Monday, December 20, 2021

Christmas Socks

Grandma and Grandpa McNew's family, including me, in the '50s

       I am going to give some money to needy families to buy presents for kids, not because I have to, but because I want to. It won’t be much because I don’t have a lot to give. It will be a greater reward for me than it will be for those few underprivileged kids. Thank goodness there aren’t so many poor kids today as there was when I was a boy! 

     If I was only rich, poor kids all over the Ozarks would get dolls and guns and holsters to play with!  But the average kids today get so much for Christmas that they really don't have the time to give much of it any attention except those little boxes they work with their thumbs. It's nothing like it was when I was a boy, when I use to have to walk 3 miles to school in the snow because the battery was dead on the old school bus and the driver had drunk too much eggnog the night before!!!

     But back then there was common sense and simplicity left in this world. For instance, I just lived for a new gun and holster and a cowboy hat at Christmas when I was five or six. Nowadays, if a little kid has a toy gun, somebody is scared to death he'll point it at someone and go "bang-bang", like I and thousands of other little boys born during the days of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers did.       

       Here we are in an age when no kid can have a toy gun and look what's happening. Maybe somebody is overlooking something. It might not be toy guns that created the monsters. And there will be more of them every year, because there are fewer manger scenes allowed in schools today and every kid has a black box and access to games where you kill people.


    My cousins and I built forts and took our toy guns out and played cowboys and outlaws all the time and none of us ever held up a convenience store or a bank when we grew up. The closest thing we did to criminalism was when me and the McNew boys went into the Brown Hill country school before the evening church services and drank all the chocolate milk in the new refrigerator!


By the time we were 11 or 12, we all carried Barlowe pocketknives we had got for Christmas, to school and back home each day, and yes, we all cut our fingers a time or two, but nothing that left a scar. If Grandpa gave us a Christmas present, it was maybe something he made. When I was the age of my grandson, I was tickled to get two good Christmas presents under the tree, and everything I got was used hard in my effort to catch bad guys and herd cattle like they did on the Saturday afternoon movies at the theatre in town.

     There wasn't much quantity to life for a kid in the Ozarks in the ‘50's and 60’s, but brother, did we have some quality. On Christmas day at Grandpa's house, all of us boy cousins (14 total) got together and had one heck of a time without toys because our folks wouldn't let us bring anything.  They had paid too much money for those gun-and -holster sets and cowboy hats to let one of those rowdy cousins get their hands on them. 

    We didn't need toys anyway when we got together on Christmas, we'd go down to the pond and throw dried persimmons at each other, then walnuts, then rocks. Finally we'd have the doggonedest dinner you ever saw in that little 4-room farm house and my Dad and Uncles would sit around and talk about somebody's pick-up motor or the best coon dog they remembered or something of that sort. By late afternoon, when Aunt Margie and Aunt Erma and Aunt Ruth and Aunt Mildred and Mom and Grandma all got the kitchen in order, we'd all come in and get our presents from beneath the tree from Grandma, which almost always was a pair of socks.  Then we'd watch our uncles open their presents, almost always a pair of socks or some brown cloth gloves.  

       Of course back in those days, there were lots of sock colors and designs so it wasn't like everything was the same.  There was some excitement in comparing whose socks looked the most different.  Then Grandma and Grandpa would open their presents and they'd get all sorts of good things. Lord knows there was so much they needed.  I remember thinking that the people who did the best at Christmas were grandparents, because their kids all had jobs and could buy good presents for them, and they had lots of kids.


       I am thinking there sure enough is a heaven somewhere and an old farmhouse where Christmas dinners are held with my uncles and aunt’s and grandparents who died years ago, and those cousins who have joined them in a grand reunion and a celebration of the birthday of Jesus.  Wouldn’t it be something if Christ himself could come on occasion to talk about his boyhood?  


      I can’t envision heaven. I don’t even try.  But that scenario would be wonderful, without the technology that is destroying this world now.  I miss my cousins.  It wouldn’t be so bad to have a big dinner together without the presence of or a thought to any darned computers. I know there can’t be violence in heaven but it would be nice to have a big pond with plenty of persimmons just for the good memories.  And maybe  some beautifully colored socks in packages beneath a decorated Ozark cedar tree.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas Cards for the Outdoor Family


       I found some really nice Christmas cards this past week at the local dollar store, although now, due to the way things are improving in our country it is now called the dollar-and-a-half-store.  They don’t have a sporting goods counter.  If they did, I’d never have to shop anywhere else.  

