One Thanksgiving Leon decided he was going to shoot a turkey for the big meal. I’m not sure till this day why he took me along. I’d never seen a live turkey in my whole life. I sure couldn’t help him find one.
And he thought I was way too young to carry that old 20 gauge shotgun. Leon talked so much he didn’t need any company. I reckoned moral support was all that was left. Or maybe, he might want to send me back to the house and fetch him a ham and cheese sandwich while we waited for a turkey to walk into “suicide” range.
When he woke me up an hour and a half before daylight my internal survivor antenna raised up to its full height. He wasn’t deterred by my hesitation. “Get up, and hurry! The early bird gets the turkey!”
Folks, it was late November in West Tennessee. It was colder than the dickens! If we’d a’had any pumpkins left, you couldn’t have found them underneath all that frost!
Leon told me straight up not to pay any attention to the weather. It was the first time I ever heard that “mind over matter” speech; which, of course, made absolutely no sense at all….when you’ve got icicles sticking out both of your eye ball sockets!
Before we got out of sight of the house (which didn’t take long in the abject blackness of the predawn morning) Leon went to telling me how “uncold” it was, “This ain’t nothing! I remember last January when Nicky Joe and I were duck hunting up at Kentucky Lake. It was so cold ducks were flying right up to us, begging us to shoot and put them out of their misery!”
We didn’t have any trouble getting past Mr. Archie Moore’s pond. We just walked right over the top of it. It was a solid sheet of ice! Listen, this was such a crazy idea that Mr. Archie’s cows, huddled together over by the lean-to shed for warmth and protection, rolled their eyes as we passed by.
We were headed out to those thick woods between the Como Road and the railroad tracks. Leon figured that would be where the “big turkeys are hiding out.” We squatted down in the thick underbrush adjacent to a decent size “open spot” and waited.
It was still so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face. I was so cold I was shaking from my top hair follicles down to my toes!
I began to wonder how those early birds knew when the turkeys were stirring….
Leon was World War II older than me. He was born in 1942, right before Dad went off to war. I came along in 1947. Those five years made a heck of a difference when he was a teenager and I was trying to get to be one.
And it wasn’t that he was just older than me, and bigger and stronger. He was smarter too, better looking, and way more adventurous. He reminded me of those facts most every day. He could push me around a bit. And he did! But he wouldn’t let another soul lay a hand on me.
I looked up to him. Even on this extra cold, still kinda dark morning, the week before Thanksgiving in 1957. He had the most active mind of anyone I’ve ever known. He could “come at things” from angles that no one else could see.
There was never a dull moment around our house for dead certain positive. He made sure of that.
We waited till the sun hit the top of the trees. We hadn’t moved. Or talked. Or seen, smelled, heard or imagined the first turkey!
He leaned over real close and whispered, “You quietly go around to the far backside of the woods and slowly start walking toward the clearing. You will drive the turkey right to me.”
It made perfect sense to me….at the time.
It didn’t make quite as much sense as I neared our “open spot” from the exact opposite direction as Leon sat…..with a loaded shotgun!
I hit the ground as no. 7 shot tore through the underbrush and bounced off trees all around me! Talk about warming up quickly!
I was yelling TIME OUT, WHOA, DON’T SHOOT—
Leon thought he saw a Montana elk and figured it would be a good substitute for turkey and dressing.
Mom bought, and cooked up, our traditional Thanksgiving meal. And, as always, as we ate we each offered up what we were particularly thankful for on this special day.
I saw Daddy instinctively glance at Leon when I proudly announced this Thanksgiving I was so genuinely thankful…..that nobody in our family got killed!”