Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old White Men

                                   Old white men…God bless the few that remain!

            Two days after Christmas I drove my Dad’s aging pick-up out south of town and turned down a gravel back road, hoping I would catch the old man home. His given name was Ezekial, a veteran of World War I.  But it seemed as if half of my old friends from back in the pool hall were called by something other than their real names.  Everyone called him Satch, a name he gained in the army. 

            It is unusual I suppose for a seventeen-year-old kid to have mostly friends that were three or four times his age.  It’s the way I grew up though, in that pool hall, when I was twelve or thirteen years old.  Satch was one of them, and as long as I can remember he had let Dad drive down through his gate and across his farm to the banks of the Piney to put in our boat and fish and hunt.

            For six months or so I had been away to School of the Ozarks College, and it wouldn’t have taken much to get me to quit and come home. I missed the river.  But that day it was sunny and warming, and the wind was calm, so I decided I would go hunting down in the bottoms.  Satch was home and he came limping out of his house to greet me with a big smile.  He wanted to know how I liked going to college and I told him that it was too much work and too much pressure for a free spirit like me.  I told him I might never catch a bass or catfish or goggle-eye, ever again, ‘cause all they had down there was trout.  He said he knew about trout, he’d caught them before.

            “Never did catch a big un though,” he said.  “If punkinseeds just growed a few inches longer and was skinnier, I reckon they’d pretty much be the same fish except fer the eatin’.  I’d druther eat a hog-molly than a trout.”

            “I thought about goin’ down to the river to see if there’s any ducks to sneak up on,” I told my old friend.  “Or I might shoot a squirrel if I see one.”

            “Shore enough,” he said, “and if you would clean one and skin it, I’d shore be tickled to have a young fox-squirrel… but don’t cut off his head like you kids is prone to do.”

            “Did you have a good Christmas dinner, Satch?” I asked.

            “Oh my yes,” he grinned, “Et so much I couldn’t hardly walk home!  Went to Nellie Elkins place on Indian Creek, down the road apiece.  Her kids fixed it all up.  They’s all home from the city an’ that ol’ lady was as happy an’ proud as a white duck.”

            Then I asked him if his daughter had come back from California and his face fell a little.  “No-sir,” he said, “but she sent me a bunch of presents and such.  An’ your pop came by and give me the best lookin’ pipe you ever have seen.  What a surprise that was.” He reached in his over-all pocket just below his chin and pulled it out for me to see.

            Dad never had much money to spend, but he never forgot several of the old guys we knew who had done special favors for our family or Grandpa and Grandma, at Christmas time.

            “My daughter sent me a blanket, I reckon you’d call it.” He declared, “In the evenin’ I build up a good fire in the stove an’ lay down on the couch an’ cover up with it whilst I watch television a mite.  It says Californy on it an’ has pretty pitchers painted on it… wanna see it?”

            Satch didn’t wait for my answer, he just headed for the door asking as he went if I would come in for coffee.  Well I had hunting to do, but I went in for coffee, and watched him retrieve a brightly colored beach towel and hold it up high enough that it stretched from his boots to the bill of his cap.  The coffee was old and luke-warm and awful tasting.  The beach towel was beginning to get a little wrinkled.

            “That’s no blanket, Satch,” I told him, wishing I could poor that coffee through a crack in the floor, “It’s what them folks around the ocean call a beach towel.  But I reckon it can be used as a blanket too.”

            Satch looked puzzled. “I don’t much need a towel this big,” he said, “little as I’ve gotten as I get older.  ‘Sides that I won’t be takin’ another bath ‘til near about the middle of March.

            “Well it is a mighty fine and pretty Christmas gift, Satch,” I said, wanting to see him happy with something sent by his daughter, “and don’t forget that when you do take a bath you can use it as a towel too.”

            He looked puzzled for a minute, then lifted it high above his head again to gaze at it, big and brightly colored. “You know something boy,” he said to me, “ I’d druther use it fer a blanket, ‘cause when I take a bath, I don’t hardly never get that wet!”

