As a boy, I often listened to my Dad’s stories of when he was a child and very, very poor. Dad grew up in Northwest Florida during the depression on a small family farm. His grandparents raised him and taught him many things, some of which I had enough sense to absorb when he passed them on to me.
Dad would tell us of Christmas time when, if he was lucky, he would get a candy bar in addition to his orange and apple. He told us of stretching that rare candy bar into June if the kerosene refrigerator didn’t run out of fuel. Upon graduation from high school, Dad decided to make the Navy his life. He went into basic training weighing around 110 pounds soaking wet. When he graduated six to eight weeks later, he tipped the scales at a whopping 170 pounds.
When asked in later years how in the world he was able to gain weight under such rigorous conditions, he merely explained that while in the military, he was able to sleep until five o’clock in the morning. Then, he went on, all they did was wake up, clean up and march to breakfast. After a gut-busting meal, they exercised a little, marched some more, ran a few miles and then marched to the mid-day meal.
I don’t know what they did after lunch, but he was excited when they finished, off they went to the mess hall to eat yet again. Dad said he was amazed he got three meals a day, had no chores to do, no cows to milk, no fields to plow, no sugarcane to cut and no peanuts to haul to the stationary combine in the field. He stated that in basic training all they asked him to do was to walk/march and not only did they have a big slab of concrete to walk on, they gave him a pair of shoes as well.
They told him if he wore them out, they’d give him another pair. He said he looked all over that Navy base and never found a mule or a breaking plow.
Dad always told us they didn’t hunt for fun when he was a kid; they hunted for food.
With that in mind, my family better be thankful I’m not the sole source of food for our house. I’ve got to think that if I were a "sustenance hunter" I would be better at it. When you depend on what you can catch for something to eat, one of two things has got to happen: you have either got to get really good at killing deer and turkey or you had better learn how to eat anything you can catch, kill and eat. I’ve said before, I would imagine an empty belly makes your aim a little better and you just a little sneakier in the woods. I also would imagine an empty stomach makes your palate a little less sensitive.
For proof I give you the house cat, Felis catus or Felis catus domestica. I have seen cats that will only eat the most sophisticated gourmet cat food. I have also seen cats that will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first. It’s all a question of situation. The pampered pet has got the time and luxury to refuse to eat something that doesn’t taste really, really good.
The old farm cat that has been without food more times than it has had something to eat isn’t choosy. The citified house cat sometimes thinks it shouldn’t even have to get up to go to the food bowl; it should be brought to it. The farm cat is willing to wait hours for the chance to snag a rodent, snake, bug or lizard and will fight tooth and claw to kill it and then eat it. While the royal feline will eat as much as it can and leave some food in the bowl, the farm cat eats every morsel including the tail because it might be a while before such a feast comes by again.
We laugh at the Clampetts when they talk of ‘Possum Pie, fried gizzard, stewed gopher and such, but we wouldn’t laugh if we were really hungry.
Many of us love to go out into the field to hunt and fish. I heard or read a statement the other day stating they preferred catch and fillet over catch and release. We love to think about how good all that meat tastes, and it makes us feel better when we consume what we harvest. I enjoy watching people eat some venison or some turkey I managed to bring home and then hear them comment on how good it tastes.
I think to myself, not only did I kill it, I drug or carried it from the woods, cleaned, butchered and, in some cases, cooked it. It is very satisfying to know people are enjoying what you worked so hard to put on the table. But I remind them they had better be thankful everything they ate was not dependent on me to bring home and put on the table. If this were the case, we would all have smaller waist lines, be less finicky about what we ate and probably wouldn’t need to throw away much food as all would be eaten not knowing when the next meal would come.
We watch hundreds of hours of videos with people pursuing only "trophy class" animals. Thousands of words are written on the same subject. I remember reading many books about the Plains Indians and their way of life. I always found it interesting the real prize on a buffalo hunt was a big fat cow, not a big, old, mature trophy class bull. I would suspect they only killed bulls to keep the bulls from killing them.
I often compare myself and Dad to those cats I talked about.
There wasn’t much Dad wouldn’t eat, as a matter of fact the only things I remember he flat-out stated he wouldn’t eat were chitlins and kidneys. There was a lot he didn’t like, but he would still eat it (remember meatloaf, Mom?). When he was 17, he weighed 110 pounds. I weighed that much when I was in the sixth grade. I have hunted and fished for many years, but have never had to depend on what I killed for my only source of food. I gardened because he made me do it. There a more than just a few things I won’t eat like liver, squash, butterbeans, sweet potatoes and Brussells sprouts to begin the list.
Although dad worked the pants off of us, we never had to get up at three in the morning and do chores before school and then hit the fields plowing when we got home. We played till dark. He worked till dark. We worried about what toys we were going to find Christmas morning; he hoped he would find a candy bar on Christmas morning.
The list can go on and on and most times I feel really bad about the way Dad and his contemporaries had it when they were young. Before Dad passed away in ’87, I told him it was too bad he had it that way and I wished I could go back and fix it so he could have had things the way he made them for us. Dad would not have any of that. He told me that was what he was working for all those years, even though we weren’t even thought of yet, he hadn’t even met Mom or even knew she existed.
At the ripe old age of 17 or 18, he had his future children on his mind as he looked for that mule on the Navy base and prayed he’d never find it.
Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.