April 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

At this writing, turkey season is in full swing. Last year I had no turkey hunting tales of my own to tell; and, although I did take my first turkey last year, it was not as unique as some my father used to tell me when I was young. While the tale of my first turkey is interesting, it pales in comparison to my dad’s first turkey. One other turkey story of Dad’s is absolutely hilarious, at least to the members of my family.

Dad was born in 1932 in Tallahassee, Florida. Through circumstances beyond his control, he went to live with his grandparents in northwest Florida when he was six years old.

This puts him on the farm at Hinson’s Crossroads in 1938. At this time, the country was eyeball deep in the depression and times were hard. I don’t know for sure, but I would bet that in his neck of the woods Reconstruction was still a fact of life. Dad learned how to plow with horses and mules, chop cane, milk cows, and raise a crop. He started bugging "Granddaddy" to take him turkey hunting; he told Dad that when he could call their domestic turkeys out of the field and into the yard, he could go. Dad eventually got to where he could call those turkeys, he went hunting and got his first turkey.

I can picture dad sitting on the porch of their house stroking that box call that granddaddy handmade from hickory. I remember when we were children that call was kept in the top drawer of our buffet and every so often my brother and I would dig it out and make dad yelp on it for us. Then as now, I didn’t know a good yelp from a bad one but if dad said that it would call a turkey, it would.

I remember watching him take that call in his hand and you could almost tell it had the feel of an old friend as he held it and settled it into the palm of his hand. Dad had a habit of sticking his tongue out of the side of his mouth when he was concentrating on something really hard. (When he started to wiggle it, you knew he was really bearing down on something.) He would almost close his eyes as he would get into the rhythm and start the yelping. If we had known that Merriam’s turkey even existed, much less lived out west, we would have tried to talk him into taking us turkey hunting. We knew that when the call came out, the stories would begin.

One of his stories concerned my great-grandmother, Granddaddy, Dad and a Sunday wagon ride.

One fine spring Sunday afternoon, they all piled into the wagon to go out for a drive. I am sure that the weather was fine, warm but not too hot, cool, but not cold. The hardwoods were probably just starting to get their leaves and the dogwoods were blooming. The wind was probably sighing through the pine trees.

As he would tell us the tale, we could almost hear the clump of the horse’s feet as they went down the sandy dirt roads through the forests of the farm. I am sure Granddaddy sat on the right and drove and Great-Grandmother on the left; and if Dad was like we were, he was doing laps around the inside of the wagon box. Dad said that Granddaddy never went anywhere in the woods without his shotgun and it was with him that fine spring day. Somewhere on the place was a catch pen and as they neared it, Great-Grandmother saw a flock of turkeys. Dad told us that all they heard was her say, "Jeff, turkeys!"

Granddaddy raised that trusty old 12 gauge double barrel and fired. Dad said that Great-Grandmother had some of the best eyes anyone had seen; I can remember her only wearing glasses to read most of the time.

When he fired, he dropped one bird and immediately started looking for another one to shoot. While we would never think of shooting more than one turkey in a day, as the law allows, they weren’t hunting for fun, they were hunting for food.

Dad said that as soon as Granddaddy fired, Great-Grandmother was on the ground running to the downed bird. Dad was standing in the wagon box looking for more turkeys while Granddaddy stood in the front.

They were scanning the woods where the turkeys had gone when they heard the most awful sound you can imagine. They looked toward the noise and it was Great-Grandmother. She had run to the "dead" turkey and grabbed it by the feet and was dragging it back to the wagon when the bird was no longer "dead."

You would have to see her to really appreciate it. She was about five feet ten inches tall, taller than most of the men in my family, and weighed about 110 to 120 pounds soaking wet, as Dad would say, and it was no small chore for her to carry a 20 plus pound bird. She had gotten hold of this turkey’s legs and was bringing it back to the wagon when the apparently stunned bird woke up.

The sound they heard was Great-Grandmother crying for help. They looked down to where she was and Dad said (his face is red and tears are beginning to form at this point in the telling) that there she stood with a turkey leg in each hand, both arms out straight and a flying turkey at full bore parallel to the ground and she is screaming her head off, "Help, Jeff, help!!"

Dad said that this did absolutely no good at all because Granddaddy was doubled over on the wagon seat in a fit of laughter. He said that Granddaddy was laughing so hard he could not sit up, he couldn’t breath and he certainly couldn’t help Great-Grandmother with her turkey. I don’t remember how they finally took care of that poor turkey but I can guarantee that he ended up on the table. Dad said that was the closest he’d ever seen my Great-Grandmother to killing Granddaddy.

I always found it interesting that dad told that story only after she had passed away.

As beautiful as that spring afternoon was, I bet the ride back home was long.

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