Not a bit of snow left but one proud smile!
This morning I awoke to one of the biggest snows we have had in years. There was about three inches on the ground at 8:00 AM but by lunch it was just patchy spots in shady areas. This reminded me of one such day when I was about five years old.
That morning Papaw came back in the house from finishing up the morning chores at the barn and came by the bed where I was sleeping and shook my foot to wake me up. He told me to get out of the bed and see the snow because it would soon all be gone. I jumped up and looked out the window and dressed as fast as I could. I went out and played in it a while but it started melting and wasn't much fun anymore so I came back in to sit by the fire awhile with Papaw. We were just sitting there looking out the window at the birds and squirrels playing in the patchy spot of snow that was left. Papaw said, "Caleb, the squirrels are really out today!" I knew what that meant. I grabbed my coat and boots and got them on again even though they were still wet from playing in the snow earlier. By then Papaw had his overall pockets filled with shotgun shells and the shot gun on his shoulder. We were going squirrel hunting! That was our favorite pastime in the winter when we weren't sitting by the fire talking. Below the spring and across the creek was a high ridge. It was near the highest point in Monroe county but I didn't know this back then. I just knew that I had to make about a half dozen steps to each of Papaw's steps to keep up with him. I had to stay close to him climbing the ridge because there were several old home places along the old logging roads. He would stop and point out old wells and caution me about how dangerous they were and to never go near them. Some times if I was tired we would sit near an old home place and rest and he would tell me who had lived there as a child. Some times I would scratch around in the leaves and find shards of an old plate or cup that had been left there by the early settlers.
But this snowy afternoon we were dead set on squirrel hunting so there was no stopping until we were on top of the ridge. The area we loved to hunt in had trees that were huge with moss growing all over them. They were in an area that the timber couldn't get logged out of Papaw said. He knew about things like that because he had worked at a lot of sawmills in that area years before. The steep hill and the creek left the good hunting ground undisturbed. I sure was glad because it was paradise to me! Even if the hunting wasn't good I could sit there leaning back on a tree root and see all sorts of imaginary creatures like fairies and leprechauns in the dark moss up in the old trees. My imagination would run wild. Papaw would have to remind me we were there to hunt not daydream! Some times he would just say," What you think about?" Then I got to talk awhile but we didn't do much talking when we hunted.
We paused several times to listen for the squirrel's barking. A lot of the time he would just hold up his hand and I knew that meant "Quiet." We would head in the direction of barking or rustling in the leaves. Some time he would whisper,"Fox squirrel". I knew to look for a big old mean red squirrel then. They were good eating if we bagged one. Their red tail always glistened in the sun and they were easy to see but hard to kill. They seemed smarter than the average squirrels and escaped quite often unharmed.
This particular day the wildlife was really out. There were birds scratching up worms and grubs every few feet around where we wanted to hunt. It was going to be hard listening for the squirrels. Papaw spotted a squirrel's nest and we watched it a few minutes and no activity was there so we moved on. Some of the old trees were hollow at the bottom and I loved looking inside. They were like little rooms and some were big enough that I could have gone inside but I didn't. No telling what might be hiding in there! I had to concentrate on shooting squirrels. Well, Papaw did the shooting all the time. It was my job to help turn the squirrels in the trees. If he was on one side of the tree with the gun I would easy behind the tree and the squirrel would go his way and "BANG!" another meal was bagged. We had bagged quite a few but there was a commotion going on in the leave up ahead so we crept along trying to see what on earth it was. " May be a bear or one of them panthers we heard last summer at night. Stay right by my leg now, Caleb."Papaw warned. I remember how scared I was but the thought of killing a bear or panther out weighed all the fear. We eased behind a big oak tree where there were acorns all on the ground and looked at all the disturbed leaves. Something big was there for sure.
A few seconds passed and there they were. Groundhogs! Papaw hated groundhogs! In the summer they would get in the watermelon patch down by the creek and first destroy the hills when he planted them and then tromp on the vines all summer. Later they would nibble on the watermelons just when they were ready to pick. We watched these three chasing and eating acorns and they just ignored us being there. Papaw leaned over and said, "Caleb, you starting school next year aren't you?" I said, "Yes, sir." I wondered what going to school had to do with groundhogs. I knew not to ask. He loaded the old shot gun and handed it to me. "You fixing to kill you a groundhog." About that time one of the big old groundhogs darted into a tree trunk cavern and I tip toed over where I could see it sitting in there eating an acorn. I had shot tin cans off fence posts with the gun but right then this ground hog looked nothing like those cans. Papaw look at me and nodded. I was maybe ten feet from the tree and staring straight into the eyes of the angriest groundhog alive but not for long. I drew the gun, closed my eyes, squeezed the trigger and the next thing I knew there laid a dead groundhog. I had hit him right between the eyes! Papaw was so proud of me! I could tell because he gave me a big hug and patted me on the top of my head. I knew that meant a job well done. He had to help me drag the fat ground hog out of the tree. He estimated it weighed about as much as I did. He said I killed it and I would have to carry it home for everybody to see. Oh, I didn't have to be told that. I was so proud of that dead animal. I would have wagged it a thousand miles if need be to show it off no matter how heavy it was! Papaw had the squirrel bag over his shoulder and he took it off and for a minute I thought he was going to put the critter in with the squirrels but he took off his old denim jumper and laid the groundhog on it. He tied the arms around the dead groundhog and handed the knot up to me. "Now, you got you a bag for him." We took our time getting down the hill. I was exhausted most of the way. Every once in a while I would peek in to see if my cargo was still dead. He was getting mighty heavy about the time we got to the gate at the barn. Papaw offered to hold it there but no way was I turning it over to him. I had carried it this far so I was carrying it all the way.
I marched right in the house and laid that groundhog filled jumper in front of the fireplace, unwrapped him and summons my mother and Mamaw, "Get here quick! See, what I did!" Papaw walked out and left me to my glory moment. He came back with the couple next door to show them what a good shot I was. They bragged on me and I was never so pleased with myself.
Papaw accepted the fact that day that his little tag a long was growing up and wouldn't be there for long to hunt with him. After I started to school we did hunt a few more times. Most of those times he would have to tell me again about my first groundhog. I sure was glad it snowed that day and the snow melted early. That was one good hunting day!