When I was a small child in days of old, I listened to people talk with an almost reverent sense about how lucky I was that my Dad and Grandpa were so “Old School”. At the time, that was a good thing, meaning that they had grown up with an ingrained and well founded set of morals, ethics and values that they would impart upon their posterity, willingly or not so.
I never dreamed for one moment that anyone could ever consider me to be “Old School” in much the same way, and while I doubt many people at all would discuss me with anything even remotely approaching the same reverence, I have indeed proven to be relentlessly and perhaps inevitably, relegated to the status of one who is, in virtually every sense of the word … Old School.
I grew up in a different time and age. When I was a kid, we were not nearly as foolhardy as our parents or grandparents had been. Even in rural West (By God) Virginia, the times had changed the people and their way of thinking. I listened with great awe to the stories about the feats of my parents and grandparents when I was a small child, never dreaming the day may come when those same types of tales would be shared about me and what I thought at least, were the very modern trappings of my youth in a society that had long-since abandoned any pretense of “old school” as a good thing.
Alas, here I am in the world today. The times have changed and continue to change, in some ways for the better and in some ways not so much (if any) better. However, some of the tales of my youth … and indeed, even some of the actions that we participated in as children, are well worth the few moments it takes to read them, if for no other reason than merely to reflect back on a simpler time when people “keeping it real” had an entirely different meaning and flavor.
Where my dad got in trouble for big things like shooting down trees in the family orchards, or boiling the nitro-glycerin out of his dad’s dynamite, about the worst my brother and I ever did was racing over and through the mountain roads or having shotgun wars where we would pepper each other with bird shot fired out of a shotgun.
It was not like we were doing anything really dangerous like our parents or grandparents had done when they were kids or like the real outlaws did! By and large, we were just normal kids out having a good time in the mountains, hunting, fishing and occasionally getting a little bit toasted on old Chicken Bill’s hooch.
It should be noted that I am the second smallest man in my family. I have three cousins who stand … respectively, seven feet two inches tall (just over two hundred and eighteen centimeters tall), seven feet four inches tall (or just over two hundred and twenty-three centimeters tall) and seven feet and eight inches tall (a nearly record breaking two hundred and thirty-three centimeters tall).
Near record breaking men each and every one, all in their own right, and all Southern, small-town cops … and while I appreciate the basketball jokes, I regret to say that they do not. Still, suffice it to say that at barely five feet and ten inches tall (or a mere one hundred and seventy-seven centimeters in height) and breaking the scales at a mere two hundred and twenty pounds (or one hundred kilos), I am one of only three who did not break the six foot barrier in height and remain now, the second smallest male in my family.
This did however, force me to grow up very tough and ready to accept any challenge to prove that I was still worth my salt … and some of those stories will make for very entertaining reading as I get them all written out.
This story however, despite the introduction, is not about me so much as it is about one of my larger cousins, a rogue doe and my brother and I together on what should have been a simple quest to fill a freezer and feed our families.
In rural West (By God) Virginia back in those days, there were no meaningful jobs outside of the coal and timber industries, that, despite their destructive nature, could never provide enough jobs for everyone. As such, it was up to the people to figure out how to best provide for themselves and their families.
The most any of us expected from any politician was showing up around election time and buying the house a round in the local bar, and maybe even participating in a limited session of “Smokin’ and Jokin’” wherein they pretended to take an interest in our personal concerns, when in fact, most of them were far more interested in who had the best hooch and could care less about the needs of the people.
When I grew up, it was quite common for us to tag and bag the occasional deer without the benefit of a hunting license. You can say what you want from the comfort of your seat in McDonalds or Starbucks, whittling away the hours chatting on Facebook or taking pictures of your coffee to post on Instagram, but we lived in a different world in a different time.
There were virtually no pick up trucks in town that did not have a rifle rack with at least a rifle and a shotgun readily accessible and I am quite certain that you would have been hard pressed to discover any car without a firearm of some type ready to be utilized at a moment’s notice.
However, since most of us were too poor to own a vehicle of our own, and we, along with many of our parents, were forced to ride the school bus in to town, there was a rifle rack behind the driver’s seat in the school bus so that we could go hunting on the way home from school.
Yes, in those days, even the parents could get a ride into town on the school bus, and as long as they were there when school let out, or preferably a bit earlier so that they could load up their groceries and other provisions, they could get a ride back into our little town smack dab in the middle of Nothing and Nowhere.
Since there were no accommodations for pistols, we generally just toted our sidearms into school or around town with us. Oddly enough, we had a great many fist fights, bullies, breakups and other run-ins but nobody was ever so foolish as to grab a firearm as a means to gain attention or to try to make a name for themselves … very likely because they knew that their families would become pariahs and their name would be remembered in naught but a cheap grave marker if they received that much in the way of a memorial from the local community or even their own families.