            I brought Satch two fox squirrels that evening just after Christmas, many years ago, with the heads left on so he could crack open the skull and eat the brains.  I never saw him again after that memorable day. But his grave is up not far from Grandma and Grandpa’s final resting place at the old cemetery close to Simmons, where the Piney still flows a little ways to the west. In a short time, before I even finished college, most of those old-timers that were my childhood friends were gone.  But I thought about them, just the other day when some moron posted something on that facebook thingamajig, saying that this latest election shows the effects of ‘fearful old white men’.  That made my blood boil.  I answered her… 
            “I wonder what old white men you are talking about, the old white men who defeated Hitler, the ones who were at Pearl Harbor, the ones who fought the Koreans and Chinese.  Are you thinking of those who flew aircraft from flat-decked ships, those who drove the tanks, those who took the Pacific islands yard by yard? Maybe you are talking about old men who gave the best of their youth to a struggle in Viet Nam. Fearful old white men!!! What is fearful about them? And as for you and your friends, disgruntled liberals who have done so little with your lives, I hope you and your kind aren’t allowed in the cemeteries where Satch and old men like him lie.  You would dishonor sacred ground.  

            To all you ‘fearful old white men’ and all others who still keep our nation great with old-fashioned convictions and beliefs, God bless you.  And Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Christmas Duck

The most unlucky mallard ever hatched, he finally gave up the ghost and floated to the bank to become a Christmas dinner for the worst duck-hunter I ever met.

       In last week’s column Ol’ Joe found a couple of the town’s citizens willing to pay him a dollar and fifty cents each for wild mallards, unplucked and not even de-entralized.  His landlady was gone, and the marshy pond behind his little shack was full of mallards. All I had to do was help blast ‘em and split the money. If things went well, I figured on having enough to buy my grandpa a pair of socks for Christmas, some pipe tobacco for Dad and another pint of perfume for Mom.  That money meant a lot to me.

       My dad had thrown cold water on the whole plan by telling me that it was against Federal law to shoot any duck without a three dollar duck stamp and Joe didn’t have one. I don’t think Ol’ Joe had anything that cost three dollars. And the law said you couldn’t sell ducks.

       And that is when the whole thing became a clandestine operation, right up there with selling your own moonshine, like Uncle Roy and Uncle Frank did. My sixteen-gauge Iver-Johnson had lots of experience whacking ducks that set still or swum slow. Dad and I hunted ducks on the Piney every weekend and we got lots of them. Dad and I would be going out to hunt the river again that weekend, so Joe and I had to get our ducks on a Friday morning.

       School was out for the holidays, so I tied my shotgun to my handle bars and headed for Joe’s little place about three and a half miles south of town, using the gravel back roads to get there.  I did that often in the fall, when I hunted squirrels, so folks around town were use to seeing me peddling out of town with my shotgun and never gave it a second thought.

       I had four shells, acquired by Dad at Mr. Duff’s Western Auto Store across from our pool hall.  That’s the main reason Joe liked to go hunting with me.  He never had any shells, and I had to always loan him one or two.  So that day we huddled below the dam of the pond with two shells apiece, faced with one big problem. While indeed there were a million big ol’ greenhead mallards on that pond, they all were gathered on the shallow side, a good sixty yards from the dam where we waited in ambush.

       You cannot sneak up on ducks which rest at the open end of a pond, out of range of any spot you can select for hiding.  We could wait and hope, or I could go around and spook them over Joe and he could blast away at the whole lot, or vice versa, with him sneakin’ and me doing the shooting.  Then he had an idea.  We discussed it.  I could certainly throw a baseball-sized rock that far, and if it landed amongst the ducks it would scare them our way.

