The Old Man

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Old Man was ready. He felt comfortable sitting against the massive fallen oak and the old double-barreled shotgun was rock-steady, resting softly on the moss that covered the fallen tree. It would not be long now. Only seconds before he had heard the turkey leave the tree in its fearless descent to the calling hen below. The morning birds were singing loudly and the Old Man’s heart beat faster and

faster . . . . .

The gobble was thunderous, perhaps a hundred yards in front of the fallen tree. A chill ran down the neck of the Old Man and he almost laughed out loud from the sheer pleasure of the moment. The excitement was overwhelming, and as he strained to see above him to the ridge where the bird had gobbled, he quickly tried to think of one other species of animal that caused such a feeling. There was none. A good deer hunt gave a man time to think; a quail hunt provided good exercise; a duck hunt was a present of grandeur; all with their brief periods of excitement, but none of them could compare with the bird he was working now. This bird was non-stop action and a pure, swift kick in the backside, though the Old Man, again suppressing his laughter.

It was quiet! Too quiet. The gobbler should have showed himself by now, reckoned the Old Man. He remained motionless, looking ahead with his cheek resting on the stock of the old shotgun, until finally he made the decision to call again. He found the diaphragm between his cheek and gum, and with his tongue, moved it into position. Then after waiting another full minute, he clucked once and softly yelped four times. The Old Man immediately recognized what was wrong, for from directly behind him came the drumming and, without turning, he visualized the display that was occurring.

The turkey was in full strut, dragging stiffened wings in a tight circle, displaying his magnificent colors to a hen he had only heard, but could not locate. The Old Man felt foolish. He was missing it all and if he moved one finger of one hand, it would all be over. He figured the bird was maybe twenty yards behind him. He briefly considered quickly turning and firing, but he knew better. There was an old saying he had remembered through the years.

“A man has the same chance of beating a wild turkey to the draw as he would living though a gunfight with Matt Dillon.”

It was true. No matter how fast a man was, he was not fast enough. The turkey would win. The Old Man gritted his teeth and remained still. Missing the natural spectacle taking place behind him.

Finally, the drumming of the turkey faded away below a small ridge behind him, and in one fluid motion the Old Man turned, bringing the shotgun to his shoulder. Staring down the barrels, he called again and before the last yelp passed his lips, the turkey cut him off with an excited gobble. As the Old Man found the front trigger, the turkey gobbled again and again, until the Old Man’s world was filled with gobbling turkeys at the crest of the small ridge in front of him. Three gobblers began the strutting ceremonies again and this time the Old Man had a front row seat. He quickly found the dominant bird, but suddenly the drumming stopped and they nervously began changing directions.

“Put! . .Put! . .Put! . .Put!Put!Put!Put!” the Old Man fired and the two smaller birds flew, scattering broken dead tree limbs in their paths. The large bird was flopping. Without hesitation the Old Man fired again. He quickly reloaded and moved slowly toward the fallen bird.

Christopher Adams looked at his watch. It was now 7 o’clock, 30 minutes since he had heard the shots. The Old Man was bound to be coming back to his truck soon. He would wait, if it took all day. He would wait for the Old Man to come out of the woods. As he sat on the tailgate of the truck, he listened for footsteps in the leaves. And, after a while, they came; muffled at first, but becoming consistently clearer, until he saw the camouflaged figure approaching. The Old Man carried the long-barreled shotgun in his left hand, and slung over his shoulder was the turkey.

“That sure is a nice bird,” remarked Christopher Adams as the Old Man gently laid the turkey on the tailgate of the truck.

“That he is,” smiled the Old Man. “He had me beat Chris, sure ‘nuff did. Slipped around on my backside and caught me lookin up the hill. Had two ‘Jakes’ with him too. It was a sight – all three of ‘em carryin’ on.” The Old Man laughed. “You been huntin’ this morning?”

Christopher leaned against the truck. “No sir, just out drivin’ and saw your truck. Figured I’d wait until you came out.” Need to talk to you Mr. Kenton, if you’ve got a minute. Reckon, I need some advice and reckon I need to explain a thing or two . . I mean if you’ve got the time.”

The Old Man unloaded the shotgun and laid it in the rack. Then he pulled a brown paper sack from his possible bag and offered it to the boy.

“Jerky?”

“No, thank you sir.”

The Old Man sat on the tailgate. “Sit down Chris. Say your mind. I’ve got nothing but time.” He began chewing on the dried meat.

