Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Squirrel Hunting With Grandpa

To Be Edited

Squirrel Hunting With Grandpa

Three a.m. on a winter morning in the 1940s
I water and feed the rabbits (why do I always get the cold job?) as grandpa put homemade biscuits in the top warmer
of the woodburning 4-burner stove. Grandma slept in.
Grandpa made the coffee strong
Handful in a pot of boiling water, one of those gallon sized
Blue Ceramic with white flecks coffee pots.
To the smoke house, slice off fresh cured bacon with rind on
Fry to a crisp, remove coffee pot from stove
Put bacon on towel to drain
Crack two brown hen eggs at a time
Into the smokin' bacon grease they go
Throw the shells into the coffee pot to settle the grounds
(In those days there were no electric coffee makers with paper or gold filters)
Turn the eggs once when edges are brown
Butter the biscuits (real butter) and call Jim
Fix his plate first while his eggs are frying.
Grandpa had everything down to a science. His coffee was so strong it was a task to close one's eyes after drinking a cup. Without cream or sugar. Black Coffee. Steaming hot. The perfect drink preceeding a squirrel hunt, Grandpa's favorite prey. Couldn't even blink!
Eggs were done clear through, bacon crunchy, biscuit crusty,
soft buttery inside, gone in a flash.
Grandpa sits down, drinks his coffee, tells me to go start the truck, a 1949 GMC 3-speed stick shift green farm work stinks like chickens and pigs and hay vehicle. Grandpa trusted my driving skill since both he and my step-father taught me to drive when I was six years old. We gleaned corn from farmers' fields to feed the pigs. My cousin Denny never learned to shift too well...because I always put it in high gear when it was his turn to move up the row. He stalled the motor every time, and Grandpa would yell, 'Danny, get out and let Jim move the truck.' Denny fumed. He didn't like to hunt or do anything outdoors, I guess that is why Grandpa favored me.

Grandpa put the guns we had oiled and checked the night before into the space in back of the seat (he never put them outside where they could be stolen). Unloaded, of course. Three primary rules never to be broken around Grandpa was that you always assumed a gun is loaded, never point it at anything you're not going to shoot, and never run with a gun. Violation of any of Grandpa's rules resulted in a painful trip to the smokehouse, where he kept a cured rawhide paddle. Three whacks on the bare bottom was the usual fare, and one dreaded a fourth swat. He rarely went that far, however, knowing the embarrassment that just going to the smokehouse caused. Everyone knew the procedure: Enter, drop your drawers, bend over. No pleas for mercy, no whimpering, no screaming. Just endure the three, then you're done. The worst part is walking out to the twitters of the assembled friends and relatives. Part of the punishment was the humiliation. I only went to the smokehouse three times. That first trip brought me four whacks. I learn fast.

Driving 50 miles to the Younger farm (yes, relatives of the Jesse James gang) in Chester, Illinois in the pre-dawn darkness took over an hour, so it was almost sunup when we arrived. We took our position in the hickory woods and waited, usually back to back. Grandpa usually got his limit of 5 squirrels in just a couple of hours. He was a combination stalker/camouflaged ambusher. His trusty .22 rifle was his preferred weapon for squirrels, and a 16-gauge double-barreled shotgun for rabbits. His squirrels were normally shot through the head, as Grandpa didn't want to waste the meat. He bought me my first gun, a Savage-Stevens .410 gauge double barrel, which I learned to use with deadly proficiency under his tutelage.

Making a mistake with a gun was something Grandpa never did, and if we did, we paid for it. I did on two occasions. One, after my very first kill at age 8, I ran with the rifle to retrieve the squirrel, I was so excited. I remember begging with Grandpa not to take me into the smoke house, all the way home. It did no good, only made matters worse. I got the four whacks.

I drank coffee most all the time at Grandma and Grandpa's. They also let me smoke. Bull Durham, roll-your-own. I was twelve.

I smoked for 20 years, up to 4 packs of Pall Mall or Camel or Lucky Strike (no sissy filters for me, like Marlboro) before I quit cold turkey. I also quite drinking. I still drink coffee, though, hot and black or sometimes with a bit of cream.

Jim Pankey, USN (Ret.)
December 3, 2008

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