       It was a heck of a throw.  I watched the rock arc way up above tree level and lost sight of it as it came down.  With hammers cocked, Ol’ Joe and I heard the roar of wings as my rock landed amongst them, and they came over us in a great cloud of waterfowl.  A shot pattern spreads as it reaches 25 or 30 yards but those ducks weren’t fifteen feet over us, and at that distance it is indeed possible to get a tightly packed pattern of shot into a twelve-inch gap between ducks.  That’s what happened, twice. When the ducks had left and we remained, nary a feather floated above that pond. I sat there for a moment, distressed, depressed, discouraged and duckless.

       Ol’ Joe climbed to the bank above us and began to whoop and holler.  “By jiggers and by jory,” he hollered, “we got one!”
       And indeed, sixty yards away on the shallow side of the pond, a greenhead mallard swam feebly in a small circle, with both eyes crossed and his tongue sticking out of his beak on one side.  He must have been the most unlucky duck ever hatched.  The way we figured it, that rock I threw came down right on his head.

       Joe was gonna take it in town and sell it to Mr. McKnight over to the drug store, but he never could get his pick-up started, he claimed. Truthfully, I think he ate the darn duck.  I never saw a skinnier fellow than old Joe so I don’t guess a person could hardly begrudge him a good meal.

       There wasn’t much Christmas money for me to spend that year.  But thankfully, a pint of perfume and a pouch of pipe tobacco didn’t cost much back then.  And really, Grandpa had a whole bunch of socks.

       That weekend as we stopped on a Piney River gravel bar for lunch with several mallards and a gadwall in the boat, I moaned about my lack of Christmas-present buying inability.  Sitting on a log, Dad puffed on his pipe and sipped hot coffee.  Then he said that the idea of Christmas presents came from the three wise men bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus. 

       He said that there were no gifts we could give Jesus now worth more than the gift of ourselves; our talents, our time and our faith.  He stopped for a moment and then seeing my confusion about giving gifts to Jesus he told me about a Bible verse that said if a man gives to the least of those with us, then he gives that and more to the Lord Himself.  Dad told me that the best gift I could give Mom and my sisters was just to wash dishes on occasion. Boy did that idea hurt! Even today I’d a heck of a lot rather buy perfume than wash dishes.

       I surely must have made Jesus happy when I made it possible for Ol’ Joe to have baked duck for Christmas. When I told Dad about all that to ease my conscience, he said maybe it would be best to take Ol’ Joe a box of shotgun shells for Christmas, and maybe another duck or two, even if it might be a violation of the magnatory bird act.  For a kid who had only been 13 for a couple of months, I reckon I learned more that Christmas than any other I ever remember.  I haven’t forgotten.

       I have known Santa Claus ever since he started ordering my books, and while we were hunting caribou near the north pole a few weeks back, he scolded me for not making our Panther Creek Youth Retreat a place for some needy kids or families at Christmas time. 

       He said, “Every year I pass right over your place on Panther Creek.  There it is with a big beautiful cedar Christmas tree and all that room with beds and a huge dining room and kitchen and no kids in it.  If you could make it available for some kids and their folks or counselors to come there and enjoy Christmas, I could just stop by and leave their toys and gifts there.”

        “All you have to do is be there to read the Christmas story out of the Bible,” he said, “and help with the meals and the cookies and the candy” Santa said.  “Other folks can bring the kids that need to be there!”

       Knowing he is right, I want to let everyone know that on Christmas Eve, or Christmas night, even for several nights afterward, I have a great place for those youngsters who don’t have a great place to stay and enjoy themselves and wake up to find Christmas gifts between a big cedar tree. The gifts will be there, and there are a bunch of nice soft beds and a kitchen full of breakfast fixings and Christmas dinner. And it is all free.  My phone number is 417 777-5227, if you know kids who need such a place.    

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Too Many Eyes



  In the winter, hunting one turkey or maybe two, is ideal.  The more there are, the more eyes are available to see you.


