Record high temperatures have somewhat stifled the energy and enthusiasm of hitting the swamps in full force. The desire is still there, but the sweat and swatting of mosquitoes takes away from the overall experience. I can think of only a couple of days during this hunting season, thus far, when the wind was sustained out of the northwest and your woolies were needed to combat the cold. In fact, due to major fronts colliding with unseasonable warm conditions, several states to our north experienced horrific tornadoes with unprecedented loss of property and life. Please keep our friends in neighboring states in your thoughts and prayers. With these climatic conditions, it’s been not only difficult for me to get in the “mood” for outdoor excursions, but the Christmas spirit has also been hampered just a bit as well. Well, I’ve been working on that and I’m full throttle now with the “season.”
I went with Stacey to her “workout group’s” Christmas party. We were welcomed by gracious hosts, and Dawn’s home was beautifully decorated for the event. As soon as I walked into the home, my spirit up ticked a notch or two. Stacey’s workout leader, Laura, was next to welcome us and knowing I was an outdoorsman, she pointed to a group of gentlemen in the corner engaged in conversation of we, as hunters, talk about. She cracked me up when she said, “Those guys over there in the corner are talking about those things that fly and those things that walk, if you’d like to join them.” I quickened my step, for I wanted to hear about what was going on in other swamps beside the one I have been stomping through. My spirit ticker went up one more notch.
I listened to bow hunting stories, and how a son redeemed himself with a very nice buck after missing a shot earlier in the season. There were hog hunting stories, and of course the saga that is ever present at Christmas parties, that being, “where are the ducks?” You can count on two things at every Christmas event, that being great food and the conversation about a cruddy duck season. That’s ok, for I expect it now and it’s somewhat comical. Regardless, I met a bunch of good fellows and we shared our passion of the love for the outdoors.
Rudolph, Frosty, and The Grinch have been recorded and played several times at our home recently. I missed Charlie Brown’s Christmas, but I’m sure we’ll find it. It’s about the time for “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Next will be Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” and a multitude of Christmas specials. My favorite time of year is here, and steamy weather or not, I’m getting fully engaged. Just like preparing for hunting season, you can also prepare for the season at hand. We’ll re-visit this in a bit.
With my ticker thumping just a bit harder with the anticipation of what’s here, I thought of some of my more memorable Christmases, and I hope “Christmases” is the plural form of the word. I went all the way back to my childhood, and though they are all so special, which ones did I recall the most as the best? I remember vividly, when I tore the wrapping from the box that held my first BB gun. The red and green paper is still vibrant in my mind and I know exactly where I was sitting when dad played Santa and handed to me what I would carry for years in our wooded neighborhood. Though quite memorable, I don’t think this was my favorite.
I could classify my “best” Christmas when I found a quarter horse tethered to the fence in our backyard. “Gundo,” and I left many hoofprints through our neighbor’s lawns and in the fields and woods near our home. For years, my dapple-grey buddy was my mode of transportation to town, rodeos, camping trips, and more. I learned about horsemanship and how to care for a large animal. He inspired me to think about vet school, but Michigan State was a long way from home for a Mississippi boy. Though this was truly a “Merry” one, it may not be the best I remember.
A very special one was when dad opened a box that I had hidden behind our Christmas tree. The card had my sister’s name on it just so Pop wouldn’t suspect anything. Again, he was playing Santa, when he read the card. He was in the process of handing it to Jan when I told him, “That one is yours dad.” He paused briefly, and looked at me. Did he now suspect something? I’ll really, never know. He paused again when he saw in big red letters, the word Ruger. I couldn’t hide it anymore. He gently lifted the flaps on the box, and I can still see the tears on his cheeks when he revealed to mom and my sister, the Ruger Number 1 rifle. This one was, and is, pretty special, and I don’t mean just the rifle. The next evening, I heard it crack, and when we met back at dark, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for the deer rifle, let’s go get my buck.” Cool stuff, but still not sure this is the best one.
Years ago, my dad and Mr. Charles Warwick had lease together on the property that is now the Grand Gulf nuclear plant near Port Gibson. Mr. Al Arnold owned the plantation near Bayou Pierre. If I recall, and it’s been a half century ago at least, this was a working soybean and cattle operation. I was too young at the time to participate in the full experience of deer hunting, but I was fortunate enough to be sitting with dad when he collected several bucks. I should take a trip back down there sometime, but I’m sure it has changed to the point where it wouldn’t even be recognizable. Oh well, I may do it anyway.
Oscar Nicholas Jr. was Mr. Arnold’s farm manager and he lived in a very small home on the place with his wife and nine children. The wooden structure was barely large enough for two, much less a family of eleven. Times were hard for this family, and even at my young age, I could tell they didn’t have the luxuries of what many had. Oscar was a proud man. He worked hard and did what he could to provide for his family. He always stood tall and extended a handshake to everyone. When the need was there for tracking a buck, or helping with a stuck jeep, you could count on him. On Christmas morning, he would hitch up the wagon and put on his best clothes and take his family out for a ride through the farm. This was the highlight of their Christmas. There may have been a small gift or two for each child, but I know it wasn’t much.
Unknowing to me, dad made a mental note of how many boys and girls there were in this family and approximate ages. I wasn’t sure what we were taking to the camp the week before Christmas. The 11 brown bags contained a variety of apples, oranges, different candies, clothes, and who knows what else. What stood out in my mind, and still does, was the look on this family’s faces when dad pulled up to the house. There was a stairstep of faces peering from the door. From the smallest child to the largest, no one exited the rickety door as dad began lining up the bags with each child’s name on a bag. There was a bag for Mr. Oscar and his bride as well. Almost too proud to accept my dad’s generosity, he hesitated, before my dad spoke to the children exclaiming, “Come on out, Santa asked me to deliver this to you.” He then shook Mr. Oscar’s hand and said, “Merry Christmas, Oscar.”
As we pulled out onto the dirt road, the front porch was alive with children scurrying about and digging through the brown paper sacks. Dad never looked back, and I never recall him mentioning anything to anyone about this gesture except to my mom. This one, this Christmas, is probably one of my favorites, if not THE favorite. This is good stuff, and I will always remember it.
Do you have a favorite Christmas? Is it because of a special gift you received? Maybe we should all think about what makes this time of year so special. It is the season for giving and we have all received the gift from our Lord, that being our infant born in the manger so long ago. Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope this Christmas is special for you. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.