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MikeA57

Al's Bait Shop

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                     --- Al's Bait Shop ---

 

To a 5 year old boy it was a place of wonder. I didn't get to go there often, but when my Dad or Uncle Charlie would say, "Let's ride out to 

 

Uncle Dave's!", I knew exactly what that meant and I'd get so excited I couldn't wait to get there. It was usually on a Thursday evening that we 

 

would go there. Every Thursday night was Uncle Charlie's night to come out and visit us. And Uncle Dave wasn't my uncle, and I don't even 

 

think he was closely related, but he was related somehow. Heck, even Uncle Charlie wasn't really my uncle, he was my Dad's cousin, but they 

 

were like brothers and when I was born he became another uncle to me. All I can say is, everyone should have an Uncle Charlie like mine...

 

The trip there always seemed to take so long. In reality I guess it took about half an hour and after so many visits there, I began to know the 

 

route we'd take and I'd look forward to each landmark I'd memorized. On those Thursday nights when we would go, once we would arrive I 

 

would be the first out the door of that  '57 Chevy Bel-Air or Uncle Charlie's 1961 Impala station wagon and I'd run for the door of Al's Bait 

 

Shop. I can remember it just getting dark by the time we got there, or if it was summer it would be just getting dark as we would leave to go 

 

home.

 

The shop itself was old even back in 1963 when this story was set. It was a small building, with a concrete block front that stair stepped up to a 

 

flat point at the top. A window on each side of the door with neon beer signs flashing and, if I remember correctly, 2 old gas pumps out front. 

 

An ice machine stood guard out front and there were cane poles hung along the front of the building. It wasn't decrepit yet, but it was on it's 

 

way. But that's just the way things were back then. They'd get old and people would do just what was needed to keep the rain and the cold out. 

 

When I'd open that door the bell on the string tied to the inside handle would ring announcing the arrival of anyone who came in. Inside, there 

 

was a coziness to the room that was just as comfortable to me as my home. The place had 6 or 8 small tables with chairs and there was 

 

always at least a few older men there smoking and drinking beer. It was a beer joint as much as it was a bait shop. The smoke hung thick in the 

 

room hovering above my head and making it seem darker than it would have if there hadn't been anyone smoking in there. The smell was of 

 

old cigarette smoke and old beer, Falstaff, Oertel's and Falls City were the brands flashing in neon not only in the windows but also around the 

 

perimeter of the room. To me, the smell was dirty yet magical and even today if I catch a whiff of that combination of smoke and beer it 

 

transports me back to Al's Bait Shop.

 

Along both side walls and straight ahead of me and lining the walls up near the ceiling were items such as minnow buckets, nets with floats 

 

sewn in, collapsable fish baskets, and all sorts of relics. Of course, there were the required trophies hung there as well, largemouth and 

 

smallmouth bass, crappie, bream, and even a large snapping turtle that I would stand and stare at in awe. If only I could catch one of any of 

 

those that big!! 

 

Uncle Dave always had a big smile and laughed as I came busting through the door. He'd stick his head through the curtains in the back into 

 

the little apartment where  he and Aunt Alma lived and announce our arrival to her. She'd come bustling out to greet us and made small talk with 

 

Dad and Uncle Charlie. I had my mind on one thing though. It was the reason I loved to come to Al's Bait Shop. 

 

In the center of the counter straight ahead of me was the most wonderul piece of technological hardware that had ever been invented, at least 

 

to a 5 year old boy who lived to fish. It was a glass display case that had about 15 rows of bins that would rotate around, spinning silently as 

 

light from the flourescent fixture shone down onto the items it contained. In each bin was a shiny new artificial lure. It seemed like hundreds of 

 

them! Heddon Lucky 13's, Crazy Crawlers, Tiny Torpedos, River Runts, Hula Poppers, Smithwick Devil's Horse, Rapala Minnows, Creek 

 

Chubs, Lazy Ikes, lures of all kinds and colors. I'd run right up to that display case and just stare, watching the trays slowly spin around 

 

displaying their wares. This was a sight that just boggled the mind of this young boy. The only other place I knew that had almost as many lures 

 

was in Uncle Charlie's big hip roofed Kennedy tackle box. When I would visit him at the house he had grown up in and where he still lived with 

 

his mother (he never married), I would spend most of my time up in his room poring through his tackle box and memorizing the name of every 

 

lure in it.

 

I can remember there were 2 or three times when I would be there at Uncle Dave's that he would tell me, "Pick one out, boy!" I got so excited 

 

it took me forever to make up my mind which one I wanted. It didn't happen often but that's one special memory that has stuck with me all 

 

these years. After I'd made my selection, Aunt Alma would tell me to get a "coke" out of the cooler. These were the old long coolers with 3 or 

 

4 divided bins with chilled drinks stored in them. Back then in Kentucky, a "coke" was a universal term for any soda drink. I could barely slide 

 

open the doors to the cooler and there was no way I could reach down into the depths of the cooler to make my choice. So Dad or Uncle 

 

Charlie would reach in and grab it for me when I made my up my mind. And my choice was always either a Nehi Grape or Orange, two of my 

 

favorites back then along with a frosty mug of A&W Root Beer which was also along Dixie Highway. 

 

At some point, we were always invited back into the little apartment where Uncle Dave and Aunt Alma lived. It too, was small but comfortable. 

 

She'd always have a bowl of candy set out on the coffee table or end table by the couch and would encourage me to eat as much as I wanted. 

 

I'd stay a few minutes but the call of the bait shop lured me back out to where I could pore over the wares stocked there. He seemed to have 

 

everything a fisherman or hunter could want. Hooks, sinkers, fishing line, rods, reels, coolers, trolling motors, tackle boxes, camping gear, 

 

ammo, a few guns, anything and everything I would need to strike out on my own and make it in the wilds.

 

We'd usually stay an hour or so, with Dad, Uncle Charlie and Uncle Dave talking and laughing. At some point though it would be time to go. If it 

 

was one of those magical nights where I was lucky enough to have been given a new lure, I would always thank Uncle Dave and Aunt Alma 

 

with a big "Thank You!" and a hug. Then we would get in the car and head back home. I was usually asleep before we'd gone far at all. Dad 

 

would carry me into the house with me still tightly clutching that magical lure.

 

I remember one time when I was a little older and I had recently had a birthday. I had saved some of my birthday money just to go to Al's Bait 

 

Shop and buy me a lure. I was so proud to walk in that small store and march up to the counter, and study the selection before me. As I 

 

handed over my $2 for that green and black spotted Hula Popper Uncle Dave exclaimed, "Oh, he's growing up! He's got his own money now!"

 

As the years have passed I've thought less and less about Al's Bait Shop but when I do it always brings a smile to my face and sometimes I'm 

 

even able to travel back and conjure up those feelings of awe and wonder of visiting Uncle Dave, Aunt Alma and Al's Bait Shop on Dixie 

 

Highway in Louisville, KY.

 

 

 

Epilogue

As an adult I went back out to where the old bait shop stood and, remarkebly, it's still a bait shop and even more remarkebly it's still called Al's!

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Wonderful story.

 

Thanks for sharing.

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Wonderful story.

 

Thanks for sharing.

Agreed!

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What a great read.  I won't lie, brought a tear to my eye, great story! Thank you for sharing. 

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I thought you might be from the same area as I am for a minute. We have an Al's Bait Shop that sounds very similar to what you were describing. Good story. 

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Great story. I have similar feelings about an old archery shop I used to visit with my father some 40 years ago. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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