          I really get a good fix on the number of wild turkeys in an area in December and January when it gets cold. You often see eight or nine old mature toms running and roosting together in the dead of winter, right up through March.  And several old hens may be seen together with young- of-the-year poults.  Along the river at times, in open bottoms, I have seen flocks of 60 or 70 turkeys.  When you see that, there well may be a mix of young turkeys, older hens and some long-bearded gobblers.  And you can be fairly confident that every turkey within a half-mile radius is right there in that bunch
            Some hunters have just about given up October turkey hunting because there are still so many small poults out there, and vegetation is still fairly heavy and flocks aren’t all together yet as they are now and for the rest of the winter.  And those poults hatched late in the summer that weighed seven or eight pounds in October have gotten much bigger by Christmas, especially with the amount of acorns we have had in the woods this year.

            That gathering of turkeys from now until early spring is due to an instinct to survive that comes down mostly to one thing.  I can call one or two turkeys close to me one heck of a lot easier than eight or ten.  There is a great deal of difference in two or four eyes and 50 to 60 eyes.  If you are a hunter or a bobcat or a coyote you learn that in a hurry.           

            It makes it really tough to sit amongst bare branches in a tree stand and hope to kill a turkey with an arrow.  If you’ve ever tried, you know what I am talking about.  A single turkey might get close enough, and might afford you a shot, but not a flock.  Turkeys spend a lot of time looking up, because it is fact that bobcats and great horned owls, their greatest predator threats, come from above.  I don’t know how many hunters have ever seen a bobcat flattened out on a big limb, but you can’t hardly see one, he blends in so well.  You can sure as heck see a bow-hunter in a tree stand much much easier.

            The answer is… hunting turkeys in the winter from the ground. With my bow, I have to get a twenty-yard shot to be confident.  Of course there was that time in December when it was about 20 degrees and the ground was frozen solid and I missed a young gobblers neck by only an inch or so.  He was about 20 yards away!  There was another one in the flock behind him, maybe forty yards distant.  The arrow glanced off the frozen ground and killed that one. I felt a little sorry for that turkey, knowing that he and I both had been hatched with similar luck!  Being a writer I told my hunting buddies about nailing that wild turkey forty yards away and left it at that.

            It is difficult to sit flat on the ground, where you need to be when calling in a flock of turkeys, and draw a bow and get off a shot without having some of those high-headed birds see you.  And if that one of a flock sees you, likely an older hen or gobbler, it emits that ‘put-put-put’ noise which in turkey language means… ‘danger-danger-danger’.  And you will find out that there never has been, and never will be, a curious wild turkey.

            But now things have changed.  You don’t have to lift and draw a bow anymore, you just use a crossbow, about four or five times more accurate for me, and therefore deadly at a greater distance. There is little movement… you aim it like a rifle and use a little scope that tells you right where that short arrow will hit when you squeeze the trigger.  I am absolutely sure I will kill a Christmas turkey with my crossbow this month, and I wouldn’t have bet a dime against a dollar I could get one with a regular bow. I love hunting with one, killed a nice buck three or four weeks back at forty yards with the first shot I ever took with one in the woods.  In a few weeks I am absolutely sure I will have a nice story about my experiences with that crossbow.  All I have to do is call in a turkey while I am well hidden on the ground, get him within forty yards and have him stand still!  That ought to be easy.

            I don’t know if you folks out there have read my book, “The Front Bench Regulars” but if you have you might remember Ol’ Joe Throgmorton from that chapter about hunting with him and his three-legged squirrel-dog back when I was thirteen.  I was tempted to include in that book that time when he and I became market-hunters, game violators of the worst kind.  But I didn’t, because of my fanatical fear of flagrantly flaunting forbidden Federal fall-flight statutes.  Now that the statute of limitations may protect me, I can tell you about the time, one long ago December, when Joe sold a wild mallard in the pool hall to the local pharmacist. 