Christopher Adams sat, and looked up at the Old Man.

“You heard the rumor?”

“Which rumor you talkin’ bout boy? Dozens of ‘em floatin’ around.”

“The one that Jimmy Hankins started about me and my turkey. The one that says I moonlighted my bird and killed him sleepin’ on the roost.”

The Old Man squinted one eye.

“Any truth to it?”

Christopher leaped to his feet.

“No Sir! None. Ain’t no truth anywhere close! And, I’ll tell you one thing, as soon as I find that no-count liar, I’ll make him eat that rumor.”

The Old Man smiled. “How old are you boy?”

“Eighteen.”

“Well, I’ll tell ya son. I figured you smarter’n that. I mean what you wanta go starting a fight for . . over a rumor?”

“It’s not right, that’s why. There’s not one piece of truth in it. I took that turkey fair. I shot him on the fifth mornin’. He beat me bad four mornin’s in a row, but on the fifth mornin’ I changed my plan, used a different call and came in on him from the backside. I took him fair Mr. Kenton, just like you taught me, and I just wanted you to know that I wouldn’t do what he said.”

The Old Man took another bite from the dried mean and motioned with the remainder.

“I appreciate it Chris. I really do. But, don’t you know, boy, that if you go fight ever time somebody tells a rumor on you that, why heck . . you won’t have any time to turkey hunt for your heavy schedule of fist fights. There’s a lot of folks that would go out and tell a rumor just to get to fight. Do you understand what I’m tellin’ you son?”

Chris nodded yes. “No sir.”

The Old Man smiled. “The key to figuring this rumor thing out, Chris, is in one word, One word boy . . truth. You see, hunting turkeys, or anything else for that matter, is a real personal affair. Only you know why you hunt. Most of the time, there’s nobody with you when you pull the trigger. It’s all up to you. You can be a scoundrel or a gentleman, and the truth is what you feel in here.” The Old Man touched his chest.

“Now,” the Old Man continued, “one of the most wonderful things about the truth is that once a man realizes that he is the master of his own truth, it shows. People can see it or somehow feel it. It’s a sort of confidence that can’t be stolen; not through lies or rumors. It’s your to keep. Your time with that fine turkey is your own truth. You didn’t hunt that bird so people could tell you how great a hunter you are. You hunted him for that time you could spend learning about turkeys. How can Jimmy Hankins steal your time away with that bird? He can’t! And, if the truth you’ve found with that bird makes you happy because you’ve learned something that makes you wiser, then you tell me how in the blue-blazes that silly rumor can hurt you? The only people that listen to rumors in the first place are those that haven’t learned about the truth, and you should be feelin’ sorry for those people . . . not wanting to fight them.”

Chris shook his head. “How come you make me feel stupid for worryin’ about a rumor about my reputation?”

“It’s simple boy. It’s simple. ‘Cause the only reputation I want you to be concerned about is your reputation to yourself. You be truthful to yourself about you, and the rest will follow. If the purpose of your hunt was fulfilled with that bird, the rumor seems kind of silly, now doesn’t it?”

Chris smiled. “Yessir, since you put it like that. It sure does.”

“Now, since we’ve cleared that up, why don’t you ride down to Ted’s store with me and I’ll check this bird in nice and proper like.” The Old Man slapped Christopher Adams on the back and they moved toward the front of the truck.

“You sure you want to be seen with me? If Jimmy Hankins is there, there might be a rumor that I’m teachin’ Mr. Sam Kenton how to moonlight turkeys on the roost.”

The Old Man slid under the wheel of the truck and looked across at the boy.

“I hope Jimmy Hankins is there,” smiled the Old Man.

“Why’s that?” asked the boy

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain. You see, I told you that there’s no call to get upset about a lie that’s been told on yourself and that’s the truth. In other words, If Mr. Hankins had told that rumor on me, then it wouldn’t bother me at all. But in all honesty . . it just galls my backside for a man to lie about a friend of mine. I reckon that means we’re down to rule number two.”

“What’s that Mr. Kenton?”

The Old Man reached in the sack and came out with two pieces of jerky. Chris took one.

“If a rumor passes your ears about a friend, and you know it to be a lie,” . . . the Old Man smiled and bit off a piece of jerky . . “make him eat it!”

The Old Man started the truck, winked at the boy, and took out down the gravel road.

“Good friends,” chewed the Old Man as he shifted into second gear, “are hard to come by.”