Alarm clocks aren't needed when you're fourteen and Gramma was cooking for the crew. You'd been laying awake the last twenty minutes- since the first car announced its arrival in the fresh fallen snow of the drive. You could hear the doors open, booted feet packing the snow under them, the doors closing. A moment later, the soft greetings voiced by the arrivals.
"MMMMM, Irene, now I know where the girls learned to cook!" one uncle announces and you can visualize him hugging his mother-in-law, crushing her aproned bosom in his bear size arms.
You recognize what has been tingling your nostrils in your sleep, can hear the sounds of plates thumping on the table, silver tinkling its placement. Getting dressed was a matter of haste not because of the cold of the upstairs room in the wood heated home, but because the scent of eggs and pancakes fried in bacon grease delighted your hungry stomach and you rush barefooted down the stair to find your place at the table, followed close by your youngster uncles.
"Good morning, Young Fellow- ready for today?" Your uncle's greeting is soft as his greet of Gramma. You nod wide awake, as your young uncles are.
Talk around the table is of past years, of the locations and positions each person would attend to this day, and probably the entire season. Half a dozen plate size pancakes, four eggs and as many slices of thick sliced, farm smoked bacon are devoured in-- for you-- record time. No dilly-dally today cuz Grampa and Uncle have already done the chores normally reserved for "you boys". Feed and water the cattle, pick up the eggs you were now consuming, haul in a load of wood for the cook stove.
('Scuse me... something's tight in my chest making my eyes water in the memory.)
It isn't long before you're all donning heavy sox and boots, warm wool pants and shirts and coats and hats, all in red and black checkerboard pattern, though you just had to be different and had a red and green checkerboard.
Last minute instructions from Grampa as you played "follow the leader" through the calf deep snow beyond the barn. Slung in the crook of your elbow, as the others carried theirs, the octagonally barreled 32-20 Marlin seemed anxious to speak its mind. Your heart is beating fast as you follow the footsteps ahead of you, last in line. (The pecking order had to be followed.) Excitement is warming you and by the time you've reached your "stand", you're hot and sweaty and you've opened your coat to cool down. In minutes you'll be shivering in the dark, waiting, watching, listening hard to the falling snow, the bird sounds waking, the wind sloughing through the dark pines and leafless maple and birch and popple.
Your mind is racing, wondering if you forgot anything, and you do a mental check of your pockets... drag rope is in the left coat pocket, in the right is an egg sandwich-- "sammich" you kids jokingly called them-- and your jeans have ten extra bullets, sheath knife is on the belt holding your pants to your shivering legs. Yup, it's all there.
And you wait and wait. Off in the distant east the sky is brightening to day. And you wait.
Somewhere a gunshot echoes to your ears.
Another, somewhere far from your position.
Only one deer season passed from Gramma's house for me. Following years we kids followed Grampa and several uncles to old logging camps and did our hunting from there.
As we aged, even the single walled board buildings gave way to more and more complicated hunting domiciles. Today the "hunting shack" is transported, and lives, on the pickup to locations far from home.
The cold morning, toe-curling shivers of Gramma's floor are replaced by propane warmed linoleum flooring. Gone is the hunger-induced scent of frying eggs and pancakes and bacon, replaced by dry air, the smell of man-odors and wet woolens. Now breakfast is whipped up and cooked on the propane range-- still hearty for sure, just "not the same" as fondly recalled in seasons past. And it isn't Gramma's loving hands piling your plate with thick cakes, fat-basted eggs and thick chunks of bacon.
The rattling old Marlin 32-20 was foolishly-- and regretfully-- traded for a more modern .303 British carbine a couple years later. That carbine served many years as a young'un, later replaced by shining brand-spanking new Mossberg .308 bolt which gave way to a bright, super accurate 30-06 Savage.
Finally, after years of grieving for the loss, a new Marlin in .357 has replaced the 32-20 and will be cradled in my arms, fiddled with as I wait or held ready at "port arms" if I am stalking as track.
Now as I ready for the next week end opener, I marvel at the pile of gear I will be packing and I wonder.
Whatever happened to the days when all I needed was the rifle, a few shells, a knife and drag rope, supplemented by a single sandwich getting cold in my pocket?
Even a compass was unnecessary gear those many years ago. Getting "lost" was unheard of for us-- though city slickers were often found the following summer because they didn't know how to use the compass in their pocket. (Until joining the Army, I'd never seen a compass, truth be told, and had never been lost. [Though now I get lost going out the back door].)
Now there are saws and seat cushions and hand warmers and rubber "dressing" gloves and towels and hand sanitizer (be cautious with that stuff in cold weather cuz it achieves air temperature and can freeze your paws soon as it gets on), books (I read my Bible on stand), cameras and bags of goodies, and safety belts and half a dozen items that will be thrown in last-minute.
No longer does the "Kid" walk from the house to the stand, no matter how close it is. The trip is made on the four-wheeler now. Fast, noisy, stinky, there is no sound of boots crunching snow, of feeling the ice form on pant cuffs and listen to it click with each step. Even the sweat of dragging the deer out has been replaced with driving to the kill spot, load the carcass onto the four-wheeler rack and drive off.
Whatever happened to the days when hunting was fun, had meaning and substance?
(And the voice rings in my ears, "Don't sweat it, Kid- those days will be here soon enough for everyone again. The old fashioned, poo-poo'd way.")
Bless God, God bless.