Saw a t-shirt the other day that said "Proud of something my child may or may not have done." Boy, is that ever fitting, eh? Of course, as Daddy's birthday drew closer, got to thinking it could have just as easily been fitting for him, as well.
Like most everyone, I guess, my sis and I made our share of mistakes and bad decisions. But in Daddy's eyes, we could do little wrong. If we were successful, he was immensely proud. If we failed, it was a great learning experience for us.
Been blaring Hank Williams and Hank, Jr. pretty much all week in the truck, and a longer-than-usual ride Tuesday after work brought back lots & lots of memories. Jordan has been obsessed with old turkey hunting stories (imagine that, huh?) and it really got me to thinking…with all the hunting I've done in my lifetime, isn't it a little odd that the most memorable hunts always involve somebody else?
Some were made memorable by Jordan; some were made memorable by old hunting buddies like Mark Newell and Gus Joseph; some were made memorable by officers from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; well, you get the idea.
And of course, plenty were made memorable by PawPaw and Daddy. I've got some good ones from when they did the calling for me. But the best were later in life, when the roles were reversed and I did the calling for them.
One of the best was sometime in the late '90s. Those who knew Daddy remember that he lost half a foot in Vietnam; then lost part of the other leg later in life. Those that knew him best might remember that in later years, his hearing had pretty much escaped him altogether. That made turkey hunting quite a challenge, as you might imagine.
This particular hunt was a late-season one and we ended up on the side of one of Noxubee County's biggest hills – which again, made navigating things for Daddy pretty difficult. We struck out at a couple of places and decided to try one last bird we'd heard the weekend before. I walked about 40 yards down the side of this big hill and blew a crow call, hoping the turkey would answer somewhere down in the hollow. Instead, he was so close he nearly blew my hat off. Still on the roost. On the side of this huge hill. In pretty much the worst place possible.
I had walked right under him, yet somehow he didn't see me. So I snuck back to the truck, and Daddy and I took a big roundabout trek to that hollow to try to coax him off the roost. Like I said, it was late season. It was a rough walk. And it was so dang thick that it was practically impossible to find a place to set up.
He answered the first yelp and was on the ground after the second. Came straight to us. Forty yards, maybe less. But it was so thick that neither of us ever came close to getting a shot. We just watched helplessly as he walked away after not seeing the "hen" – getting a glimpse of his fan every few seconds when he'd stop to strut.
We waited 20 minutes or so before moving. Cut hard trying to get him to answer again. Then moved again to a better setup, hoping to coax him into coming back, but not getting anything in return.
"You ready to go?" I asked. "Naw, let's give him another few minutes and see if he'll answer," Daddy said. "I ain't looking forward to going up that hill to the truck anyway."
So we gave it another 20-minute, fruitless wait, and proceeded to make the big uphill trek. Much in the same way Jordan walked off and left me on numerous occasions this past spring, I found myself a good piece out in front of daddy. When I was almost to the top, no less than 30 yards from the truck, I turned and saw Daddy making his way behind me.
I figured it was a good chance to catch my breath as I waited on him. So there I was, bent over with my gun resting on a tree and my hands on my knees when I heard the distinct sound of drumming. Yep, we'd pretty much walked right up on that turkey, and he was still strutting.
Daddy was lumbering up the hill behind me, closing in about 10 steps or so away, when I made my GET-DOWN-AND-DO-IT-QUIETLY motion. He was still fidgeting with getting his facemask back on and I hadn't even finished the first low yelp when I saw a red head appear up ahead.
Amazingly, it came right from the direction of the truck, darting in and out of the little pines we'd set up (or plopped down) in. As it got closer, it picked up the pace, then started racing down the hill.
That's when I realized it was a jake. And it wasn't necessarily coming to us; it was running from the gobbler. Both of them went barreling past me out of gun range and headed down the hill behind us.
I turned to see Daddy twisted all the way around his tree, totally off balance and with gun-barrel a bouncing…and then I heard the thundering BOOM of his 12-gauge.
"Ain't no way," I thought. I stood up and started walking toward him. Daddy was laying facedown in pine straw, and I didn't see any sign of a turkey anywhere. "You miss him?" I asked. He sat up and turned toward me. His cap and facemask had fallen off, there was a steady stream of blood trickling down his busted nose, and what little hair he had was waving on both sides like Bozo the Clown had been in a bar fight.
He smiled wide and said, "I don't miss, son."
He didn't. Some 55 yards away, through all those little pines and headed into a thicket, lay his prize. Oh, I'm sure he missed at some point. But I don't ever remember it. Daddy would've been 69 today. One of my kids has grown about four foot since he saw him; the other is just slam grown. And I'm 100 percent certain he would be proud of them both – regardless of what they may or may not have done.
Happy Birthday, Old Crow.