“You young’uns talk about hunting, and hard times,” the old man was saying, as he pushed another checker in position to be crowned. “Why, boys, you don’t know the meaning of the words.” His eyes searched the room, checking the reaction of each man in Taylor’s store. Assured he had their attention, he went on.
“Why, I remind me of the depression. You young’uns don’t know about that. I know you heard it,” he said, cutting off any rebuttal, “but you ain’t lived it. You boys hunt for a trophy. Back then we hunted to eat. Bill, there can remember. Rest of you were a gleam in your Daddy’s eyes.”
He paused now, removed his hat, ran a gnarled, age, spotted hand through his thin, gray hair, while allowing the last statement to sink in, got the response he had expected, a few smiles, and continued.
“Them was trying times, trying times. Enough to test the faith of a good woman and most any man.”
“I was working for fifty cents a day, and mighty glad for it. Most from here weren’t working at all, except the land, and lots more was out searching, and on the dole. I put a hand to any thing and everything along then. I mean it was root hog, or die. If you couldn’t pull the load, there was ten men waiting for you to draw your time so they could have a shot. It was mean years, mean wages, and mean bosses.”
He leaned back, tilting the chair on it’s back legs, and brought the checker game to an end with a quick move he had been setting up even as he talked.
“I worked construction when there was any, ten hours a day, any kind of weather. When that played out I cut asparagus, picked fruit, did some timbering, a bit of ‘shining, though that made the missus might angry and me jumpy.”
He paused again to fill his pipe. There was a sureness in his movement, as he took a sack from his bib top, and thrust the pipe inside, loaded, tamped, and withdrew the pipe with out spilling a drop. Drawing the bag closed, he popped a match into flame with a thumbnail, and puffed the pipe to life, took a deep draw, exhaled and began again.
“I had old Sally then,” he spoke the name with the reverence and respect usually reserved for the dearly departed.
“Sally was a Lewellyn setter, a fine looker, and as good as ever set four feet on this earth. She would point, retrieve, back, and was steady as a rock.”
“Every Saturday I would turn part of the week’s wages into staples. You know flour, grits, rice, dried beans, a bit of cloth for the wife, some gewgaws for the children; but I’d always make sure to have enough left for shells for Thunder. Thunder was my double-barrel.”
“Now Sally and Thunder were a team, I mean! Thunder came by way of Bill Lawson’s widow, as a keepsake, and I’ve still got her today. Bill knew I’d always admired that gun, and having no kids, said for me to have it.”
“Now, Bill Lawson was a fine fellow and he had sanded many a bird with Thunder, which was the name his wife had given it when Bill brought it home. She’d give Bill some thunder, too. I can still hear her, ‘The very idea of a grown man throwing away hard earned money, and then telling me it followed him home.’”
“Any how, what I mean to tell you is that gun had killed so many birds it would almost do it without you. With Sally out front and Thunder to back her, well now, I just went along to carry the game.”
“I remind me of one especially cold day before Christmas in the midst of the depression. The job had petered out, the last money was spent, and I was down to two shells, with no meat and no prospects.”
“I’d taken Sally and Thunder out to Saylor’s Branch, that’s where the legion post sets today, but then it was broom straw, and beggar’s lice, and fine bird country. You could turn out right where the legion post hut sits, and walk the field paralleling Saylor’s Branch all the way to the Jerusalem Church Cemetery and find three, four coveys any given day.”
“I turned Sally out, and waited. Ten minutes, and she wasn’t back, so I knew she had birds. I just traipsed off in the general direction she headed, and before I got to the old mill pond I saw her locked down tight. The mill pond was dry for the last several years and grown over to briars and scrub with a few new blow downs from the last ice storm.”
“Sally was hard by an old rotten stump, surrounded by briars and broom sedge. I walked in slow, deliberating, whether to kick them up, or not. I was in a dilemma. I’d never shot birds sitting; but I’d never been this down on my luck, with just two shells, and no meat, and my conscience was gnawing at me. It wasn’t like I intended to make a habit of it , but I eased in slow, looking close for the slightest movement, trying to decide if I could even enjoy eating birds if I pot shot them.”
“Then I see this big old rabbit twitch an ear, and I think, Damn, Sally has pointed a rabbit. Is she going crazy? My next thought is, no, she just knows I’m desperate for meat, and she doesn’t want me to do anything I’ll be ashamed of later.”
“Any way, boys, meat is meat, so I kicked him up, and Thunder just naturally bowled him over. At the shot, the ground came to life all around me. Birds got up everywhere. I mean they was thicker than buzzards roun’ a dead hog or democrats. I’d walked smack in the middle of a quail convention. A couple even hit me. Scared me so bad I wasted the other barrel, only it wasn’t wasted. Remember boys, this was Thunder. Quail was falling all over me. When I come to my senses and the rumbling had stopped Sally was stacking quail in a neat little pile. There was seven, all total. I never killed that many on a rise, before or since, and I knew this was more than just Sally and Thunder, or even luck.”
“Back then, during the depression,” the old man said, eyes twinkling, “people had more faith, prayed more, lived closer to the Lord, and I knew I was plumb in the way of a miracle.”
“With just two shells, I had me a rabbit, and seven partridges. I was awed. I was trembling with excitement. I fell to my knees, raised my hands, and commenced to thank and praise the good Lord, and I’ll be damned if a dove didn’t light in each hand. So I just naturally rung their neck and added them to the pile.”
There was a look of astonishment on the face of every man in Taylor’s store, then wide grins, and next outright laughter.
The old man lighted his pipe, puffed gingerly, and began to slowly set the board for the next game, chuckling softly.
Faith_published in Gray’s Sporting Journal_August 2004