Memories of My Father
By John Negich
The bedroom was dark when I awoke, with just a faint glimmer of light that slid under the door to disturb the darkness. I snuggled deeper into the warm softness of the bed and pulled the covers snugly around my body to shut out any cold air that would try to creep in. I knew someone was awake because I could smell the mixed aroma of coffee and bacon coming from the kitchen. But knowing that it was Saturday and that it was still dark outside and there was no school, the bed felt just too comfortable to leave.
Saturday!!!!! I was suddenly wide awake as I realized that today was the first day of small game season, and to a young boy of ten going on eleven, this day held as much joy and excitement as any day could ever hold, even if I was not old enough to hunt myself. I cautiously, but quickly slipped out of bed trying not to wake my little brother who was sharing the bed with me. A brief chill ran through me as my feet hit the cold linoleum floor. Today I did not give it a second thought as I dressed quickly and made my way to the kitchen as fast as possible.
“Good Morning Dad.”
“Hi son,” He said without looking up from his breakfast.
“Where are you going to hunt today?” I asked with all the enthusiasm I could muster.
He slowly leaned back in his chair, thought for a moment as he picked bacon from between his teeth.
“I think I’ll go out to the Karp farm and hunt the apple orchard behind the house where it meets the cornfield. Maybe I can catch that old rooster we saw crossing the road there the other day feeding in the corn.”
I knew the place well as we had spent a lot of time in the area picking wild black raspberries in July and collecting walnuts in the fall.
“Can I go with you please Dad, please, please, please?” I pleaded.
I had asked many times before and had always been met with the same response.
“Maybe when you get a little older, I will let you walk along with me,” he would say.
However, this time he hesitated just a bit and my spirit began to soar.
He walked over to the white porcelain stove, poured another cup of coffee and said, “Dress warm, put on your rubber boots, and wear my old orange vest.”
My mother of course was hesitant but he assured her we would only be gone for a couple hours and he was growing tired of me pestering him about going.
“It’s time the boy gets a taste of it to see if he really wants to be a hunter.”
She reluctantly agreed, so we piled into the old Chevy and I was off on my first real hunt.
I walked behind him tracing his footsteps and watched as he moved along the thick hedgerow that separated the apple orchard and the harvested cornfield. I could hear the dry autumn leaves crackle under Dad’s boots as he walked slowly and alertly through the brush searching out and kicking every possible piece of cover that the big bird might be hiding in. Suddenly there it was, a brilliant thundering mass of color and blurred wings climbing through the now barren limbs of the apple trees. With a quick, rock-steady movement Dad raised the JC Higgins 12-gauge pump, took quick and careful aim, and sent the ring necked bird plummeting to the ground. After he retrieved the bird, he turned, and with a sly grin, winked at me. The experience was all and more than I could ever have imagined and I knew that on that overcast morning in October of 1957, a new hunter was born.
It was a hot and bright August afternoon in 1958 without a cloud in the sky as Dad and I sat along the fencerow in the shade of a red oak watching over the newly mowed hayfield, waiting for a groundhog to show. My father was always adamant about not hunting groundhogs until July or August when the hay had been cut and the litter of pups had grown to be self-sufficient. I always admired that attitude and think it instilled in me a greater respect for the animals that I would hunt in the years ahead. Dad was dressed in well-worn khaki pants with an old black leather belt, a white snug fitting t-shirt, and a black CAT hat. The t-shirt fit high and tight around his arms exposing large biceps that I was sure this skinny kid would never possess. At that point in his young life he was a strong, healthy, and handsome man. His gaze was intense as his head slowly scanned the field back and forth over and over again in an almost rhythmic motion. As I watched him, I wondered if I would someday have the absolute patience he exhibited to stay focused on the task at hand while remaining almost motionless. I somehow doubted that I ever would. Occasionally his patience would lapse and he would look at me and whisper sternly “If you can’t stay still and quiet, we will never see anything” as I struggled to find a position that I was comfortable with.
From a distance that I guess was about fifty yards, a groundhog finally stuck only its head out of the burrow and did not move for the longest time as it surveyed the field and surrounding area. Dad tapped me on the shoulder, slowly pointed to the groundhog and put his finger to his lips to make sure I stayed quiet and motionless. My muscles were cramping as it seemed an eternity before the groundhog slowly lumbered from the burrow out into the field and Dad raised the rifle to his shoulder and anchored it to the fencepost with his left hand. I don’t recall the make of the gun but I know it was an old bolt action 22 with open sights and was deadly in my father’s hand. My heart was beating faster and faster and my eyes were fixated on our quarry as I waited for the moment when he would fire.
In what seemed like an instant, Dad whistled, the groundhog stood upright, the gun fired once and the groundhog fell. At that particular moment in time I was certain that there was no one alive that could possibly be a better shot than my father. Over the many years that followed and after many hunts together, he continued to reinforce that belief. I also knew that day, that the hunting experience was something I loved and could not wait until I was old enough and skilled enough for him to trust me to take that shot.
