September 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

As hot and dry as it is here in South Alabama, its hard to believe that in a few months we’ll be freezing to death on a deer stand and trying to remember what it was like to be warm. Our Dog Days temperatures have never been such that it puts us in mind of deer season, but it definitely is on the horizon. S.E.C. football is getting ready to start, hunting catalogues are arriving in the mail and a glance at the calendar all will inform you hunting season is near.

I must admit since getting really involved in turkey hunting, the excitement for me about deer season has lessened to a degree. Right now, at the store, we are mentally gearing up for food plot season and our annual visits from our wonderful deer hunting customers. It won’t be long until they start loading up their ATVs, deer stands, spreaders, tractors and all of the paraphernalia for fall food plot plantings and to people like my late father, that means, "Thar’s GOLD on them thar Interstates!"

Yes, I must admit it, I am the offspring of a genuine, unreformed, self-admitted scavenger. My dad would stop on any road, anytime, anywhere to pick up anything that had fallen off of or somehow became separated from a vehicle.

Although I am hard-wired in my genetics to stop and pick up such things, I am one of the few who actively resists doing it. I still notice things and think about it but I have to actively talk my self out of stopping. I also admit it nearly kills me to drive by a really good used rubber strap that has run away from its flatbed trailer.

Dad couldn’t do it, my dear brother cannot do it and, although I feel sorry for them, I am proud of myself for breaking the cycle.

Dad once proudly showed me a six-foot piece of garden hose he found on the Interstate. He only had about five hose menders in the six-foot piece, but according to him, it filled in the five-foot gap in his hose arsenal and all it cost him was a few hose menders. He once stopped and made me brave traffic for a less than eight-foot 2X4 because he was working on a project that needed a piece just that size and he did not want to go and buy a full-size board for just two or three feet.

When my mom sold her home in Magnolia Springs, my brother and I went to help her clean out her attic and garage before she moved. She wanted us to divide dad’s tools and stuff and get rid of the stuff we didn’t want or was no good. We found thousands of pieces of wood dad had kept in various hiding places, just in case he needed one that size, every single one of those pieces of wood had tire tracks on it. The scary part is, if he was building something and he needed a 17 ¾" piece of wood, he knew he had a piece like that in his pile, knew where it was, could actually find it and usually it was within a quarter of an inch of the size he needed.

When I tell you dad would pick up anything, I mean he would pick up anything! For example, one time when I was working on a farm near home, I was moving hay from the field to the barn. On the way I had to pass a pretty good-sized field of collards. It was in the fall of the year and every morning I would see them out there cutting those collards and bundling them for sale. That day, when they left the field, a couple of the bundles fell off the trailer. True to my breeding, I noticed them but told myself, do not pick them up. Later on that day, dad was on his way home from work. He had to pass by the farm where I was working and he decided to stop in and see what I was up to. When I pulled into the barnyard and dismounted my tractor, dad greeted me with, "Look what I found!"

It was the collards. He took them home, scrubbed and cleaned them and actually ate them.

The next best thing was to bargain with someone over something and win, or have someone actually give him something he thought was useful. Dad would have been a yard sale nightmare, but to dad, going to a yard sale was like cheating.

When I was a student at Auburn, I was home over a spring break and dad asked me if I wanted to go to town with him. Having nothing to do, I said sure. We got to the hardware store and dad noticed a real nice wheelbarrow sitting on the floor in the middle of assembly. We wandered around the aisles as he got the things he needed but we always seemed to come back around to the wheelbarrow. Finally, dad had had enough and he inquired as to the status of the wheelbarrow in question. It was discovered it had been shipped from the manufacturer missing its wheel. Dad was in heaven as he haggled with the manager on a price. He would have been at home in the markets of the world where haggling is expected. Triumphantly, we walked back to the truck with his 20-dollar prize with me feeling like Jethro Bodine. He wouldn’t tell me why he would negotiate for a wheelbarrow with no wheel until we got home. As I was unloading the purchase, dad got out his old wheelbarrow, the one that he had whittled a new handle for, the one he had the tire place order and mount a new wheel for. He installed the new wheel on the wheelbarrow and was ready to go. I told him that we needed to take the old one out and leave it on the Interstate so whoever needed a part could get it. He didn’t laugh.

And the saying that an acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree definitely applies to my family. My beloved brother, my dad’s oldest son, got a good dose of his genetics; you can tell not only by the way he looks just like dad, but in his propensity for picking up things off of the road as well. One time, my brother saw a socket drive lying in the middle of the highway to Pensacola. He promptly locked up the brakes and bailed out of his car and retrieved the tool. It was a nationally sold brand and carried a lifetime warranty. He walked into the national chain, declared his ratchet was broken and was promptly given a brand new ¾" drive ratchet. He still has it by the way.

As I have said, like everyone with weaknesses that are genetic, I have managed to resist temptation. I was trying to set up some sprinklers for my garden and I was truly in need of about eight feet of garden hose to finish my set up. I think God was messing with me because there on the highway on my way to work was about ten feet of hose and I passed by it for about three weeks without stopping to get it. I resisted, but it nearly killed me. Thankfully I found what I needed at home without having to stop and pick it up.

I will admit though that early on, I was the same way, heck I thought that was how everybody lived. I learned my lesson the hard way. Back then, the railroad tracks were being torn out in Foley, my hometown. Everyday I went by a spot and decided there was a chunk of railroad iron I needed. After looking at it for several days, the time was right and I stopped to get it. If you have never tried to pick up a six-foot piece of railroad track, you should try it some time. I was young enough, strong enough and dumb enough to think I could "chunk" it into my truck and be gone before anyone knew I was even there. Let’s just say about 30 minutes and several gallons of sweat later I finally left. I had made up my mind if the police came, they could help me load it.

I will be willing to bet cash money all of these anecdotes sound familiar; everyone has one or two in their family.

So, all of you deer hunters hauling all sorts of stuff up and down the highways and something comes up missing, rest assured it will have a good home.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.