Summer is the time for lazy fishing in the hot sun. That calls for a fish story. And what follows is no tall tale, although I think the moral of the story is quite significant. For I am now willing to say, without exaggeration, that catfish perfectly symbolize our great national problem.
When I was young, summer vacations amounted to two things: fishing and visiting our people down in the Arkansas Delta. Killing two birds with one stone, it helped that the Natural State is a great place to fish—not so much for the trophy kind, but for the eating kind, which in my opinion, and according to my raising, was always the point.
One summer in Augusta, on the banks of the White River down in Woodruff County, Uncle Jess (b. 1916) said that before we could set out our trotlines we’d need to stop by Old Lady So-and-So’s house. She had our bait. Now, forget your chicken liver and stink bait. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve run a trotline loaded up with “catalfie worms.” They are the larvae of the sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae), and they grow exclusively on the Southern Catalpa tree (Catalpa bignonioides), otherwise known as Indian bean trees because of their long, thin bean pods.
Catalfie worms look like a fishing lure you’d buy at a Bass Pro Shop. These black caterpillars are flanked with yellow-green,...