Memory fails me on the exact year--it was 1939
or 1940. But, I do want to tell you a Christmas story from my youth at
Crothersville in good old Jackson County. It occurred on Friday before
Christmas, at a time when we believed that Christmas was a celebration
of the birth of Christ. Christmas vacation had started when school was
out that day.
It is about 10 o’clock at night--after we had
played (and were beaten) in a high school basketball game in the cracker
box we called a gymnasium. I was sitting on a soda fountain stool of Snow’s
Restaurant gulping a small cherry Coke (a nickel), when I heard this well-known
voice behind me. Without turning, I knew it was the late Branard “Jack”
Cain, one of my older mentors in matters related to hunting, fishing, and
“If it quits snowing before daylight, tomorrow
will be a good day to track a mink,” Jack said, adding matter-of-factly:
”If you want to go, be at my house at daylight.”
He was gone into the night.
Outside, the dry snow swirled, bottom dropped
out of front-porch thermometers. Winter was living up to it’s billing.
It was going to be a perfect day for tracking in the six inches of snow
that had fallen since dark.
Well, I didn’t just exactly fall off the stool
with anticipation--I knew it would be a hard and cold day. But I did want
to go. This would be an important facet of my upbringing. So, with the
streetlights twinkling on a four-below-zero morning, I scuffed up the alley
to Jack’s house, rifle in gloved hands.
(That same little Springfield .22, and Jack’s
Remington, guard my desk today, more than half a century later.)
With snow flying before out boots, we headed
for the big bottomlands of the Muscaratuck River, some three mils east
of town. Enroute to the river we found a huge opossum in a big brush pile,
and left him covered by snow and leaves on the banks of the river to pick
up later. Our sights were set on a mink, maybe two, for Christmas money.
Toward mid-morning we found tracks of what we
thought was a mink. But we couldn’t be certain until we came to a place
where the animal had dived under skim-ice on the river. That seemed warming.
The mink paralleled the river--occasionally exploring tile drains and springs
until it headed south to an old oxbow know as Alf’s Bayou, one of my many
Jack busied himself with teaching me that you
stay well away from the tracks when tracking a mink, and other fine points
of tracking, He also opined that we would find the “big fellow” in a hole
of the high banks there. But the mink crossed skim ice to the far banks
of the bayou, and we had to circle the bayou to a point on the other side
where the tracks continued back to the north along White Oak (one of my
good, boyhood bass streams).
The mink went strong through the snow along the
fields parallel to the creek, at times diving under snow-covered sheet
ice (water had been high recently) of low spots in the fields. A quarter
of a mile from the mouth of the creek, 100 yards east on the banks of a
slough, the mink entered one of three holes (probably groundhog). We made
a quick and silent search to determine the mink had not gone on, and stopped
one of the three holes quietly with small sticks. With two holes open,
Jack quietly told me to jab a stick into one of the holes, while he eyeballed
the other with his Old Hannah (a Damascus wire-twist shotgun) at the ready.
For a time, my efforts seemed useless, but then Old Hanna exploded, and
Jack quickly pulled a mink, minus its nose, from the snowy hole.
Jack then explained that a cornered mink will
always “look first before he goes,” and that he (Jack) had to be ready.
If the mink had made it to sheet ice, he would have been gone.
Aside from the ice breaking beneath my feet and
plunging me into a sinkhole on a gimpy back, the rest of the afternoon
was just hard work getting back to pick up the opossum. The streetlights
were twinkling again when we entered the town. A passerby noted it had
gotten all the way to four below that day.
My mother had my supper in the oven staying warm
when I slid well tuckered into the kitchen door as darkness engulfed the
town for another night.
Two hours later my dad awakened me from a peaceful
couch nap to meet Jack downtown and sell our fur (not skinned) to the jolly
old fur buyer with thick eyeglasses.
It came to $22.22. Ironically, my share of $11.11
was more than my dad had earned in that Post Depression week.