“Two Duck Suppers”

This hunting story passage appears in the book Knee Deep In Fish by John P. Faris, Jr.

“Our half-hour ride takes us down small country roads. By preference and design, we have plotted a course that leaves four-lane highways completely out of sight and out of mind. Our chosen course is a collection of stitched together, lane and a half, tar and gravel, farm to market roads. Thus, named such by the federal government during the depression to create work for, and provide assistance to farmers for moving their crops to rail heads and market outlets. This path to our farm takes us longer. No matter. The beauty of the drive on this crisp clear day is more than adequate compensation. 

Old trees, many different varieties, push in against the gentle curves and rolling hills. Now and then, the early afternoon winter sun shoots sharp shafts of bright warm light across our path. The autumn leaves are not quite yet done. Here and there, a wild cherry or white oak showers the road. The light breeze pushes double armfuls across our way like wee small children holding hands and scurrying across our path to the opposite side. As the truck whisks through the procession, dozens more of gold and caramel-colored leaves gleefully spring high, swirl, and dance in the rear-view mirror. Every mile traveled, the winter light paints a unique scene of colors, textures, and movement. 

I find it hard to describe the beauty and magic of these moments. Old fence lines of rusty hog wire are nailed to handsplit cedar posts silvered by age. Sections of barbed wire long ago grown into forty-year-old oaks, hickories, and sweetgums line unused pastures. Driving further on, we pass mustard yellow ragweed that has taken over the center of the dirt two track lane. Then we round a sharp curve with yellow flames of hickory or a splash of sumac so vibrantly scarlet that you might declare it unreal. The farm, our destination rises on our left. Will knows this place, remembering well barn-burner dove shoots and icy morning duck hunts. He bounces back and forth using his eighty pounds to sway the truck from side to side, telling me, “Hurry up, Boss. Let’s go!”

“200 Duck Season”

This hunting story passage appears in the book The Tide Flows Out by John P. Faris, Jr.

Of course, it was never just about the ducks. There was the comradery, the friendly competition, and the adventure of each outing. We all enjoyed hunting together so very much. It was being in the marsh, on the river, or in a flooded run of timber as the stars evaporated and the ducks rode the pink-rose dawn light.

For me it was the countless miles I walked along a creek bank with my friend Sammy and the learning of the wood’s ways from my dad and his older hunting buddies. It was just being with my dad in those final days when I was still a boy, but soon to marry and be a dad myself. I will always remember that 1966 season.

A special time. One to be cherished. One to be remembered.

“You Got My Attention”

This hunting story passage appears in the book Ten Was The Deal by John P. Faris, Jr.

The cold salt water was up to our calves.  It was rising slowly, but rising nonetheless.  Both Dad and I had on chest waders and neither of us would have given the height of the rising water a second thought, except for the fact that, where we were standing, the water level for half a mile in every direction was neck deep.

To be exact, the two of us were shoulder to shoulder in a curtain blind behind the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in the middle of Croatan Sound.  Hunting from such a strange contraption was quite new to both of us.  The delicious mixture of danger, the adventure of the unknown, and the anticipation of my first goose hunt had me shivering.

“Bigger Fish to Fry”

This fishing story passage appears in the book Ten Was The Deal by John P. Faris, Jr.

The small building had that quiet, cluttered feel of all country stores.  It offered just about anything you could imagine for a day on the lake.  There were shelves of brightly hand-painted corks, display cards of black-and-white porcupine quill floats, and hooks in small die cut boxes either all the same size or in assortments.  There were sinkers of all shapes and sizes from the smallest split shot on up.  An array of various length shellacked cane poles hung in racks from the wooden rafters.  There were small glass jars of dyed pork rind in black, green, and dark purple colors.  There were cardboard displays of white and yellow Shyster spinning baits.  Glass-front cabinets held boxes of individual plugs like Jitter Bugs, Hawaiian Wigglers, River Runts, and Pal-O-Mine Minnows.  It was a place where a fisherman could spend hours.

“La Robe Jaune (The Yellow Dress)”

The following chapter appears in the book Ten Was The Deal by John P. Faris, Jr.

It was late October, and we were in the middle of an Indian summer.  Already there had been some cool weather accompanied by several heavy frosts.  We had enjoyed almost a week of warm, but crisp, clear days with bright fall colors.  There had also been no rain.

Rabon Creek, perhaps our most favorite duck hunting water, was down.  The sandbars, now exposed, were covered with freshly fallen pin oak acorns.  It was a splendid Saturday!

Sammy, my fifteen-year-old hunting partner, and I had talked his granddad into dropping us off above the Sandpit so we could duck hunt the Coon Den stretch of Rabon Creek.

Almost every stretch of river we hunted had been given a name long ago.  The Coon Den section was midway up Rabon Creek.  At the end of the old logging road that lead to this part of the little river was a hollow red oak about as big around as a fifty-five-gallon barrel.  Thirty feet up the tree trunk, a missing limb had left a sizeable hole.  Many a late evening while one of us quietly leaned up against that old tree and waited on the ducks to float or fly close by, a resident momma coon would lead her late-spring babies out of that hole.  If you remained perfectly still, they would pass only a couple of feet away on their nightly trek to the creek side to search for supper.