       I wanted some cards with ducks or deer on them, but those I found have wild birds on them, and a ‘Merry Christmas’ message inside instead of the ‘happy holidays’ message which is meant to not offend anyone. I wish I could send all you grizzled old veteran  outdoorsmen and other readers one of these cards, but I can’t afford the postage because so much of my December budget goes into shotgun shells and dog food. The cost of those shells has sky-rocketed but fortunately they haven’t hurt me much economically because I can’t find any. I hunted ducks last week with a half box of 12-gauge Sears Roebuck shells I found in my sock drawer, which  I had bought in the 70’s and had lost until I ran out of clean socks.

       Actually, the cards are only about ten cents apiece, which is a real bargain.  I am using them to send a notice to people who are getting one of my books or a magazine subscription as a Christmas gift from someone else.  There’ll be one of those Christmas cards inside their gift with a handwritten note telling them how lucky they are to have a relative or friend sending them a magazine subscription or one of my books as a Christmas gift, and reminding them they ought to send something real nice back if they have time.  

       Mrs. Wiggins, the executive secretary here at the Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing company’s main office, (and only office) really blasted me for getting those Christmas cards at a discount dollar store, saying that it will make people think we are cheap.   But I pointed out to her that no one getting those cards will know they are cheap, since the readers of my newspaper column are the kind of people who never would go to an economy type of store anyway.  People who read my books and magazines go to up-town places like Macy’s and J.C. Penney and Sears-Roebuck, where they would never see those economy Christmas cards.  After all they aren’t sold just anywhere.

And anyhow, no card with cardinals and redheaded woodpeckers is cheap looking! But even though I can’t send you one of these cards unless you buy one of my books, I want you to know that I hope you are about to have a very good, restful, peaceful and happy Christmas, with a wild goose casserole or a venison roast or maybe a half dozen quail cooked in that new crock-pot you got for your wife.  And I hope you can remember what Christmas originally was about. 

In the interest of keeping Christmas holy and peaceful and not wearing myself completely out, I will do my shopping at the Dollar General Store and another place like it called Fred’s Dollar-and-a-half Store, on the day before Christmas when so many items are placed on sale and the crowds seem to thin down a little and there are less chances of me acting like an atheist while caught in some gosh-awful traffic jam.  Most of the things I have done that I am most ashamed of have taken place in crowded stores or traffic jams.  I think God is proudest of me when I am relaxed and calm, out in the woods somewhere where there’s no one but me.  And I really do not think, when God created mankind, that he completely understood what we could become while Christmas shopping or dealing with Christmas traffic.  Certainly he never envisioned the morning after Thanksgiving at the local shopping mall, when men and women turn into wild-eyed creatures not at all resembling someone from a church choir.

Mrs. Wiggins, who will not get a Christmas present from me anyway because of the large Christmas bonus she always gets, has often suggested that by waiting until the day before Christmas, I might find the supply of goods limited.  I have pointed out to her that no store, wanting to make a  small fortune from shoppers, in keeping with the Christmas spirit, will let themselves run out of things.  What they do is, they sort of panic the day before Christmas because they have so much left over and they start slashing prices.  And that is how I got Gloria Jean that ten-dollar pair of earrings a few years back for only two dollars and fifty cents, and a sweater that said, “Merry Christmas” across the front of it for only five dollars! 

       But getting back to those really nice Christmas cards, you can get one sent to you if you call me and arrange to have me send one of my books to someone you don’t want to spend a lot of money on.  Perhaps I would change the wording on them from “Have a Merry Christmas” to something like,  “This is the season in which all men have been given hope… by the birth of a baby named Jesus, sent by God to show us all a better way!”

 When I was a small kid and the world was a slower, simpler place, that was what Christmas meant to most everyone in the Ozarks.