As I move into the autumn of my years I know that I am very fortunate to have built a treasure trove of memories hunting in our great state. I will always cherish the people I shared those experiences with as well as the animals I have been fortunate enough to hunt. Above all, I will always be indebted to my Father for planting the seeds that made me a hunter and enabled me to experience and store so many special recollections.
John Negich has published a novel called Retribution, a book of portry called My Life In Rhymes, as well as other short stories and poetry. He has been writing for pleasure most of his life in an attempt to capture inportant moments, people and places. He is proud to live in Export, Pennsylvania– the town he was raised in, with his wife Polly.
I Love a Parade
By Marshall Nych
October was just a week old. The crisp, cool autumn air filled my lungs with hope, life, and purpose. This archery season promised to be a good one. Unbeknownst to me, it had its fingers crossed!
On Friday night, I had planned an evening hunt with my bow, favorite stand, and the many deer on our family farm. However, my devious little sisters, Gigi and Krissy, had other plans. They insisted that either my father or I take them to the West Middlesex Homecoming Parade.
“All of the popular kids will be there,” cried Gigi.
“Yeah. We have to go,” snapped Krissy.
Ironically, my own sisters were becoming less popular with me by the second. I do not believe they cared.
Looking towards my father and I with her patented puppy dog eyes, Gigi said, “One of you has got to take us!”
I looked to my father, the head of the household, who always used good judgment to make the right decision. My dad immediately grabbed his hunting gear and headed for the door.
“Have fun with the girls Marshall,” Dad snickered.
Speaking of Snickers, the only comfort I managed to find was that I might get some sugary loot from this parade. I grabbed three large feedbags from my grandpa’s barn and the three of us were off to beautiful downtown West Middlesex.
Gigi, Krissy, and I arrived along Main Street at about the time I should have been arriving to Gitmo (our farm’s deadliest stand.) I am still trying to figure out why West Middlesexuals (that is what someone from West Middlesex is called) decided to call it Main Street. The road hosts dilapidated, cracked sidewalks that connect the school to Dairy Mart and Dairy Mart to our only local bar, the Bear.
As the parade began, I had deer on my mind. I constantly glassed small yards and glared onto porches in search of the elusive whitetail. Various organizations floated by our sidewalk stand. I quickly made an observation. Most of the people in the parade were old! Old men made up the entire local VFW float as well as the neat little Zem Zem cars. I wouldn’t have considered this observation such a bad thing if old men actually knew how to throw candy.
Our feedbags were still empty when the Homecoming Court convoy drove along Main Street. Most towns have future queens perched upon Corvettes and other fine sports cars. I have shared with you just how different West Middlesex is. Our teenage royalty rode shotgun in rusty trucks or on top of dusty tractors. One young lady was in something close to a Corvette…she was nestled in a Coronet. I was a little disappointed (mainly that none of the sweethearts threw any Sweet Tarts!)
Gigi, Krissy, and I knew the goodies were about to show up! The West Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department always drove their fire engine through the parade and has amassed an indisputable reputation for giving the most grub.
There hadn’t been too many fires to fight, so the firefighters, having nothing better to do, pulled out all of the stops for this year’s Homecoming Parade. The entire volunteer crew volunteered to dress like circus clowns as they made their parade appearance. The uniformed firefighters hid behind white makeup, red noses, and fuzzy wigs. This made me question both the quality and sanity of our “homeland security.”
Just before the big red fire truck had made its way to our spot in front of the convenience store in a one-convenience store town, the sirens went off with an eerie authenticity. Suddenly, the clowns did not seem so friendly. Worse yet, the volunteer crew quit throwing their handfuls of Smarties and Snickers.
Apparently outside of town Old Man Burns’ barn had caught on fire while he was smoking one of his cheap cigars. The fire truck was summoned immediately. This tidbit was not revealed to the rest of West Middlesex…especially the small children who wanted candy! The crew jumped in the truck and hit the gas. The screaming truck (the screaming was from the clowns, not the truck) swerved between the marching band and the Zem Zems trying to escape the very parade that gave them their annual supply of fifteen minutes of fame.
Little kiddos were racing onto the road thinking that the fire truck would reward them as it had in parades past. However, it nearly turned them into small pavement pancakes instead. Clowns were cursing and throwing candy way up in the trees to lure the children and me off the roads. This ploy worked for most of the kiddos…not me.
The West Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department finally succeeded in its exit and arrived to the flaming barn. According to the newspaper, they did a fine job extinguishing the blaze. I would have given up another night of hunting and my empty sack of candy to see the look on Old Man Burns’ face when a truck full of clowns pulled up to his barn!
Marshall Nych’s habitat is a family farm in New Wilmington, PA. When Marshall isn’t writing outdoor humor, he is an elementary teacher misguiding the youth of Mercer County. Although Nych has fished 15 states and 4 countries, his best catches remain his wife and daughter.