Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hunting Harry

In his later years there was nothing that brought back the spring in Great Grandfather Harry Smith's step like fall hunting season.  But not because he liked to hunt.   Although he didn't have anything against it.  But what Great Grandfather Harry really liked?  Catching and kicking off his 400+ prime, hedgerow laced, pheasant harboring prairie acres, any poor soul who dared to try and hunt the Smith farm.  Including his own family.
Now, in today's day and age of "No Trespassing" and dense populations, and the generally frequent occurrence of animal hunting excursions accidentally becoming human hunting excursions, it might not seem so odd that a man in possession of 400 plus acres wouldn't want a bunch of armed strangers sneaking through the shrubbery.  But keep in mind, that wasn't the case in Harry's day and age.  In fact, much of the privately owned prairie is still open seasonally to fall bird hunters, as has been the tradition for generations.
Nope, Great Grandfather Harry wasn't really concerned about family safety, property liability and certainly not the plight of the beleaguered pheasants.  Mostly he just thought it was great fun to sneak around, catch and then kick off - in a great show of robust yelling, hand waving and creative swearing - any who dared set foot on the Smith farm with gun in hand.  It was his game and he loved it.
And so it was not surprising that it also became a game for those who did want to hunt the property - including Harry's own sons and hired hands - to try and outwit the old man.
Such was the case one morning, as Harry puttered off in his tractor to drive into town for a morning coffee.  (Harry was too cheap to buy a car.  Who needs a car when you have a tractor?  Tractor drove just fine.).  As soon as he was off, son George and hired hand Red decided to take the opportunity to get in a little bit of morning pheasant hunting before their farm chores.   They headed out into the fields, walking along the patchwork of hedgerows with dogs in front, working to flush out any hidden birds.
What they didn't know was Harry, suspicious that the crisp fall day would be too tempting, had parked the tractor halfway into town and had snuck back into the fields, hiding in wait to catch the culprits.
George and Red moved quietly along the hedges, guns poised, waiting for a bird to flush.  Suddenly a bird shot out of the brush, and at the same moment, out popped Great Grandfather Harry.
"A-ha!" he yelled. Victorious!  He had captured his game! But victory was brief...
Hired man Red, in the excitement of the moment, fired his shotgun sending a full spattering of bird pellet straight into Harry's face.  Enough force to fling the old man straight backwards and slammed to the ground.
In the endless few seconds after the accident, as Harry lay silent and Red stunned, George, in true Smith fashion, took the moment to sum up the situation.
"Ho-ho-ho!" he laughed, in his deep booming voice. "Why Red, you bagged the old sonofabitch!"
Great Grandfather Harry, true to his character, dragged himself up and home, where he spent the rest of the day in front of the bathroom mirror picking birdshot out of his face with his pocket knife.  Afterall, who needs a doctor when you have a pocket knife?


  1. PF, check two posts ago for a story I left ya.
    Two things.
    My husband loathes the sterotype of the dumb back woods farmer.
    This kind of story, imo, furthers that stereotyping..

    I was terribly saddened by the Poochie story.
    Many very nice herding dogs are needlessly killed/injured by vehicles.
    Thanks to a lack of training, not a lack of intelligence on the dog's part.
    Again, just my opinion.
    Don't shoot me:)

  2. GL -
    (In 2 parts, blogger telling me I wrote too much, sigh...).
    Don't worry, I won't shoot (well, as long as you aren't sneaking around in my hedgerows...). And I gotta say, your comment makes me feel like a real blogger - controversy!
    RE: Dumb farmer stereotype. I agree with your husband. Being a farmer myself, and growing up in a family of them, they are decidedly not stupid. Stubborn, resourceful and tough as nails - for sure. Stupid - not. See the "Farmer Bill and the Big Red Bird" story for a great example of a "not stupid" farmer. My father, while being one of the smartest, most capable men I know, is a master at the "playing dumb farmer" routine at the expense of others who are silly enough to make the assumption. Usually for his own entertainment. Is he "perpetuating a stereotype." Sure. But since he is the stereotype, I guess I feel he has the right if he so chooses!
    And I guess I don't see this story as a "stupid farmer" story. It's just a story that makes me laugh and a good example of Harry's character which was not so much about him being a farmer, as just well, being cantankerous old Harry Smith.