       Call me at 417 777 5227. Even if you don’t want a book. We can talk about global warming or what has happened to all the turkeys. You can email me at I still have a website too… And another thing, I am in bad need of new writers for my outdoor and Ozark magazines in 2022.




Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Beagles and Cottontails



    For most of two hours, the little beagle had struck trail after trail, and hotly pursued a half dozen cottontails in circles that wound around broom sedge, cedar thickets and patches of briar and sumac. 

    I found a brush pile with a log in the top of it and carefully situated myself atop the mass of branches, many of which sported long, sharp locust thorns.  I faced west and the little beagle pushed the cottontail toward me from the north. But the rabbit veered left and I caught a glimpse of him coming down a trail to the east of my brush pile, about to pass behind me.

   There was no way to turn, I could do little more than swing my 20 gauge with my right arm, lead him a little and squeeze off an awkward one-hand shot.  To my surprise, the cottontail tumbled, intercepted by a wide pattern at 25 yards.  There wasn't much recoil but I nearly lost my balance and pitched into the locust thorns.  My friend, who was watching, was laughing at my gyrations atop the brush pile, but he couldn't believe it when I retrieved the cottontail.

       It seems almost certain that when God was creating the animals of the earth, he made beagles right after he made cottontails.   Without the cottontail, what would a beagle have to live for? 

    Actually beagles developed for hunting purposes a few hundred years.  The ancestors of the modern beagle were brought to America between 1860 and 1870 but they were larger dogs, probably used more to trail deer than rabbits. In fact, even today there are two sizes of beagles recognized, the 13-inch dog, and the 15-inch dog. Taller beagles are still used in much of the south and southeast to trail deer. The shorter ones are popular in the Midwest where running deer with dogs is illegal but chasing rabbits is not.

    The shorter and slower the beagle, the better the results as a rabbit hound. The reason for that is ... a cottontail prefers not to leave his home area and he runs in a circle when pursued. Eventually, he'll come back around to the thicket or briar patch where he was originally scented and put to flight.  If he is hotly pursued, he runs harder and the circle is much larger and wider.  If he feels pushed, in danger of being caught, he'll look for hollow logs or holes in the ground. 

    Trailed slowly and methodically, the rabbit will hop along at a medium gait, and travel a much smaller circle. The advantages of hunting with a good beagle are obvious; you'll see more rabbits and you'll have a second chance at many, because the beagle continues the chase and the cottontail will meander and circle again over a new trail which will likely bring him near the waiting hunter again.

     If you hunt rabbits without a beagle, you will jump some ahead of you and never see them, simply because they hear you coming. With snow on the ground you can track cottontails but even then you'll see far fewer than you'll find with a beagle.  The little hound can track them with or without snow.  Hunters, who jump-shoot cottontails get hasty, close shots at rapidly fleeing rabbits and the back legs too often catch too much shot, ruining the hindquarters as far as table value. Rabbits taken by waiting hunters as they are trailed by beagles can be head shot. Some hunters take them with a .22 rifle when they hunt with dogs.

    But if you ask any beagle enthusiast, he'll tell you that finding more rabbits and getting better shots is not the main reason he hunts with a beagle.  It’s the music of the chase, and until you've heard a brace of beagles baying on the trail of cottontail, you haven't really heard music. It is a song of elation... of pure, free excitement, from a little hound that never stops to think that he is engaged in a chase of futility. He'll never catch a cottontail but he is rewarded by the hot scent of his quarry and enthralled with the job of untangling a twisting trail before it becomes cold. 

    The best thing about a beagle is...he doesn't need much training. He either has the nose and the ambition to trail or he doesn't. It seems that most of them figure out their purpose in life when they see their first rabbit.  He's the perfect hunting companion for someone who doesn't have the time or temperament to train a dog. And his own temperament is perfect for a family environment.   

    The beagle is gentle and calm at home, great with children.  But in the field he is in search of a trail to follow and that singleness of purpose makes him something to behold.  Still and all, to know a beagle you have to hear him and feel the excitement in his voice. You have to stand on a stump in a briar and broom sedge field and listen and watch and wait as the chase goes on.

