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

Introduction to Wildspiritjim

My friend Laura opened a website entitled Pictures, Poetry & Prose which offers anyone an outlet for their artistic talents. I don't claim to be an artist, I am a hobbyist who has lived a fairly exciting military life and have adventure stories to tell. I hope that this simple blog will provide insight into my personality through my writing and photography as well as inspire some younger people to open up and let it all hang out.

I spent 20 years of my life in the U.S. military during times of national and international crises; I joined the Navy in June 1961, just in time to be shocked by the assassination of president John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I had already had one 7th Fleet Asian cruise (Vietnam) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (we were 50 miles off the Kamchatka province of Russia ready to launch a nuclear strike against the USSR) under my belt aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard, (CVA-31) assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 Ghostriders (F-3H Demon) as a Parachute Rigger. I was going through nuclear weapons training in Lemoore, California, at the time of the assassination. My next cruise to the Far East and Vietnam was aboard the USS Constellation, (CVA-64) this time as a Parachute Rigger Second Class with Fighter Squadron 142 (Ghostriders) flying F-4B Phantom II fighters, which we had transitioned to in 1963. During the cruise, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Incident happened; our air group (and that of the USS Oriskany, I think) made the first raids on North Vietnam. What really transpired was a political war that waged for almost twelve years, which saw no military victory.

Rather than go through the rest of my career, I will say that I served on four more aircraft carriers and had a lot of years at sea. I loved it, whether calm and serene or typhoon. I retired as a Recruiter in Memphis, Tennessee, having earned 5 Gold Wreath Awards in 2.5 years of recruiting. I missed out on two more due to crappy leadership by a superior. My retirement date was 31 January 1985.

I traveled in my motorhome from coast to coast, was a typical 'snowbird' going from southern Illinois to Memphis Tennessee and points south for about 17 years. I settled in Valmeyer, Illinois in an idyllic lakeside lot for 7 years until the landlord died. Then I decided to move to the Armed Forces Retirement Home (formerly the Naval Home) in November, 2002. I stayed there til February 2005 when I moved to Hemet, California to be with Patsy, who has cheated death twice in the operating room.

My regrets are few, my gripes keep my BP elevated, but I'm an optimist and think the new Obama leadership will prove to be one boon in leadership, compared to the 8-year previous administration debacle. I hope to survive the financial mess we're in and to keep Patsy as happy as I can. My hope is to buy us a home rather than rent.

She is an artist in her own right, and a true miracle to boot. Go to her site, and look around. Be sure to congratulate her.