Times were different in those days, and as much as I longed for the days of my dad or grandpa in my youth, and to have lived in their days and to have participated in the stories of their youths, I cherish the memories of my youth and will treasure these memories until I am gone … though some of them remain worth sharing … especially among people who will never enjoy the freedoms that we had way back in the days of yore.
Poaching may be frowned upon these days, as it always has been to some extent. However, what are the basic rights of humanity if not the right to feed themselves and their families? In those days, it was a bit of a different story in a different era. While poaching was generally a small, family or individual activity, occasionally a cousin or two may come along if they happened to need to fill their freezers at the same time.
Normally, when my brother and I would go out to fill our freezers, he would drive … as he was by and far one of the two best drivers in the local area, and either he or I would take the shot depending on which side of the road the deer were on. A twenty-two caliber, calibrated for the long-rifle round, is more than sufficient to stop a buck, a doe or even a yearling if it is placed in the eye or the ear … something which my brother and I could accomplish equally as well, each as the other.
On this particular occasion however, one of my larger cousins happened along for the ride. This would be beneficial, as such, because we could get a larger deer and still consume all of the meat in short order, rather than having to kill a smaller yearling to dispose of the meat in quickly, making it disappear from our freezers, kitchens and homes before anyone “questionable” happened along.
This was relevant, because at the time … and it may likely still be … that the game warden needed absolutely no warrant to enter a house if he had reason to suspect poaching had taken place, and that illegally gotten meat may be on the table … or in the refrigerator or freezer … or anywhere else on the property for that matter.
The use of the twenty-two caliber chambered for the long rifle, meant that the game warden was unlikely to hear the shot. My brother as a driver, if it became necessary, could avoid the chase of the game warden.
Looking back however, without diminishing in any way, the driving skills of my brother, on the rare occasion that he did give chase, I do not now believe that the game warden ever set it in his heart to actually catch us so much as to make my brother and I more cautious in our personal endeavors. Our vehicle was hardly inconspicuous and I am quite certain he knew full well what we were doing, but perhaps also was experienced enough to know that we had never lost any game we shot and that we were only taking what was necessary to feed our families. Rest assured, he will have a large part to play in a great many of the stories to be shared on these pages.
However, having our cousin along on the ride also meant that I would be relegated to the back seat. When we came across the deer and selected a nice, fat doe for harvest, it was decided that our cousin would take the shot as he was in my seat and the deer were on our side of the road.
It needs to be noted that at this point, we were on a hillside, maybe fifteen feet down into a field, with a rather steep and wet grass bank between the field and the road. My cousin lined up his shot, took the shot and scurried down the slope to fetch the doe while I circled the car, opened the trunk and came back around to dive back into the car so we could get home and start cleaning and eating … until I saw what was going on down at the base of the hill.
At this stage, you would do well to imagine my cousin in all his treacherous … while at the same time … seemingly harmless glory. Standing at over six feet and eight inches tall (or just over two hundred and three centimeters in height) with a full-on afro … and not just an afro, but a red-headed afro at that … and topping the scales at about three hundred pounds (or more than one hundred and thirty-six kilos). He could haul green ties that outweighed most any two men, one on each shoulder and never miss a beat.
I had shimmied around the car, opened the trunk and was just grabbing at the door to dive back in to the rather awkward spot in the back seat about the same time that my cousin had reached down with one of his great big paws to fetch that doe up … and about the time he started fetching her up, she decided that she had already had more than too much of this game and decided it was time for her to part ways with my cousin and go on about her merry way.
Two-stepping, in one fashion or another, has always been a popular dance in the mountains of rural West (By God) Virginia, but I had never before in my life, seen three hundred pounds of red-headed afro-haired hillbilly, two-stepping with a deer! Behold! It was indeed a site to see … and despite being somewhat pressed for time, I could not help but laugh aloud at the amazing sight unfolding right before my very eyes!
My cousin had reached down with one of his monstrously large paws … I mean hands, to fetch that deer up and drag her back up to the car. As soon as she got about halfway up though, she decided she no longer wanted anything to do with him and quickly set to bucking and jumping.
For those who may not be intimately familiar with the strength of a deer, a deer can, from a flat-footed stance, jump completely over a six foot fence or even an outhouse or shed standing near enough to eight feet tall … both events that I have witnessed on more than enough occasions to verify first hand.
When that old doe commenced to jumping, my cousin had no choice but to grab hold of one front deer leg in each of his hands and hang on for dear life … no pun intended.
For the life of me, I will never be able to get that picture out of my head. Here was my cousin, three hundred pounds, ginger afro and all, down at the bottom of this hill, two-steppin’ and dancing the twilight away with this old doe.
How could anyone not bust a gut at such a sight?
