Tradition: Outdoor Excursions Grace Thanksgiving
Ringo, Granddad’s little Jack Russell squirrel dog, was doing everything but climbing one of the big cypress trees that bordered Black Creek swamp.
He would leap up, grab a vine that hung from the limbs far above him in his teeth, and hang like a pine cone trying to bark at the same time. The noise he was making sounded like a real mad cat.
It was Thanksgiving and I didn’t know it at the ripe old age of 13, but I was creating a tradition that I would continue for most of the next 50 years — hunting on the morning of that great holiday.
My family, including numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, would all meet at the farm for all major holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas, though, were the most important.
Early on, I figured if we were to be there anyway, there was no reason I couldn’t get in a couple hours of squirrel hunting.
It was my time of year. September had rolled in with the opening day of dove season. Although I was a novice at the sport, I still tried for all I was worth.
I used my dad’s 12-gauge J.C. Higgins pump shotgun, one that would kick you into the next county if you didn’t mount it right. A lot of times I didn’t and had a black and blue shoulder to show for the experience.
September was the beginning that reached a crescendo mid-November when Thanksgiving rolled around. Then I was on the farm hunting quail, squirrels, rabbits, ducks and deer.
If it was in season and I was in the woods, it was game, pun intended.
The morning when little Ringo and I were playing havoc with the squirrel population was one of the best. We got to the farm earlier than usual and were the first relatives to arrive.
Granddad was hauling wood in for the dining room fireplace when we drove up, and I hopped out of the car to help. Dad and Mom were busy carting in food that Mom had prepared to go with the big meal.
“Well, Buddy Roe,” Granddad said. “You gonna go down to the swamp and see if you can get us a couple squirrels? Ringo is ready. He’s real antsy because he hasn’t been hunted lately. Give him all the exercise you can.
“Your rifle is beside my desk in the hall. Look in that top drawer on the right; I’ve got you a box of long rifle ammo. Now, you be careful.”
I was already hustling for the house with an armload of firewood.
My grandfather had given me a little Remington 22 rifle for Christmas a couple of years earlier. It was my pride and joy; and although it stayed on the farm, I had access to it anytime I was there.
I don’t know who had the most fun that Thanksgiving so many years ago, Ringo or me.
I do remember we caught a little grief because we were late for the holiday feast and we had a bunch of squirrels to clean afterward.
My grandfather said later that day as we were sitting in front of the big fireplace in the living room that we didn’t ever have to worry about meat as long as I was about with my trusty 22.
That Thanksgiving morning so many years ago is forever engraved in my mind; and over the years, I’ve had many more excursions in the great outdoors on Thanksgiving morning, some more eventful than others.
My outdoor mantra could be as Stephen Smith, Moore County’s talented writer and raconteur, said so eloquently in the title of one of his books: “The Worst I Ever Had Was Wonderful.”
Contact Tom Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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