoy all your stories and memories, Doug ! My sisters and I used to catch nightcrawlers in our yard when growing up in Colman. Sold them to fisherman in the area for either 25 or 50 cents a doz. can’t remember for sure how much ! Anyway kept us in spending money so whenever it rained we’d grab our flashlights and head out to replenish our supply. Those were the Days !!!

  3. You could catch a bucket full here today. They’re big here in Iowa!!! They look like baby snakes and make me very jittery. Not a fan….. I did enjoy your blog though as always! 🙂

  4. Thanks for the memories. Dad and I also went crawler hunting in our yard on Medary Avenue. I don’t know why I enjoyed it so much as touching the worms was kind of creepy.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed this story! Lanny is actually a cousin of mine, although we lost track of him 50+ years ago. I remember he loved to fish. I tried locating him but had no luck. Do you have any idea where he may be?

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