My father loved hunting and fishing. Before his back got really bad, there was always fish and game of one kind or another in the fridge and freezer. I remember being a little girl (probably around 5) and walking into the bathroom to see him cleaning a squirrel in the tub. He looked over his shoulder and said, “Don’t you tell your Mama.” I don’t remember what happened next, but I probably either watched him clean the squirrel, yelled for Mom, or did a combination of the two.
In the shed behind our house, Dad had turkey tails tacked to the wall. This is where he cleaned the larger game. (Mom freaked if she walked into the bathroom or kitchen and found an animal (or part of an animal) in the sink or tub.) I would watch him cleaning turkeys, fascinated by the little world contained inside the birds. My father, seeing within me the seed of a hunter like him, took me out for the annual bird hunt prior to Thanksgiving on some property owned by a family friend. I was around six or seven.
I remember sitting beside Dad in the brush, watching a flock of turkeys slowly coming into range. The big gobbler was out front, leading his harem of hens. We had a decoy set up some yards in front of us. My father had a call in his mouth and he was mimicking the call of a hen. Dad was really great with turkey calls and only needed a diaphragm mouth call rather than one of those boxes. Anyway, I don’t really remember the outcome of that hunt. The memory is very fuzzy. For years, I only knew that, for a long time, Dad wouldn’t take me hunting again.
Fast forward to my teenage years. I asked Dad to take me hunting that year. His back wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t sit in the brush with his daughter while calling turkeys. I really wanted to bag something. To my joy and surprise, he consented.
I remember that morning so well. We stood on the front porch in our camo, drinking coffee and looking out over the misty fields. I felt so much like a grown up. After coffee and breakfast, we went out to that same property, back to that same meadow, and hunkered down. That same decoy was staked a few yards ahead of us. Dad sat behind me, propped against a tree, and made his calls while I waited with the gun. I was so nervous. My aim isn’t all that great and I feared missing the gobbler entirely.
After a while, something rustled in the branches above us. Believe it or not, turkeys can fly. For obvious reasons, they don’t do it very well and they don’t go very far. Perhaps a hundred yards at a time. For whatever reason, this local flock decided to roost in the tree against which Dad sat. With my heart fluttering, we waited.
Finally, Dad whispered, “Suzanna, I think I know why the turkeys aren’t coming down.”
“Why, Dad?” I whispered back.
“I’m wearing white socks.”
My father, a seasoned hunter, wore white socks to a hunt. The turkeys knew something was wrong, which was why they weren’t coming down out of the tree. I turned to look back at him with my mouth hanging open in shock. He looked back with a grin that would have made Loki proud. Frustrated and bitterly disappointed, I stood, startling the birds, and we left. I couldn’t fathom why he made such a novice mistake and why he found it funny!
One Thanksgiving, after my father’s death years later, I recounted that story. I said, “I have no idea why he waited so long to take me hunting again and why he would wear white socks!”
Mom replied, “You don’t remember what happened that first time, when you were little?”
“You got impatient. After watching the turkeys for a while, you shouted, ‘GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE’ and scared them away. Stanley came home so mad! He said he’d never take you out again!” And she laughed while it hit me.
My father had a wicked sense of humor, combined with a patience that rivaled a sniper’s. He never forgot my mistake when I was six or seven and when I asked to go hunting, he saw his chance for revenge. And it took me ten years to get the joke.
Dammit, Dad! (But, you have to admit, it is kind of funny.)