Sunday, March 11, 2012

Uncle Hubert had suffered a stroke in his early teens that left him with a lifelong limp and a useless left hand always tucked into his trouser pocket.  Hoot remembered how Uncle Hubert drove a column-shift 1954 Ford in 1961 – the year that Hoot turned twelve.  This was before the days of power-assisted steering, power brakes, power anything, and watching his uncle execute a braking turn (including a downshift) was like watching a ballet of quick-draw speed and gunslinger purpose.  Seeing Uncle Hubert, without a seat belt to hamper his lopsided body english, using only his right hand to operate the steering wheel, turn signal lever, and gearshift lever while working the clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals with only his right foot is a sight that has remained vivid in Hoot's memory the past 50-plus years.

They would go crow hunting in the fall – Hoot’s father with his .22 carbine and Uncle Hubert with his pistol-grip sawed-off shotgun, Hoot tagging along with his B-B gun.  Crow hunting was a stretch, no doubt, but taking the boy hunting for any kind of critter was the epitome of rural male bonding in the early sixties, and they made a big deal out of it including breakfast at Keller’s.  Uncle Hubert had a crow call and could bring curious birds from two pastures away in close.  Hoot remembered Uncle Hubert’s wisdom regarding crows: “Smartest of all birds,” he would say, but curiously, he had no qualms about hunting these smart creatures for the simple pleasure of having something to shoot at.  Crows were a nuisance to farmers, and weekend nuisance hunters were welcome on most farms.  Hoot’s ol’ man and Uncle Hubert were careful to close gates behind them, ask permission beforehand.

Hoot remembered crossing a field with his dad and uncle one time.  A flock of crows up in the branches of the treeline ahead, Uncle Hubert called them a sizable murder of ravens, claiming that Edgar Allan Poe would have called them that.  Hoot took care to hide his B-B gun under his coat similar to the way his uncle and father had concealed their weapons, affected a limp, and walked proudly into the fray between the two most meaningful men in his life.

“You don’t need to hide your B-B gun,” Uncle Hubert said.  “Crows can tell the difference between a B-B gun and a real one…”

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