I know it’s been a while since I lasted posted to this blog. It’s been a very busy beginning of fall for me with family commitments, work commitments, and I’ve spent any free time taking in the glorious fall weather with hikes around Bangor and some of the fantastic wilderness of Maine north of Brownville Junction. That said, it’s also because I have been experiencing a bit of creative block. For me, I have to “feel” it, to sit at the keyboard. This not feeling it comes and goes, so I find it a normal and natural part of the process as a writer. In any case, I know that compulsion to write will return — especially when I can't go out and play as often — I admit it — I don't play in the bitter cold much anymore.
So, we are moving into the hunting season here in Maine. Folks have been bird hunting, moose hunting, and now are preparing for the holiest of the hunting grail — deer hunting. With that in mind, I will post a story from my book, “Memories of Shucking Peas,” that illustrates preparing for an afternoon’s hunt — back in the day.
Hope you enjoy.
Growing up as part of a farming family meant that when we recreated, it usually was in a form that would also be somehow productive to the farming way of life. For example, if we kids wanted to go ice skating, the men would tag along to ice fish. So, we would build a bonfire on the shore for warmth and for cooking, shovel off an area to ice skate on, while the men would auger out holes in the ice and set the traps. This was great fun. We got to fish and ice skate, enjoy hotdogs and melted cheese on a piece of wonder bread, cooked over an open fire, and listen to stories and yarns from the elders. From the elders' perspective, this was a way to let us boys and girls have a little fun while at the same time garnering a little of ol’ Ma Nature's offerings for the dinner table, and for the freezer, while at the same time, they had fun. Even crusty ol’ farmers like to have fun, y’know.
At other times, we would go bass or trout fishing in the spring and summer for the same purpose.
We would go salt water fishing for mackerel, and at the same time go clamming. We would go fiddle-heading. We knew all the best spots to find wild blackberries, raspberries, and dandelion greens. We had fun but we also sustained our family’s food needs this way as much as what we raised and grew.
One of our biggest recreational activities was hunting. All the men and boys, and many of the women-folk, hunted. This meant we needed to spend time cleaning and oiling our guns, and we needed to target practice.
I should point out two things here.
My beloved grandmother, Mamie, despised two things in life more than anything else.
Guns she hated even more than foul smells, and blood she feared … especially the sight of her own.
Heh, yeah, a picture is starting to develop, ain't it?
So, it was common to spend some time target shooting. With rifles, meant for hunting of larger game, such as deer, we would load up the rifles and some paper targets and head to our gravel pit where we could set up a 100 yard range and dial those scopes in. It was considered sacrilegious to wound or miss a deer because the scope was not properly adjusted. One time my Dad bought a semi-automatic 30.06 off from some guy who was hard up for $100, and was proudly showing this gun off at the pit when we were target practicing. It was a great deal, $100 for a Remington .06 with a 3×9 Tasco scope was something to brag a little about. So, I ran down and set up a paper target on the side of the sand bank approximately 100 yards from where Dad’s pick up was sitting crossways on the access road at the edge of the gravel pit, in the backfield of the "other farm." I came back, and noticed that Pup was still sitting in the passenger side of the pick up. He said he wasn't shooting, so there was no need to get out. He was just fine sipping his Narraganset beer and watching the action. Dad takes off his coat and lays it across the hood of the truck, and standing on the driver's side of the truck he lays the rifle across the hood, on his jacket, and squints one eye as he peers through the scope. All went completely silent, sorta like when someone putts on the golf course. Then, a loud cracking KEEEE-Powwww split the silence.
Dad had pulled the trigger.
I was watching the sand bank closely, as it was my job to see the puff of dirt kick up on the sand bank to gauge how far off the scope was.
I didn't see a thing … nothing, and said so.
Dad growled, “You must have been daydreaming about girls … you mean to tell me you didn't see anything?”
“No sir, did you?”
“Nope, not in the scope, but you should have seen something on that sand bank.”
I shook my head and held up my hands, Pup took another swig of beer and chuckled.
