August 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

It never ceases to amaze me the things you learn from your parents without even knowing it. It will make my mom glad to hear that some of these things stick with you for life, at least this far anyway.

I went to a family reunion the last weekend of June down in South Florida where most of my dad’s family is from. This is a family having held reunions since the early 1900s.

It struck me as I looked at all my cousins, aunts and uncles and considered what each of us did for a living and what the educational level was for the majority of us. I remember thinking our great-great-great grandparents (R.C. and Tabitha Crofton) would be proud of all of us. We have all kept and are still keeping the family together and in touch. Each of us knows the value of family, not only our close families but also our extended families as well.

In an unspoken way, my dad taught us nothing is more important than your family. After a few minutes visiting with my cousins, it becomes evident they were taught the same thing.

My great-great-great grandfather (R.C.) died in Texas just prior to the Civil War and left grandmother Tabitha to raise her children alone back home in Alabama. Just like in the movies, she told her children and grandchildren "the family story" and exhorted each of them to put their family first. As a matter of fact, she threatened the lives of several Confederate soldiers if they took the last cow they owned, a cow that was the only thing standing between her children and starvation.

The stories I have heard all my life are constantly with me and it is just unheard of in our family not to tell it to our children again and again so they will remember.

The greatest lessons I learned were ones never spoken or even taught.

This first hit me when I took my daughter fishing for the first time many years ago. I started her out the way I started out, with a cane pole. I remember getting her one and stringing it for her. I was never taught how to do it, I just did it the way I saw Dad do it for me. I had tied the line on the tip, attached the hook and was sticking a piece of split lead shot in my teeth to secure it to the line (sorry Mom) when it hit me that Dad had done the exact same thing. In fact, I can remember the exact spot in the backyard in Wyoming where I last saw him do it.

Another time, I remember standing on the bank fishing with my little girl and seeing I had lost her attention, admonished her to stop playing with the worms. I had heard that before, but where? Then I remembered hearing those words while riding in the back of a ‘63 Chevy station wagon on the way to my dad’s favorite fishing hole in the Medicine Bow Mountains near Laramie.

When she graduated to a rod and reel and I was teaching her to cast, I heard the exact words my dad used back when he was teaching me. I even used the phrase, "We ain’t fishing for squirrels, dang it!"

I remember, "helping" my dad clean pheasant and fish and asking a thousand questions. Now I’m getting the same questions and I even remember the answers!

Until I introduced my daughter to hunting and fishing, I didn’t know where I learned the things I know, as a matter of fact there are some things I didn’t even know I knew, you know? For example, as I showed my daughter how to put a worm on a hook, I suddenly remembered dad teaching me the same thing. I had the same experience when I put line on her reel. I don’t remember anyone teaching me to do it, I just remember helping my dad.

For the rest of my family, my mom and my brother don’t worry; I intend to brag on you, too. When I was in college, a group of friends and I got up an intramural softball team. Everyone was amazed that although I am right-handed (catch and throw right-handed), I bat (poorly) left-handed. I explained to them my brother should have been left-handed; he played ball left-handed and guess who taught me to bat? Guess the only way he knew how to bat? You got it, left-handed. I honestly don’t remember him teaching me, but even when I was in little league, I batted lefty…poorly.

Most of what my mom taught me, I can remember. Probably because the things she taught me were practical things that had to be bashed into my head. You can make it in this life without knowing how to bait a hook, but you cannot get by without knowing how to multiply. One thing I will always remember came from my grandma through mom, "Goodness gracious me, seven nines are sixty-three."

Hopefully, someday my daughter will be repeating this to her children.

It is always interesting to be around family members and see the lessons past generations taught being carried on today. I can walk into my mom’s twin sister’s home and it’s like walking into my mom’s home. The décor is different, the furniture is different but things like bedroom doors open, immaculately clean, the way things are arranged in the bathroom, etc. are the same and I can remember Grandma’s house being the same way.

All this reflection on the things we are taught came to my mind when on our way home from our reunion, we stopped at a fast food joint and got a hamburger. I decided to get some ketchup for my fries and when I found some, immediately started hunting a fork with which to eat my fries. My nephew commented he couldn’t understand why just a day or two before I had eaten some fries "sans ketchup" and as a true American had eaten them with my fingers. I remarked to him that once a condiment was added to the mix, the rules changed. His only comment was, "Dad’s the same way."

Mom commented we were taught that and I honestly don’t remember it, but I can promise you there is no way I would ever eat a french fry with ketchup with my fingers.

I suddenly realized we are teaching our children constantly. We are going about our day-to-day business of life and in the background someone is watching. Specifically, I recall one incident where when my daughter was very young, I was coming to a red light, in a hurry, intending to make a left turn. I was progressing nicely into the intersection when the light, I had hoped to beat, turned yellow. I decided to come to a quick stop and wait for the next light. My daughter in the back, in her child seat, knew we were at an intersection and when she felt the brakes being applied and (I presume saw the light turn from green to yellow) uttered, no, shouted, the expletive I was thinking.

How does all of this relate to hunting and fishing? We teach our children hunting and fishing ethics by our actions. Most of the time, we can violate a game law and no one will know except God and us. Our actions in the woods, from gun safety to hunting skills, speak louder than words.

We teach patience, persistence, fairness, reverence, respect, tolerance, restraint, sharing, common sense and more things than I can think every time we take our children to the woods, to the pond or even in the backyard vegetable garden.

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