Skills of a Farm Boy

I was trying to tie up a sack of sheep feed when I realized that the bag was just too full to get the string on. Rather than remove some of the feed, I got bull-headed. I pinched and squinched on the sack until finally I had barely enough material to get my string around. I took a few wraps and then realized that I had so much string I couldn’t get a knot tied.

I nodded to my grandson.

“Cut off some of that string, Boy.”

“Huh?

“Cut the damn string boy, my fingers are getting tired.”

“With what?”

“With your pocket knife, son.”

“I don’t have a knife.”

“You don’t have a knife?”

I let the 100 lbs. of feed run all over the barn floor and dragged the kid out to my truck for a trip to the hardware store.

It just shows you how ignorant grandparents can be. I didn’t know the boy was running around at 8 years of age without a pocketknife.

My grandson was sure tickled with his new knife, scarlet red plastic handle with a half dozen blades and even 2 corkscrews.

I don’t know the reason for the corkscrew; I haven’t seen a corked bottle in years except for that bottle of imported olive oil that was so rancid I couldn’t use it, but anyway, the boy liked it. Everybody was happy, except his mother. You never heard such screaming.

“Where did he get this knife?”

“I bought it for him.”

“You idiot!”

My daughter addresses me in such endearing terms. I think she learned them from her mother.

” I don’t want him to have a knife. Suppose he would take it to school?”

“I certainly expect he would take it to school. How else could he sharpen his pencil, or carve willow whistles, or carve his girl’s name in a beech tree. How could he join his playmates in a game of Mumbly Peg at recess without a jackknife?”

“Oh Daddy, you’re such a relic. Don’t you know that if he ever took this thing to school, the sheriff department would surround the school with SWAT teams.”

Times sure have changed. An 8-year old boy in the good old days would rather go to school without his pants than without his pocket knife.

We used to take our guns to school back in the good old days. Not actually on the school property, but right up to the edge.

We would cut through the woods and squirrel hunt as long as we could and then at the first bell we would hang our game on a tree branch and stash the gun where we could resume the hunt as soon as school let out.

Those old Stevens single barrels could be broken into three parts with just a flick of the wrist, lock, stock and barrel.

You could put each piece in a different tree hollow to prevent anyone from finding your entire weapon. I usually didn’t have to take my shotgun apart; it fell apart every time I fired it. The lock was so worn that it would fly off every time it fired. I had tar taped the lock to the barrel but after several re-winding of the tape it would be so contaminated with sweat and gun oil that it wouldn’t hold at all.

Such inconveniences only added to the challenge of the hunt. You knew you had one chance to bag your game and then find and reassemble your gun for another try.

That discipline as a child served me well later during my military service.

All my buddies wondered how I could report to the firing range and immediately qualify as expert with every type of weapon.

It was easy. The sights weren’t all bent up, the lock didn’t fall apart. Qualifying was easy with those nice Government Issue weapons.

One feature of my old single barrel really helped me when I got into aerial gunnery. Most student gunners had difficulty hitting moving targets, but to me it just came naturally. The firing pin on my old single barrel was so worn and bent up from years of use that on really cold days, it would hang up and fire seconds after the trigger was pulled.

You couldn’t put the bead on a rabbit, quail or squirrel and just assume you had him.

You had to judge how cold the air was and how fast the game was running or flying, and point to the spot where you thought the game would be at the time that the firing pin decided to release.

Tricky business that the hunters senses to perfection with each 12-gauge shell, costing 12 cents a piece; you couldn’t afford to miss too many times.

We boys wanted to get a reloader so that we could make shells for less at 1 cent a piece but after Tommy Shields burnt his eyebrows off while reloading shells, Mama vetoed the idea.

Old time people believed in passing down, which simply means that the first born son gets anything he wants while his younger brothers suffer in jealousy.

My oldest brother got to use daddy’s double barrel Ithaca that I wasn’t even allowed to touch. It really made me mad.

That gun ruined my brother as a hunter. The quality of his gun, along with the fact that he could get off two shots to my one led him to believe that he didn’t have to practice his stalking skills. He thought that with that big double barrel with the gleaming barrels and shiny burled walnut stock that he could merely point it down through the woods, give ‘em both barrels and pick up the game that fell at his feet. We would have had a bare cupboard if that boy had to keep it filled.

He looked so cute with his double barrels, his little red cap and hip leather boots with the knife sheath sewn in the top. The height of fashion, and couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle.

You would think that such treatment would leave me jealous, so blind me with rage that I would be less of a hunter.

But no, adversity is the best teacher. I would take my rusty old Stevens with the busted forelock, snow sticking to my unhatted head, dried holly leaves clinging to my unshod feet, a-hunting I would go.

One day it was blowing a blue gale, Mama was rooting through the pantry, trying to decide on a hot supper for such a cold blustery day.

“A squirrel pie would go good today.”

“Aw Mama, you know there ain’t no squirrels out today, be a waste of time to go out.”

“I’ll go out Mama.”

“Son, why don’t you let Stevie take the brand new double barrel with the shiny walnut stock?”

“No Mama, I’d feel better with my rusty old Stevens with the busted lock and bent firing pin. It’s what I’m used to.”

So I shouldered my trusty shotgun and gathering the thin cotton jumper across my chest, I set out into the teeth of the gale.