   If it's too cold, with daytime temperatures under 20 degrees, rabbits will often hole up and move little. If the temperature gets above 30, but stays below 40, that's when hunting is best.  And it's good to have a little snow because cottontails are easier to see, moving through the cover against a white background.  But a beagle doesn’t have to see the rabbit.  His reward is inhaling the hot scent on the trail, and as he finds it, he sings that song of elation that men who hunt cottontails love to hear.  When there are two or three beagles together, it is a fascinating chorus, you want to hear again and again.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Gentlemanly Sort of Outdoorsman


Gloria Jean many long years ago

       Back about the end of October I spent a day and fishing with a lady.  I recommend that very thing for all you grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen, if you can find any ladies which will indeed go fishing with you.  Its kind of a nice change from your regular buddies.

Since the weather had been unseasonably warm for I suspected that the fishing would uncommonly good and I was right.  I took this lady I have known for some time on a fishing trip, up the river to some shoals I know about where the smallmouth and largemouth are congregating, gorging themselves in preparation for harder times which goes along with colder weather.  

       Knowing her as I do, I have never known this particular lady to use casting gear, which most bass fishermen in quest of lunkers are wont to do, because of her aversion to backlashes.  Instead, she likes to use a spin-casting outfit so I fixed her up a medium-light spinning rig with 6-pound line. I tied on a spinner bait worth about 3 dollars, and asked myself if I wanted this younger and far less experienced lady I was with to lose something worth that much to a rock on the bottom or a submerged log in swift water.  It seemed wise to tie on a more economical suspending Rogue, since I have several, and can acquire more at a local thrifty junk shop for fifty cents each.

       The suspending Rogue is a lure that doesn’t float, though it is made much like the floating Rapalas and Rebels shaped something like a long minnow.  It sinks down very slowly and stays up off the bottom, therefore making it more difficult to hang up.  I told her to fish it with jerks and twitches and try not to bother me with questions while I was landing any fish.  And shortly afterward I heard something splashing around behind me and I’ll be darned if she didn’t have a nice smallmouth on that doggone Rogue.  Who’d a thunk it?

       Sometimes you take someone who you figure isn’t going to distract you much from your fishing, and they start catching fish right and left, and that is pretty much what happened for awhile.  I figured eventually I would start hauling them in on my spinner bait, and about that time my lovely feminine guest sees the remains of an old rock building up on the hillside above us.  Suddenly she wants to see it a whole lot worse than she wants to catch fish.

       Women are like that.  They are always getting something romantic in their head about how some old barn or broken down cabin akin to a little home in the woods where someone once grew magnolias and roses and had a husband who looked like Clark Gable.  They get that from sitting around reading romance novels.

       Well, I guess it was the romantic side of me that caused me to agree to tie the boat to a sycamore root and help her up that steep bank trying to keep her from falling in the river, just so she could see that old shack and carry on about finding some pretty rock.  The whole thing amounted to me getting mud in my boat and skinning my elbow and losing a good thirty minutes of prime fishing time.  I displayed a gentlemanly nature and refused to complain.

       An hour later, after watching her little spinning rod bent double on another 16 or 17-inch bass, I took her lure and tied it on my line, and found another one in the tackle box for her to use.  

       That particular lady has always been awfully lucky.  On her honeymoon, she caught her limit of rainbow trout and mine too, before I landed one fish. Lucky for her I was there to bait her hook. But even luck can’t explain how that evening last month I expertly cast my lure around a log three or four times and caught nothing and she cast hers at it and didn’t even get close and a big largemouth inhaled it.  He fought all around the boat, jumping out of the water twice, still keeping the hooks in his mouth.  It was twenty inches long… I think maybe the biggest largemouth she ever caught. How she ever landed that thing I will never know.

       There are some good things about taking a younger woman fishing. But if she is anything like Gloria Jean, don’t let her back the trailer in the water.  Just have her go off somewhere and look for flowers while you get that done.

       I just wanted to let all you ladies who referred to me as a chauvinist just because I once said that female bass were easy to tell from the males because they are fatter when they get older and easier to fool, that my daughters think I am a fine example of what men ought to be.  Gloria Jean probably would prefer me to be a little more like Clark Gable, which I ain’t.  I guess I am a little more like John Wayne.


My website is