  3. GL -
    and continuing....
    RE: Poochie the Prairie Dog. I think you are certainly right, many herding dogs do tragically succumb to their instincts when they take on vehicles. Poochie would have probably benefited from good training and a herd of cattle to chase. However, he was a little boy's dog and his primary role was as that. I think he led a happy life. And he certainly acted as such. He was never caged or chained, always allowed to roam and hunt our farm (we were able to eventually curb his roaming habits, which began after our other farm dogs passed away of old age, leaving Poochie without friends during the daytime of work and school). And while he spent his summers sleeping in my brother's tent with him, Poochie never would come into the house, even when we tried to offer on cold winter nights. He was a farm dog all the way. The shock collar training method we employed did curb most of tire biting (except for Al, he just couldn't help himself there). In fact, when he finally was hit, in his elder years, he really was no longer tire biting. At the time my brother had left for college and Poochie was getting up there in years, I personally think he just decided to go for that one last escapade, so to speak. So don't feel sad, Poochie led a life that I think many dogs would aspire to. Outside, his own farm to roam and hunt and protect. (He was also hell on coyotes, that little dog. Even though he was about 1/3 his size. All bravado I think. But they sure stayed off the farm when he was around). Poochie was never caged, chained or locked in a house all day which, while even when they are the beloved and spoiled pets, is still hard on the pysche of many dogs especially the herding types, IMHO.
    In general, GL, I would say one thing I know about many of the family stories I'm having fun sharing here is that they are not "P.C." Myself, and my family, are known for what I would call a "black" sense of humor. Things that often horrify other people I often find rather amusing. Like when the owner of Wendy's died of a heart attack. A certain sort of irony, I guess, although I not interested in going for "snark." I like to describe the family as "we went to church, but we sang real loud and off-key. And then of course, there was the cussing."
    Almost all the stories are self-depreciating at the sake of my family. Since it's my family, and since I've heard them tell these stories over and over, I don't feel bad about telling them. We've always enjoyed laughing at ourselves (and each other). Which, I've come to realize, is not the case in many families!
    I perhaps, should have a warning at the top of the blog - "Politically Correct Humor Not Employed Here." Or something along those lines. A lot of the animals stories, and I have more, are definitely pretty old school. That was the way it was in their world. I'm not making judgments on it one way or another, just telling the stories that make me laugh. Even though I realize they may not have the same effect on everybody!

  4. Harry Smith was definately not a "dumb farmer", but he was widely known in our small community as quite cantankerous and the older he got the more cantankerous he became. He was also known as beyond thrifty, also known as miserly and cheap. He grew more wheat per acre on his prairie farm than anywhere else in the U.S. and was a guest of honor more than once at the Chicago World's Fair. None of the other farmers in this community are "dumb", but they are certainly characters and often rugged individualists. They are often not understood too well by "city people" and in fact those of us who live rural and are closely associated with farmers often laugh at city people, who often are, in our view woefully ignorant of the natural world, especially when it comes to animals, both domestic and wild. I can tell lots of true tales of animal behavior that many people would think are impossible, and maybe I will in the future on this blog. Poochie, our lovable "prairie" dog, was in dog heaven for his whole life, which was quite long for a dog.

  5. Oh, I've been struggling with that comment since I typed it, PF. I felt badly whilst typing it, because it is a funny story, absatootly.
    I just feel that in these strange times of "city/farm" disconnect, a Don Cheny-like story isn't going to further the cause of the Farmer, who struggles daily with the stooopid city pre-conceptions of farm life.
    I absolutely agree Poochie lived the life any dog would dream of having. I've seen far too many dead dogs in my rural neighbourhood, dogs that just needed their owners to give them some rules and boundaries.
    I'm sorry if I offended.
    Seems to be my modus operandi.

    (cowering before the real-deal farmers.)

    Sorry Mom & PF. I look forward to many more true farmer stories.
    and I will be quiet. I am a dumb city-folk, after all, when all is said and done.

  6. Oh, don't feel bad at all GL! And hey, you wouldn't be you if you didn't say what you think! I've followed you around the blogosphere enough to know that.
    And as for mom, well, she was a city girl who married a farmer so while she has been "acclimated" for quite a while, she has had share of city-to-farm moments. Remember the celery/celeriac incident mom????? She is a spitfire my mom, however.
    I'll keep the "dumb farmer" thing in mind. Because that's not what I'm going for in the stories. But, I still have to keep true to the stories, so I'll just have to figure out a way to portray them like they were. Irascible and stubborn, yet not stupid. Although some people may not ever get it, no matter what. That's okay. I applaud you for being sensitive to it!
    But hey, what happened to your great post on dirt? I was going to comment on that but it went poof! Especially since I spent yesterday "cleaning" and got about 1% done of what needed to be done, well, I think I actually went backwards. Sigh...
    I could clean all day again today OR ride my horse. I think I'm gonna ride my horse! (Yikes, I hope mom doesn't see this...)

  7. PF- My dad lived ona dairy farm back east in the outskirts of Scranton, PA. I will have to see what I can remember from what he told of in those days and maybe pass them along. Like blasting stumps with dynamite. The real shit. Before firecrackers were banned for being dangerous. And jumping out of the barn loft onto a pile of straw- right next to the manure pile. You just know a couple of them missed...

  8. I know I'm late on this but I'm an uninterested party and he didn't sound dumb to me.

  9. Hi PF! Keepinhg busy?

    Don't mind GL, she's a grumpy old broad, for sure.