How a WWII Vet Taught Me to Love Hunting
(Thoughts on Father’s Day)
Do you remember the first time you watched that little round, red and white bobber start to twitch. . . and then glide slowly across the water before diving under a log?
Who baited your hook that day? Was it the same person who showed you how to cast that old Zebco 33?
Do you remember trying to fall asleep the night before you got to go hunting with the big guys for the first time?
Who was it that always seemed to be up and moving even earlier than you?
I sat down today to write a nice story about Father’s Day and the roles hunting and fishing play in how a boy or girl ultimately looks at their father. Where else can a Dad put all of his talents and priorities on display for his kids to see? In one meaningful morning in a deer blind, a daughter will learn how important she is to her Dad by noticing his attention to her safety, her comfort and understanding her limitations. A Dad that sets an example of good stewardship, proper preparedness and even a sense of humor is likely to see his son embrace those same attributes when it comes time to teach the grandkids.
But this is where my story strays a little from the “Father’s Day” path.
Although I had a terrific relationship with one of the all-time great Dads, he neither fished nor hunted a day in his life. In fact, while on vacation one year, he sent me on a deep sea charter alone at age 12, when we were given a free upgrade to a full day excursion instead of a half day.
“Not a chance!” I can hear him saying. “You can go if you want” (I did. . . and threw up for 8 hours instead of 4)
The person that first took me along for a weekend of hunting wasn’t my dad, it was my grandfather.
My mom’s Dad. Papaw to me.
As clear as yesterday, I remember pulling into his camper on Lake Melissa for the first time. A small fishing pond in Indiana, surrounded by mature timber and a dozen or so other weekend campers. It was a Rockwell painting of middle-class America on a weekend. Hard working factory types Monday through Friday with their own slice of heaven for the weekend. Gravel lots, each with a camper parked in the middle. Colorful, plastic pineapple lights were strung around the lot and over the picnic table that sat just outside the camper door. A fire pit sat near the end of the lot but within an arm’s reach of anyone sitting at the picnic table. I was a little young for coffee, but my clearest memory is of a metal coffee pot over an open fire as the sun was coming up. Papaw had to use a pot holder to pick up the pot and pour himself a cup of coal-black coffee.
Brylcreem, a flannel shirt, jeans and a scalding cup of coffee over an open fire. Rockwell couldn’t have painted it better.
We took off that first morning in search of some bushy tails for Mamaw to fry up in her big black iron skillet. A long morning of tiptoeing through the woods and “quietly” sitting next to trees had turned up exactly zero squirrels. The next morning, to my disappointment, was a lot more of the same. Truthfully it didn’t matter to me, I was in love with the whole thing. Spending time with my grandparents, living out of a camper and trying to be quiet enough for my sharpshooting Papaw to send a .22 bullet in the direction of a squirrel. I was hooked.
The third morning came and I remember being jarred awake by someone knocking on the camper window. I rolled over and pushed back the little camper curtains and saw PaPaw standing outside holding 3 dead grey squirrels by their tails and smiling. He went without me!
Was it possible, I was the reason we hadn’t killed a squirrel? Of course I was.
10-year-old grandsons can likely be a lot of fun. But trying to keep one quiet and still in the woods during squirrel season was more than Papaw could take for three straight days.
I wasn’t mad.
We had lunch that day on the picnic table. Fried squirrel and gravy in that big black iron skillet. Papaw loved to say there was nothing Mamaw couldn’t cook in that skillet. Honestly, I can’t remember if I liked it or not. But I know I liked where I was, what I was doing and who I was with.
Much later I would learn that my Papaw was a WWII veteran and had served our country in the Navy. He and his crew were responsible for transporting Marines to fight the Japanese. He is a survivor of several battles and a recipient of a handful of medals. As I grew older, my understanding and appreciation for his service only caused his larger than life legend to grow in my eyes.
Mamaw passed away last year and we recently moved Papaw into an assisted living facility. (He would insist that I mention it isn’t a nursing home, he is free to come and go as he pleases!) At age 94, he is still as sharp as a treble hook and able to talk in great detail and length about his time in the navy and his various adventures when he returned. In fact, he remembered the story I just wrote about and helped me fill in a couple of gaps.
Like I said above, I sat down to write a nice little piece about Father’s Day and ended up here. I guess the lesson for me is that it may not have been your Dad that took you hunting or fishing for the first time. It may have been your Mom, or an Aunt or just a family friend. Does it really matter?
We need more people to take a child or even an adult hunting or fishing for the first time. I was 10 when I first got to go, but if the neighbor down the street or a coworker has never been, be the person that they think about in 10 or 20 years. The one who cared enough to show them the right way to enjoy God’s creation.
I mentioned we moved Papaw a few months ago. On one of my trips between his house and the moving truck, someone told me he had something for me. I walked around a corner and into the kitchen to find him holding Mamaw’s big black iron skillet.
He looked up as if he wasn’t sure and asked me, “Would you like to have this?” Oh yeah. I sure would.
Whoever it was that introduced you to life in the outdoors, take the opportunity this Father’s Day weekend to reach out and let them know what role they played in your life and the path they put you on.
I already know who I am calling.
From all of us at the AHLA,
Have a safe and happy Father’s Day.