Squirrels don’t usually come out in windy weather and the few that do venture out are hard to find, but this day was different, but for some reason the woods were full of squirrels.

I used the last strip of tar tape to wrap my gun together and prayed, “old Betsy don’t fail me today.”

In a short time, I was back on the woodpile unloading my bag of game. I had squirrels in all pockets, squirrels across my shoulders and was dragging about a dozen on a string of barbed wire I had twisted off of old man Johnson’s fence.

Mama had a whole nest of tinned baking pans, the biggest one was more than 2 feet square, and would just barely fit in the oven. We only used it during butchering time and referred to it as the “hog-killing” pan.

When my younger brothers and sisters peeped out of the kitchen door and saw the big pile of squirrels I was skinning, they hollered to Mama, “you better take down the “hog-killing pan”. I was as proud of that squirrel pie as Tiny Tim was of his Christmas goose.

You didn’t have to stir around amongst the potatoes and crust and wonder what kind of pie you were eating. It was squirrel pie. Big chunks of squirrel. The hot brown crust was not flat, it was pyramid shaped to allow for all the squirrel piled inside.

The fancy double-barreled Ithaca came to a sad end also.

We had a game warden back in the good old days who would arrest his grandmother. You could be sneaking through the woods not making a sound and feel a tap on the shoulder. Warden Bill Cosden was not human, he moved through the woods like a spirit; and as I said, would arrest his grandmother.

We boys didn’t pay much attention to hunting season, we figured it would be time enough to season the game after it was on the stove.

My brother spotted Warden Cosden before Cosden spotted him, flipped his game bag one way and his fancy double barrel the other and kept whistling down the path.

“Howdy do Mr. Cosden, nice day, nice day.”

Mr. Cosden agreed it was a nice day and of course wondered what my brother had done with his bag and shotgun, but what the hell, you can’t catch them all.

We boys went back and searched and searched for the discarded shotgun. We beat that thicket bare but could never find it.

I outwardly sympathized with my brother about the loss of his fancy shotgun but secretly I was about to bust with laughter.

I was hoping that some way he would also lose his fancy hunting boots with the knife sheath on the side and his big red cap with the stupid looking ear flaps.

A fancy dressed dandy, no hunting would be complete.

Oh boy! Never did find that shotgun.

 

I would like to have saved that old single barrel but as WWII was going on at the time and metal was scarce, my brother cut it up to make tobacco spears.The thought of one of Mama’s squirrel pies with potatoes and onions with a thick brown crust sounded pretty good to me.“I’ll go out Mama.”

“Son, why don’t you let Stevie take the brand new double barrel with the shiny walnut stock?”

“No Mama, I’d feel better with my rusty old Stevens with the busted lock and bent firing pin. It’s what I’m used to.”

So I shouldered my trusty shotgun and gathering the thin cotton jumper across my chest, I set out into the teeth of the gale.

Squirrels don’t usually come out in windy weather and the few that do venture out are hard to find, but this day was different, but for some reason the woods were full of squirrels.

I used the last strip of tar tape to wrap my gun together and prayed, “old Betsy don’t fail me today.”

In a short time, I was back on the woodpile unloading my bag of game. I had squirrels in all pockets, squirrels across my shoulders and was dragging about a dozen on a string of barbed wire I had twisted off of old man Johnson’s fence.

Mama had a whole nest of tinned baking pans, the biggest one was more than 2 feet square, and would just barely fit in the oven. We only used it during butchering time and referred to it as the “hog-killing” pan.

When my younger brothers and sisters peeped out of the kitchen door and saw the big pile of squirrels I was skinning, they hollered to Mama, “you better take down the “hog-killing pan”. I was as proud of that squirrel pie as Tiny Tim was of his Christmas goose.

You didn’t have to stir around amongst the potatoes and crust and wonder what kind of pie you were eating. It was squirrel pie. Big chunks of squirrel. The hot brown crust was not flat, it was pyramid shaped to allow for all the squirrel piled inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to have saved that old single barrel but as WWII was going on at the time and metal was scarce, my brother cut it up to make tobacco spears.

The fancy double-barreled Ithaca came to a sad end also.

We had a game warden back in the good old days who would arrest his grandmother. You could be sneaking through the woods not making a sound and feel a tap on the shoulder. Warden Bill Cosden was not human, he moved through the woods like a spirit; and as I said, would arrest his grandmother.

We boys didn’t pay much attention to hunting season, we figured it would be time enough to season the game after it was on the stove.

My brother spotted Warden Cosden before Cosden spotted him, flipped his game bag one way and his fancy double barrel the other and kept whistling down the path.

“Howdy do Mr. Cosden, nice day, nice day.”

Mr. Cosden agreed it was a nice day and of course wondered what my brother had done with his bag and shotgun, but what the hell, you can’t catch them all.

We boys went back and searched and searched for the discarded shotgun. We beat that thicket bare but could never find it.

I outwardly sympathized with my brother about the loss of his fancy shotgun but secretly I was about to bust with laughter.

I was hoping that some way he would also lose his fancy hunting boots with the knife sheath on the side and his big red cap with the stupid looking ear flaps.

A fancy dressed dandy, no hunting would be complete.

Oh boy! Never did find that shotgun.

 

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