A Bonding Of Oaken Men
Bonding Of Oaken Men
A TRUE STORY: A BONDING OF OAKEN MEN
They picked up a depressed and homesick [thirteen years old] Joe upon an Alabama Highway.. Their names, Robert and Gail Blount: A God loving family whom lived above Bainbridge, Georgia; they were down to earth, third generation farming people who lived with the land–along side nature.
Joe soon began to act like he was a grown man telling them of his travels and such, but they saw the truth with their hearts: a young boy who thought he was a man and decided to offer their love. They did not ask questions–just provided something which could not be bought nor traded for…
“Listen, you look like you could use some home cooking and some sleep. We’re on our way to Tallahasse, Florida, we’ll be gone for two days. We’ll drive you to town and you can stay with a friend till we get back. Your welcome to stay with us until you get on your feet. Here is our address.
It was an offer Joe could not refuse…
The house stood crooked within a pocket of green pines: a weathered shack, built upon four red squares of crumbling brick with rusty metal sheathing for a roof and an awkward brick chimney protruding through it at several angles—it brought to mind a picture combining The Cat In The House, Daniel Boone, and a mountain cabin in West Tennessee.
‘Could this be the right place?” He thought as he cautiously mounted two moaning stairs onto a crooked porch and grasped an empty screen door. Ripped and torn metal screen, remnants of the one that had once been placed to bar the horde of flies which buzzed around like so many miniature sawmills, rasped against his hand as he opened it to knock on the front door. Through cracks in the door’s hand hewn boards he could see Gail Blount as she hurried about straightening the front room. He was looking down at himself tucking in his shirt when the door opened.
“You found the place!” She said with a smile that made the place seem a mansion.
Just four rooms divided by simple, flimsy walls of weathered boards nailed to rough two by fours made up it’s interior. You could jump and grab onto any wall, pull your self up, and view the next room. There was no interior ceiling, only the bright metal of a tin roof rested above their heads. The “living room”, with it’s quilt covered bed, rocking chair, old dresser draws, shot guns, deer antlers, various animal pelts —squirrel, rabbit and possum— lining the walls, and a large cross brought to mind the main room of a wilderness cabin rather then a family room. The entrance to the kitchen revealed a wood stove, shelves lined with preservatives, and a hand made table. Two off setting rooms were primitive bedrooms for four young children. There was no out house and water was drawn from a “dry well” that collected rain water! He was amazed to say the least…
“Are you hungry?” Gail interrupted.
Before he could reply, she arose from the squeaking wood rocker and walked into the kitchen to prepare a sandwich of homemade bread and venison..
After several days stay he realized it was a tremendous love and belief in God that motivated these simple folk—it was awesome: they blessed God every day for their lives and were joyous even though their lives required so much sacrifice. They were not caught up in a world of greed or denial, on the contrary, they found joy in the family and lived for it! He new he had been rescued through God. He knew he would enjoy this brief interlude from the harsh life he had been born to— he also realized this was to be a learning experience .
Gail’s husband, Robert, worked at a local dairy where the pay was small and the work hard. With six mouths to feed, he also grew vegetables on a small plot of the rich, black soil that bordered the house and hunted when ever he could. On his days off Robert began taking Joe with him to hunt the small game that dressed their dining table. As they stalked rabbits and squirrels among the pine forests and hay fields of the surrounding land he would tell stories of the Big Hunt “that was right around the corner”.
“It is a time for all woodsmen of the county to assemble deep in the timberlands and celebrate manhood. It don’t make no difference no how whether your rich, poor, a gas station attendant or business owner, everyone shares in the chores and joys of the hunt; pretense and boast are lost among facts of courage and tests of will.”
After several weeks Robert secured Joe a part time job cleaning the milking stalls at the dairy. Joe then purchased a .410 shotgun with his first two pay-checks and Robert taught him how use, take care, and respect it. The first squirrel he shot, skinned–preparing his own brew to rid it’s gaminess–and cooked, made him feel manly proud. As the big weekend approached, he began to boast of his hunting prowess more and more in his intention to be invited. A fatherless boy in the company of down home fathers, he desperately wanted to be part of the experience. He also wanted to be a man… but Robert acted aloof and unaware.
The night before Robert was to set out he called him on the porch. Expecting an apology from Robert and a promise of next time, he was astonished when in stoic candor Robert informed him he was invited along!
Wow, was all he could say when they arrived at the camp site their first evening. Several three sided, open front, log structures faced a cleared, clay earth patch. Hunters with their dogs milled about, some attending to various chores, others cleaning and preparing a large buck strung from a tree. Everywhere he looked there was movement and preparation.
Robert parked the car and he jumped out and began unloading their stock of supplies—canned goods, dry clothing, bed rolls, fire arms, ammunition, and dog food. A bearded, red capped, old sage of the woodlands suddenly appeared and began assisting him with a “Welcome Little Man! I’ll show you where you’ll bunk!” greeting. After they stored the supplies, he assigned to him the camp chore of gathering firewood.
He was in awe as he tramped through the dense and sweet foliage of a brushed and muted forest, splashed with reds, browns, and the deep, golden colors of falling Autumn leaves, gathering old, caste off branches. On his way back to camp, with pieces of dried, moss specked timber crowding his arms, he stopped to gaze at the pink and purple setting sky–a part of the canvass of life.
By the time he had reached the camp a fire was snapping and cracking to life and a sliver of moon was poking a gentle path through a sea of jet black. Owl hoots, rustling branches and departing whip-o-will soon joined in chorus with the soft, soothing sound of a harmonica’s persuasive language.
