All alone on Hatchett

Published 10:46 pm Monday, March 22, 2010

I never met anyone quite as dedicated to his profession and to his family as my friend Ben Hughes.

I met Ben when I first became a water safety officer. I was trying hard to get my message out to the public, and it seemed like the schools were my main target.Even though my responsibility did not include Autauga County, Ben called me and asked me to speak to his class at Marbury High School. Never one to let boundaries become definite, I agreed and will always have a memory of a man who prepared his students for life.

You see, Ben taught FFA, Ag, Shop, etc., and to be perfectly honest, it was highly unlikely that most of these students would go on to college, but they were being taught subjects of value that they could use anywhere they might go.

Ben loved the out-of-doors. In fact, near the end of the school year, he took his class on weekend camp-outs and invited game wardens and myself to talk to them about boating, hunting, fishing and nature.

I went fishing with Ben several times, and he taught me a lot about Hatchett Creek. We fished a lot for the little red-eyed bass. Sometimes, when things were slow, we would take river minnows on a short cane pole and short line, and paddle up under the overhanging bushes, stick the blunt into the banks and leave them overnight.

I was out of touch with Ben for a few years, but then I was invited to a fish fry up on Hatchett. I was surprised that we were at my friend Ben’s campsite. He lived on the creek bank! Everyone was kidding him and laughing that he had no newspaper, radio—didn’t want to hear about the problems of the outside world and especially politics! He seemed happier than all of us put together. But I began to hurt for him.

Most all canoeists would stop by and say hello, if they had been lucky enough to meet him or have an invite to dock their canoes there.

I took Lavada by one time. She loved it. He even talked her into tasting some of his concoctions with peaches and apples floating around in them.He did all his cooking outside. His charming wife brought him a few bare essentials every Tuesday. Folks, he even had a wild hog as a “pet!”

This sounds like something someone might do for an overnight, but choosing it for a permanent way of life?What triggers a very intelligent, successful retired schoolteacher to close himself out? Or is he closing himself in? If I had to guess, he was so disappointed in the turn that our world had taken that he preferred to live in his own privacy.

He’s gone now, but he left a legacy of love and respect. A good example: About the time I retired, a group of his ex-students came together and built him a comfortable but rustic cottage.I think they had a problem getting him to sleep inside for a long time! Rest in peace, my friend.