Dad, looking quizzical, picked up the gun to look at the scope, and when he did, his jacket slid off the hood of the truck, and there, we both saw a hole punched through the hood. I looked it over and discerned that the bullet had gone through the hood of the truck, narrowly missing the passenger-side front tire and had buried itself in the sand on the side of the road.
This got Pup out of the truck.
“You boys let me know when you can hit that 150 foot tall and 300 foot wide sand bank with that gun. Till then, I think I’ll stand behind you.”
We did manage to get the ol’ girl dialed in without further incident, and Pup decided it was safe enough to resume his position inside the truck. To the day Dad finally sold that pick up, that bullet hole was ever present. He never fixed it. Probably as a reminder that one can never be too safe handling or shooting firearms.
On the other hand, we would target practice with our shotguns most anywhere, including the barnyard. Shotguns were used for hunting birds and other small game such as squirrel or rabbits, and the extermination of vermin, such as rats or anything suspected of rabies. My family feared rabies more than anything else. So, it was critical to the war effort against rabies to be adept with the trusty ol’ shotgun. We would randomly break them out and start shooting cans thrown in the air. Probably this happened when one of the men had a flash of rabies-fear and decided we all needed to have a crack at it, so to speak.
Every year in the late fall, three guys from New Jersey would come to Maine and stay with my grandparents to hunt birds and deer with Pup, Dad, and the Unc’s. Bill and Slim were about Pup’s age and had met him while hunting with another Mainer a few years back. They struck up such a great friendship that the two of them stayed with Mamie and Pup on their hunting trips thereafter. A few years later, George, Bill’s son in law, also started making the annual trek to Maine to spend two or three weeks with this farm family in Maine and to work and hunt with them. They loved it, and we loved them. They would always bring presents for the ladies and the kids, and they would privately ensure that Pup was “compensated” for his hospitality. Class acts.
One afternoon, Unc Stub and George decided they were going to take a ride up to the “mountain” to do a little bird hunting. It was the season for partridge, woodcock, and pheasant hunting. All three were fun to hunt. Walking through the old overgrown — long since inactive — apple orchards on the game preserve located on Frye Mountain, 10 miles west of our farm, one would always flush a few and it was great fun to try your skill at shooting a bird in flight, not to mention the delicious bounty it provided for the next morning's breakfast table.
So, in preparation of this day’s hunt, Stub and George decided a little target practice might be wise before heading out to the mountain. Pup was sitting on the cement steps of the shed attached to the house watching as first Stub would throw up a soup can or two and George would blast away at them. Then it was Stub's turn to shoot a few cans out of the air. The two of them had their backs to the house and were shooting in the air, towards the woods beyond the chicken house. About as safe as it gets. Even for the chickens.
Timing, in life, is, as they say, everything. Just as Stub threw an empty can of Campbell’s tomato soup, with the opened lid bent back and hanging, in the air. George pulled the trigger on the 12 gauge shotgun, just as Mamie opened the shed door to holler that lunch was ready … come and get it. George’s shot was true, he hit the can, severing the hanging lid, which went whistling through the air in an arc to come down and strike Mamie on the back of the hand, as she stood in the doorway. She looked down and saw blood … her own blood.
“Oh my GOD, Henry, I’ve been shot!”
Mamie almost fainted due to the sight of her blood, but it was really nothing more than a scratch. Pup and the boys managed to calm her down and once she realized what had happened, well, she did what she always did. She took her broom to the lot. Whack whack whack! Poor George figured he was gonna be banished to sleeping in the barn. After Mamie calmed down a bit, she even laughed about it. No one, to that point even dared to crack a smile, so it was a big relief when she started laughing.
Later that day over dinner, Mamie giggled and told the story of the time when a partridge flew through the window of the shed, breaking the glass with such force it sounded like an explosion, and leaving the bird dead on the floor. Her elderly father was staying with Mamie and Pup at the time, and slept on a cot out in the shed. He came tearing into the house hollering,
“Get down Salena! The Injuns are shooting at us!”
Good thing it wasn't true … Mamie would have wreaked havoc on those poor Indians with her broom, I’m sure.