FROZEN MEMORIES Andy Hollifield 11-9-19
The cold, crisp, mountain air hit my lungs like a jackhammer on concrete as it took my breath away and left the inside of my nose burning as I inhaled. There is nothing quite like a Blue Ridge Mountain winter morning. After taking just a second to get used to the cold and put our gloves and bogans on, the four of us set out across the road headed to the woods to do a little squirrel hunting.
As we walk the long gravel driveway of old Mr. Capps’ place, we joke about how any self-respecting squirrel with any good sense would probably still be hunkered down in the nest like we should be. Nineteen degrees is so cold that it chills even teenage boys to the bone. At least the wind ain’t blowing we thought.
As we cross over the barbed wire gate, we look to make sure the old bull isn’t anywhere around. He’s never bothered us before but today wouldn’t be a good day for him to start. I didn’t say anything to the others but I was wondering if I could even move fast enough to get away. My young joints knew they should still be in the bed buried under a big pile of cover.
I wasn’t sure I could count on them but like the old joke says, I didn’t have to be faster than the bull, just faster than one of the others. I was pretty sure I could outrun Jim. I had done it plenty of times before when I would pester him in spite of his warnings for me to leave him alone. When he finally hit his breaking point and that redhead temper kicked in, he would chase me until he got tired of running. Relief set in as we neared the trail up the hill and cross back over the fence to finally head into the woods.
As we start up the hill it doesn’t take long for our lungs to be burning and for us to be sucking wind. That hill was steep on a warm summer day and seemingly straight up when it was cold and you’ve got on two layers of clothes, the thickest coat you own, and toting a shotgun. We never really gave it any thought back then and didn’t realize that we weren’t just going squirrel hunting but were making memories that would last a lifetime.
My brother Jim and I had met Stanley and Steve when we were probably about ten or eleven. Jim was fifteen months older than me and Steve was at least a year older than Stanley. We all became instant friends and have remained that way to this day.
As young boys, no one wants to be the first to give in to being out of breath so one of us decides to stop and discuss which direction we were going to go once we reached the top. The hill was probably no more than a hundred yards long if that much but on cold days you would swear it was half a mile at least. When we all got stopped and finished sucking wind, we decided whether we would turn left and go around the backside or go straight until we got to the lean-to. We had camped many times in the homemade structure and it was always a good resting place in a cleared patch of woods with a couple of fallen logs for seats. We always slept by the fire in our sleeping bags and kept what little clothes and food we took with us in the lean-to so it didn’t get wet with dew.
After we finished catching our breath, even though no one would admit that’s what we were doing, we decided to go on past the lean-to to where there was a stand of hardwoods that always provided us with a squirrel or two. To be honest, though, looking back it seems we did a lot more tromping through the woods most of the time than what we did hunting.
Now, forty-something years beyond those days, when I happen to think about some of my childhood, it always brings a smile to my face to remember those days of tromping through the woods with my brother and my two best friends. I can still almost feel the numbness in my toes from those cold hunting trips. I can also remember the excitement of waking up to a light dusting of snow during rabbit season, hoping to be able to track one down for lunch or supper. I still remember the nights spent at Stan and Steve’s house, sitting at the kitchen table playing poker till the wee hours of the morning. We didn’t play for money cause we didn’t usually have any, plus our folks would have killed us if they had caught us gambling. Besides, the satisfaction of being better than all the others at least for that one lucky night was a good enough prize for any of us.
I also have a memory of me and Stan sleeping in our vehicles one night in early April so we would be the first ones at that spot on Cane River for Opening Day of Trout Season. Then there was the time when Stan and I and our friend Jon were camping at the lean-to and Jon threw an empty bug spray can in the fire and didn’t bother telling us until a few seconds later. Then it was only because he mentioned, “I wonder how long it will take that can to blow up.” Talk about three kids making a run for it, we were about fifty feet from the lean-to when it blew and made a worse noise than a dangerous explosion. We spent the rest of the night telling our buddy what an idiot we thought he was. He just laughed it off and made fun of us for being chicken.
Those things and a lifetime full of others are only a few of the good times I remember as a kid growing up. It was a different day, a day when twelve-year-olds carried shotguns hunting because we had been taught by our dads how to use and respect them. A day when nearly every high school boy of driving age kept his shotgun or rifle in the trunk of his car or on the gun rack in the back window of his pick up to go hunting after school. Yet, there was never a school shooting. It was a time when most of us boys went hunting or to work after school to try and buy the things we needed so our parents didn’t have to.
In those days, the Russians were the enemy and we were all proud to be Americans and apologized to no one for it. Only three channels on TV yet all of us knew when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey in 1980. We lived to see not only the Miracle On Ice but also we all mourned when Elvis died. It was a time when our phones were only at home or in a phone booth and they were all attached to a cord and receiver. The idea of a mobile phone was one with a long cord. Those ancient, historic, good old days, when not only did our hands and feet get frozen on hunting trips; but all of those wonderful memories got frozen in time in our minds forever.