By the time the truck turned onto the Cold Point Road, Sammy and I had decided that this afternoon it was my turn to be let out first.  A half-mile further up Rabon Creek, Sammy would get out and then work his way downriver to the Coon Den where I waited.  We would then hunt together toward the Sandpit until Sammy’s granddad picked us up right after dark fell.

We always stayed to dusk on our afternoon hunting trips so we could see how many ducks passed the Sandpit going to roost.  All the mallards and black ducks roosted on Greenwood Lake and those that flew up Rabon Creek to feed had to pass over the Sandpit near dark to get to the big lake.  Before hunting this creek, or any other for that matter, we wanted to know how many ducks were using that stretch of water.  We could determine the number by counting the ducks that flew down at dark the previous night.   As long as the acorns remained plentiful, the ducks would return to where they left.

When we stopped on the dirt road at the head of the Coon Den turnoff, I slid out of the faded, dark green 1950 Chevrolet pickup.  I took my 12-gauge Browning out of its gun case.  As the truck pulled off, I loaded four No. 6 high brass Blue Peter’s into the magazine, dropped one more into the barrel, and quietly closed the receiver.

I started down the old logging road.  It had been cut in thirty years ago when the original pines had been harvested.  The winding dirt road was now once again flanked by nice saw timber, so it was shady and carpeted with long, fresh pine needles.

My quarter-mile walk was so eerily quiet I could not even hear my own footsteps on the soft carpet of pine straw.

Rounding one of the many curves, I was surprised when I came upon a car parked in the middle of the narrow road.  It was a late model, sporty, red job with a decal of the letters CHS on the rear window.  CHS stood for Clinton High School, our archrival in every respect.  The automobile was faintly familiar.  It was parked right between two large pines which flanked the road.  The road was completely blocked by the car.

It was unusual to see any kind of vehicle on this road.  It was strange to see an automobile and not a pickup truck, and it was stranger still that it was obstructing the road.

It was an unwritten rule in the country woods.  Do not block a road, no matter how infrequently it is used.  During my teenage years, the woods belonged to everyone.  Seldom did you see a No Hunting or No Trespassing sign posted.  No one with any sense would block a road leading to the river.

I eased past the car, casually glancing through the rolled-up windows, and saw that it was empty.  As I passed, I lightly touched the bright red hood.  It was slightly warm.  The car had not been there for more than an hour, if that.

As I continued walking toward the river, I tried to remember where I had seen that car before.  I was wondering why it was in such a strange spot.  Anyone familiar with the road would know that there was a large, wide clearing not far down, the remnants of the old logging deck.  There was no need to stop in the middle of the narrow dirt road.

Sammy’s granddaddy called this logging deck a diddling place.  There were always empty beer bottles.  There were old tissues, and a few other items we did not ask about, lying around.  Sammy and I knew better than to question his granddad what he meant by diddling.  We were confident that it had to do with things teenage boys were not supposed to be thinking, but had nonetheless constantly on their minds.  In the late 1950s the moral atmosphere in a small southern town was completely different than it is today.  I suspect that as much went on in our community as any other place, but in that era many topics were never openly discussed.

As I walked a hundred yards or so further and entered the logging deck clearing, I was even more surprised to see a second car, one I knew well.  The older, blue Plymouth sedan belonged to Miss Reshell, my eleventh-grade French teacher.Car-Sketch-from-Yellow-Dress-Chapter-Low-ResDecades later when the newer cars were smaller with rounded smooth curves, I worked with a man who still drove an old 1977 Lincoln Mark IV.  It was wide and long, and all the young guys at work got to calling that car the Intergalactic Cruiser.  Whenever I heard that name it made me remember Miss Reshell’s big blue Plymouth.  I could not imagine what Miss Reshell’s car was doing at the Coon Den on a Saturday afternoon.

Miss Reshell had moved to our small town two years earlier to take a teaching job at Laurens High School.  She lived on Academy Street with an old maid aunt.  Miss Reshell was, by at least thirty years, the youngest teacher at our high school.  She had gone to college in New Orleans and then lived in France for a while before moving to our town.  If the truth be known, she was probably not more than a few years older than I was.

Miss Reshell was very attractive.  She had slightly curly dark hair, bright brown eyes, and a figure that every girl at my school would have killed for.  If she happened to smile at you, it totally made your day.

Every boy in the school had a crush on her.  I suspected the majority held her image tightly in their minds as they drifted off to sleep most nights.  I was not immune to her spell.  Her first-year French class was very popular among the boys, including myself.  I liked her class a lot.  That is to say, I liked Miss Reshell a lot, but I did not understand more than a few words of French, which she spoke fluently.  I was no better at reading it.  Nearing the end of the first six-week period, I had a D average in her class.  It was going to be a miracle if I passed her course.  Unless I spent a lot more time on French and my grades got a lot better quickly, I would fail.