The old sage sat upon a sun-bleached stump of oak, a brown jug at his feet, his whole being immersed, as he brought to life the small, metallic object he held with reverence. His eyes caught his, he stopped, winked, took a shot of the jug, then set his lips dancing with glee, scurrying back and forth across his instrument with foot stomping, hand clapping, robust energy. His wailing, rustic tempo was soon accompanied by loud and boisterous whooping and clapping which drowned all other sounds in a sea of electrified, foot stomping men.
After expending enough energy to light up New York City for several days, everyone snatched a dented, silvery plate and shoveled upon them huge amounts of lip-smacking butter beans, crunchy hard drop biscuits, and delicious venison stew. Grabbing a cup of steaming, strong black coffee, each person found a place to enjoy their meal in peace.
A mingling of dressed game, coon dogs, and hickory smoke swept the nights crisp air; blanketing the men arrayed around the roaring camp fire. With laced, leathered boots, tan khaki pants, red and black plaid shirts, and an armory of trusty, long barreled rifles by their sides, the seasoned hunters began exchanging stories of the kill.
From large, enraged moose, to rancid, snorting, wild boar, the stories of the hunt were as varied as the cracks and creases which swept across fire redden faces like dry, washed out stream beds of ageless lands. Enthralled, he sat with in this circle of male bonding, on the rich, Georgia, red clay, sharing in each man’s turn of historical oration as the hound dog’s bay cried for attention to fact and detail; for the dog vowed to the hunter his eyes, ears and very heart, and as such, vied for a spot as each masters voice was heard.
The old sage nudged Robert, pointed to a man–who had been described as the camp jester–and winked at him before he spoke: “Hey Jack! You remember’ that there twelve pointer ya got last year,” he rambled off, as he made a point of taking a long swig from a brown, ceramic jug.
“Ya’ll mighty sure hogging that there stuff. Give me that jug an’ I’ll tell ya the story.” Jack replied, tobacco juice streaming from his mouth with the quickness of a rattlers bite to explode in the fire with a loud swish.
Splashing loudly, the jug was handed to Jack. He grabbed it with one finger, deftly flipped the container into the crook of his bent arm, and, in one motion, drained a fourth of the contents. With a loud belch, he once again began his tale:
“There I was, that there 30/06 six cradled in…”
Jack took another swig, roughly wiped his mouth with a red rag, then continued.
“That there 30/06 cradled in this here arm.” He said pointing to the stock polished, gleaming, blued black barreled rifle resting on his knees. “Hiddn’ in a stan’ of oak…”
Jack gulped another large, hearty swig, and transferred the jug to his other callused hand before resuming his story.
“There I was, “Hiddn’ in a stand of oak with Ol’ Red resting in the grass…” “Waoo. Woof, Woof, Woof. Waoo.” A dog barked like he treed a forest of game.
“Giv’ me another sip o’ that stuff.” He demanded, squinting through red, bloodshot eyes for the jug he held tightly in his own hand! “Giv’ me…” Pop! He hit his mouth against the jug. Taking another swallow he continued, “so…ike I was sayin…th…were stanin in…the lake…with’ Ol’ Re …” “Waoo. Woof, woof, woof. Waoo.” The dog joined in again interrupting Jack.
“Heh, gim… anothe…of……..dat………..” And Jack teetered over on his side as his dog bayed and howled into the night.
Everyone was rolling on the ground sewing stitches of laughter as Jack snored in musical tune to Ol’ Red’s deafening cadence.
As Jack ripped his logs— drowned in two hundred proof moonshine— the circle of fables, tales, and truths rounded to him.
“What do you hunt in New York?” A voice asked him.
Not wanting to be the party pooper he wracked his brain for an animal that lived in New York and hadn’t been discussed by these genuine hunters of lore.
‘A deer! No. Joe, the old fellow with the white beard and Budwiser cap said he “bagged” a large one last year.’
‘A bear? No, Henry, a small, squat football coach—the only one with overalls— spoke of the grizzly he skinned in Alaska.’
‘A moose? No, John, the Deacon wearing the waterproof boots, told the story of the dangerous animal he had stalked for three days.’
He was running out of animals and the group was waiting for his answer.
“You hunt what?” Robert asked, scratching his head like he wasn’t sure what he heard.
Wow, he thought to himself. They don’t know what veal is!
“Hey, you know veal is cow?” The old sage cut.
“Uh..Yea! I know… I know what veal is.” He stuttered as a glowing, warm feeling traveled from his toes to his head. “We hunt cow!”
Joe wasn’t pressed for details. Either they did not want to know how an Italian hunted cows on someone’s farm or they knew that he was fibbing and accorded him great honor and dignity by glassing over what had obviously been apprehension and desire to be a man among men. Joe would say emphatically it was the latter, for over the next three days, he was taught lessons of stealth, tracking, emergency survival, and how to interact with men. He learned that the killing of animals was not for sport alone; that every animal bagged was utilized. He learned that drinking caused one to become a clown: laughed at by all. He learned that one does not have to boast of accomplishment to belong–for when it was discovered he was a green horn, the entire group pushed and shoved each other in their haste to show him the ropes. Those men were proud of their knowledge and gained joy in sharing it. Yes, Joe learned much that summer and fall in the redlands of South Georgia: how to laugh, how to see, how to hear, how to feel, but most of all, his first true lesson of being a man…