            Dad and I sometimes would kill seven or eight mallards in one weekend while hunting the Piney and I got excited about the prospect of selling some of my ducks and creating some spending money.  That was when Dad told me that it was against Federal law to sell a wild duck due to something like the “magnatory bird law”.  It took me years to understand it.

            But Ol’ Joe didn’t know about that law, and didn’t care.  He was renting a little run down house that Mrs. Leadfort owned, and it had a pond behind it that was most generally full of ducks about Christmas time.  Mr. McKnight, the local pharmacist, knew two doctors who loved baked ducks and he told Joe that he’d buy 8 or 10 more if he could get ‘em.  Joe had a double-barreled shotgun, but it only had one hammer that worked.  I had my Iver-Johnson single shot, sixteen-gauge duck gun that I used on the Piney, and I could be counted on to seldom miss a duck at less than 40 yards if he wasn’t swimming real fast.

            Before Christmas that year, Mrs. Leadfort went to Arizona to visit her sister for the holidays.  That was important to Joe and me because she absolutely hated hunters.  If she thought either of us hunted a rabbit or duck on her land, she would have had us in jail for aggravated trespassing!

             With her gone for a while, and a standing offer of a dollar and fifty cents for mallards not even picked or de-entrailed, Joe and I collaborated once again.  He came into the pool hall on a Friday evening and said there were thousands and thousands of big fat green-headed mallards on Mrs. Leadfort’s big pond behind his cabin.  I could see the possibilities there… enough money for me to buy both my grandpa’s a pair of socks for Christmas.  I usually could come up with enough to buy Dad a pouchful of pipe tobacco and a half pint of perfume for Mom.  But there was never enough money left over to buy anybody else anything.

            There were two other possibilities… the chance of being shot by Mrs. Leadfort should she come home early, and the chance of being caught in violation of the magnatory bird law and going to a federal prison.  Thinking about being a cellmate of Ol’ Joe was a formidable thought.  But I have always been sort of a ne’er do well, a devil-may-care rebel, prone to outlaw ways, cursed with a longing for pirate-gold and ill-gotten gains.  That Friday night years and years ago I threw caution to the wind.

            I will have to tell you the rest of this exciting story next week in this column.  Don’t miss that thrilling conclusion of … “Mallards, Money and Meat Market Madness!”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Incident on a Summer River

-->The river in summer is a great place for families, but not for alcohol and drugs.


         It was mid-June, and the Pomme de Terre River, near where I live, was about normal.  I promised to help a family enjoy a float trip; a man and his wife with three kids between five and twelve years of age.  I loaned them two kayaks and my big 19-foot Grumman and told them they would have about six hours of floating, with some shoals too shallow for the canoe to float with a load. There would be some pulling through shallow water at times.

         When I left them just before noon, they were swimming and having a gravel-bar lunch.  Apparently they were in no hurry. Eight hours later I had been waiting for two hours at the take-out point and there was no sign of them, so I headed upriver in another canoe to find them.  I paddled upstream a mile or so, fished a little, and built a fire on a gravel bar, expecting them to show up any time.  At ten-thirty, a good two hours after dark, they still weren’t there, so I got worried.
         I went back to my pick-up and called the sheriff’s office.  Within thirty minutes, there were four deputies and a highway patrolman there to began a search. About eleven-thirty we heard them banging through a shoal upstream and soon they pulled in.

         All five were in the Grumman, with the empty kayaks trailing behind from ropes.
The kids were all wet and cold and their mother, crying and sobbing, seemed to be in the early stages of hypothermia. Those deputies brought blankets for the kids from patrol cars and one of them gave his coat to the woman.  They sat them in their cars with heaters running to help them get warm.  You could smell the alcohol on the two adults, and I found out later that during the afternoon the two of them had emptied a vodka bottle, and drank a cooler full of beer.

