A hunting trip when nobody hunted

My father put his foot down in finality, and that was that. I could not have a Daisy BB gun, and I was to stop teasing. Dad said they were dangerous, and nothing doing. Then at breakfast time on my 10th birthday, he gave me my present, and I forgot all about a BB gun.

None of my chums had a single-shot bolt-action .22-caliber Winchester rifle, but I did. That was in October, and Dad and I spent many a fall and winter day in the woods as he trained me in the use and care of my rifle.

A year later, he suggested we go up-country to see Cousin Jimmy Edgecomb and stay over the brand-new holiday, Armistice Day. It would be my first venture into the wilds and my first hunting trip. This was in 1919.

Cousin Jimmy Edgecomb was kith and kin, all right, but it was tenuous. I think 10 generations ago our ancestors were two half-brothers.

Cousin Jimmy was approaching his 100th birthday, and while he never married, he had devoted his life to bringing up foster children. He had made an arrangement with the state welfare people, and youngsters who needed a decent home came to live at his place. He had a huge family of "state children" scattered all over the map, each of them grateful for happy childhood days on his farm at Industry, Maine.

Cousin Jimmy came out to greet us, with the three state children still living there. One was Lydia Gifford, who was well into her middle age. She was housekeeper. Then there was an elderly fellow who helped with chores, and Harold Spinney, who was much younger and liked the place so well he never left. Dad knew Lydia wouldn't take money for kindnesses, so we'd brought a great box of groceries.

We were shown to our room, and the groceries were delivered, including 10 porterhouse steaks that had set Dad back a few dimes, even in 1919.

My dad had been a meat cutter in a market before he knew me, and knew his steaks. The steaks would be a generous offering to Cousin Jimmy, and would taste good to us, too.

All afternoon, as we rode in our Model T up to Industry, Dad and I kept thinking about a good steak supper, and how happy Cousin Jimmy would be that we'd come. So we freshened up in our chamber at Cousin Jimmy's and went down for supper.

Lydia was hovering at the stove, and she said, "Now, I've put the steaks down cellar where they'll be cool, and for supper I thought - where this is a special occasion - we'd have something special. I've made a clam chowder! Doesn't that smell some good?"

This makes sense. From one year's end to the next, seafood in Industry was an impossible luxury. To Dad and me, living in a seacoast town, clams could be had by digging them on any tide. But Lydia's clam chowder was made with canned clams. The blue color of the chowder and its fragrance betrayed the difference.

I always loved my father, but never more than then. I heard him say, "Oh, Lydia! What a nice thing to do! But, we get clams all the time, and you folks don't. So you folks go ahead and enjoy your chowder, and I'll go below and find a steak for us! I wouldn't think of robbing you by eating your chowder!"

Dad and I never did go hunting at Cousin Jimmy's. When we came down for breakfast, Lydia had everything ready, and sandwiches for lunches afield. As we ate, Cousin Jimmy said deer had been coming into his orchard looking for drops, so that'd be a good place to start. Harold Spinney said he'd be glad to show us where the deer had been coming in. But first he'd have to go to the town office and get a hunting license.

It was almost noon when Harold got his license, and we sat on the back steps in the sun and ate Lydia's lunches, which were very good. Then Harold said he'd have to go up attic and find his gun. He thought he could put his hand right on it.

When he came down with it, after quite some time, it was well into the afternoon. Lydia said where we'd been hunting all day, she expected we'd be famished. She set us an early supper: steak and eggs, hot potato salad, creamed carrots, and hot apple pie with whipped cream. So we didn't go hunting, and the next morning my father and I drove home.

Before we went to bed that night, Harold told of some of his experiences when he went to Kansas one fall to work the harvest. It was the only time he was away from home. New harvesting combines were used that year, and the crew rode on the combine, each man to his own job.

Harold was last man on the back end, and he tied off the bags as each was filled with grain. Big improvement over the old way. But one day, the mule team took fright at something and ran off. The driver yelled and cracked his whip, but the mules kept on wildly, the great combine on behind with all functions at top speed.

Harold said he never expected to see anything just like it again. The mules ran for 20 miles, the whole length of a Kansas prairie fence. Harold said in that distance they cut, threshed, screened, sifted, winnowed, and bagged 50 bushels of barbed-wire fence staples. "And," Harold said, "I ought to know, for I tied the bags."

If that turns out to be an ancient, oft-told Kansas story, so be it, but it is also a Maine hunting-trip tale; a hunting trip when nobody hunted.

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