My brother however, had not been able to enjoy the show as I had, given that he had apparently seen a set of headlights coming around one of the bends … and hollered at me not to just stand there, but to go help my cousin. I would say that he knew instinctively that something was wrong given the amount of time that had elapsed, but I think perhaps my standing there and busting a gut laughing so hard may have already just irritated him, and to see another vehicle approaching … his warning was heeded and I proceeded down the hill to give my cousin a hand … or so I thought.
In my heyday, growing up as I had, I would like to think that I was tough as any three normal men on one of my slow days, but as I previously noted here, a deer has exceptionally strong legs, most notably its rear legs … and my cousin had a firm hold on the front legs of the doe and was not about to let loose … so here is this big tough cousin of mine trying to keep from dancing, while I try to wrangle in and manhandle two rear legs, each one of which is more than strong enough to literally put me into flight with ease.
Fortunately for me … though as much by sheer luck as by any real measure of skill on my part, the only places she managed to clip me with her powerful hind legs were on the wrist and the arm … and neither one of those resulted in anything more than a fracture.
On an even brighter note, when we did finally manage to wrestle her into the trunk of the car and close it, the bruise she put in the middle of my back by kicking me through the back seat helped to dull the previous pains in my wrist and arm to the level of being a minor inconvenience in comparison.
(And while I do reckon that my cousin was much more deserving of this punishment, I am sure there was ample grounds to justify my being on the receiving end as well)
Now after such a sight as a three hundred pound, red-headed, afro-haired hillbilly, two-stepping with a doe at the base of a hill in a field, you may think that the story would end there, but in reality, we still had probably one hundred and seventy-five pounds of angry, very lively doe to deal with before we could even think about calling it a night.
My cousin was, not surprisingly perhaps, ashamed because he had taken a poor shot … as well he should have been … and we would ride him pretty hard about that for years to come, but in his anger, frustration and his infinite hillbilly wisdom, he deemed it best to get a little five shot Charter Arms Pug and shoot the deer while she was still in the trunk … not remembering or caring that the gas tank was right underneath the deer … I decided to relieve him of his responsibility and took the pistol from him and instructed him to wait to open the trunk.
Once I had cleared a line of fire, I had my brother standing on one side of the trunk, had my cousin there to open the trunk from the same corner my brother was covering, ensuring that the deer would come out my way and giving me a free shot.
While some people may dispute the claims, I have personally had to track down deer for nearly a mile, only to discover that the shot had indeed been good. One in particular comes to mind that made it nearly a mile with more than half the heart shot out.
She came flying out of that trunk dead set on beating down the gates of hell if she had to, just to get past us. Five shots rang out and five clear indications of solid hits quickly ensued. Yet so full of adrenaline was this old doe, that she just kept on running towards the nearest thicket.
Nobody there questioned the placement or the efficacy of my handiwork, but this deer was so hopped up on adrenaline, any one of those shots (that should have) could have killed her instantly and she would have kept on running merely from muscle memory … but she was far from being done messing with us.
At this time, she was bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig, and in my mind, I cannot help but equate it to some kind of underlying miracle which I will never understand, that she was able to keep on running. She ran, naturally of course, directly into the nearest, densest patch of thickets that she could find.
It was full on dark by now, and we had not even started ribbing my cousin yet, but my brother and I had never lost one critter we took, and we were not about to start that night. We gathered up some flashlights, some heavier clothes for trucking through the thickets and we set out after the doe, hoping to get her home before too late an hour.
I will never in my life know how she managed it, but we tracked her through the brush for what must have been more than ten or twelve miles of some of the harshest progress I have ever made. I say ten or twelve miles as I cannot know exactly, but I do happen to know for a fact that where she ended up was a dead eight mile run on the local road … because she ended up right at the house of the local pastor out by the main road.
If everything I had seen so far amazed me, what I saw next was truly the proverbial icing on the cake to beat it all.
About the time we came upon the house of the pastor, his dogs lit up with a holler. The pastor came out of his house, looking around, a toothpick in one hand, lighting a cigarette with the other … before pulling the cigarette down to put the toothpick to use.
All this time the three of us are standing not ten or fifteen feet from the deer, not daring to move. Irritating the local pastor is just not something that is really socially acceptable in the mountains and if there is any chance of getting out of pissing off the pastor, you just best avoid it altogether … so we were dead silent … but this deer is looking us all dead in the eyes.
The Pastor at this stage, is only half paying any attention to us in the woods as we were standing there, still as we could be, trying hard to blend in to the brush and thickets we were still relatively trapped in.
The deer switched its glance up towards where the pastor was standing, took one look back at us and jumped the fence into the yard of the pastor, took one look up and I swear, stared the pastor right in the eyes just as it had stared at us before making its final leap, and then laid down and died right there.
The pastor looked up towards the heavens, probably giving thanks, walked back into the house only to reappear a mere moment later with a skinning knife and went to work.
We had to wait a good while longer, out there in the cold, watching the pastor skinning out that deer before we could get back out to the road and begin the long, cold, empty-handed journey back home.