         As their kids swam and played, the two of them had a big hollering and yelling fight and who knows what happened.  It lasted for hours, until they began to sober up. I do not know why so many people get hooked on alcohol, or marijuana, but it happens.  The river, and the outdoors where God’s creation is so outstanding, is no place for it.  To me it seems sacrilegious to head down a wild river with a cooler full of beer.
         If alcohol or drugs is your master, stay home with it and watch sports on television, where you and others are not endangered by it. Keep it away from your kids.  Your weakness will surely become theirs and it may destroy their lives.

         The reason I am writing this is… those law enforcement people could have taken the adults in and made it rough on them, maybe causing child welfare people to step in. That night could have cost them their children, and the way the two of them were acting, they either didn’t care or didn’t know it.

         But the whole time, instead of yelling at the adults as I would have liked to do, those deputies were courteous and caring, and when they were sure the man and his wife were no longer inebriated, and the kids no longer miserable, they turned them over to me and I got them back to their hotel room.  I have no idea who those Polk county deputies were, but I would certainly vote for the sheriff who hired them, though I don’t know him either.
         Today, with so many people criticizing our law enforcement, it was great to see the example they set, and to see a sincere group of powerful men who really were concerned about doing the job right.  It is not the only time deputies have shown me they are something special when it comes to working with people, actually living up to that old adage, ‘to protect and to serve.’  I can tell you of a half dozen times I have seen it first hand.

         Maybe it is because it is an elected office that makes a sheriff department find those types of deputies, but if it is that, then we need to elect the small town police chiefs found across the Ozarks in small towns.  I have seen so much corruption and incompetence and dereliction of duty in those police forces, and have written about it before. 

         While I am at it, I want to tell the Missouri State Highway Patrol how great it was to hear a radio commercial at Thanksgiving, with one of their spokesmen who never mentioned speeding. He said something like,  “Our patrolmen are out there to help with any problem which develops on our highways during this time of heavy traffic. If you have difficulty of any kind, we have patrolmen close by, just call star-55 on your cell phone, and be careful on the highway throughout the holidays.”

         We all know what happens if we are observed driving recklessly or too fast. But this message belied a willingness to help motorists who were not doing anything wrong, an offer to be there for anyone, ready to help with anything… and that impressed the heck out of me.  It makes a difference in the way we all look at those patrolmen.

         Radio ads like that are worth a great deal. It brings to mind a radio ad of the opposite tact which a Missouri Conservation Agent ran on a Lebanon radio station concerning hunting and fishing laws in the Ozarks.  “Remember,” he said, with all the arrogance he could muster, “if we don’t say you can, YOU CAN’T!”
         Wiser people in the MDC’s headquarters didn’t allow the ad to run long after it was pointed out to them. To the men in law enforcement who treat people with respect, who have the soul and the heart to stand up for what is right as well as what is legal, I salute you. There are too many examples out there of people with police powers who have no problem being bullies, to the point where they themselves break the law and violate constitutional rights. Those people should never be given a badge!

         The weak and the innocent often have no way to defend themselves because they just do not have the money, nor the faith in a justice system that leaves them out.  And to some extent, rogue law enforcement personnel in small towns are exempt from punishment.

         I have also seen first hand, late in the night last summer, what fine people some of these enforcement folks can be. And I have seen it often, far more often that the abuses we all know about.  Deputies in my county and others throughout our state have made me wish I could be one of them.  Who has more ability to make life better for average, common people, than they?

         This might be a good time to let readers know that there is a small video camera which can be purchased at a reasonable price which sits behind a drivers shoulder, mounted to the roof of a car or pick-up, which shows and records your speed.  It also films any accident before you, and records the words you speak and words spoken to you by a policeman who stops you for any reason.  This little camera can produce a segment of film you can use in court, and it would make the greatest of Christmas gifts for anyone who drives often.  I suppose you can get different kinds of those on the Internet.

          We have been getting calls about my new book and other books readers have purchased for Christmas gifts.  We plan to take a whole day, December 15th, to sign and inscribe and mail them, so they should arrive well before Christmas.  Call Ms. Wiggins if you have any questions about your order.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net