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14 Hard Times and Little Animals It is not these well-fed long-haired men that Ifear, But the pale and the hungry-looking. Plutarch, Lives, Antony The Great Depression missed me by a few years. Even so, growing up shortly thereafter showed me the strategies my parents and grandparents had used to weather leaner years than mine. Ofcourse, at the time I never made the connection between the grown-ups' ways of doing things and the avoidance ofpoverty. It occurred to me only later, after I had encountered people who earned a comparable wage but seemed irreversibly dependent on food stamps and unemployment checks. Looking back, I believe one of the greatest bastions against poverty in those days was what sociologists today would call the extended family . Within this institution ofgrandparents, parents, kids, and dogs, traditional ways of"making do" had filtered down from generations past. New skills didn't replace old ones; they complemented them. Shared money, tools, and houses bridged an individual's temporary bad luck. Not least, the family provided copious supplies of motivation, in part 132 Hard Times and Little Animals because everyone viewed himselfor herselfas unique and necessary in the war on poverty. I believe people took pride in their specialties. Boose brought in paychecks and built our furniture, Corbett furnished hog meat and a tractor, and Versie and Fannie washed the clothes, cooked, and canned the garden produce. Early on, my brother and I became the predators ofthe little animals. Knowledge handed down by Corbett and Boose got Jack and me started, even before we grew old enough to carry guns. You could get a redbird with a rattrap baited with corn and set atop a fence post or with a slingshot ifyou were lucky. A good rain dampened the leaves so you could sneak near enough to whack an armadillo with a hickory club. You can twist a rabbit out of a hollow tree or log with a forked switch, Boose told us, but it proved so messy I did it only once. After the .22'S came into our lives, we learned the true value of our dogs. The only animals more easily hunted without them were gray squirrels in dense stands of timber and rabbits at night. Raccoons, opossums, and fox squirrels proved far easier to find with the help of better noses than ours. We trained a succession of feist dogs - Bounce and Squeeze were the best ones - to become fox squirrel specialists. During school years six through twelve, a Saturday's walk through the longleaf woods would often yield a legal limit of those delicious animals. I remember weighing squirrel carcasses on Nama's meat scale to estimate what I had contributed to the family's food supply. Several rules for working with a hunting dog turned out later to be instructive for tackling problems with human partners. First, make some attempt to start with one that demonstrates an inclination to work. Second, don't reward them too much; I ruined my dog Lady by petting her every time she came to me, and soon she did nothing but sit around. and wait for praise. Scold them a little when they bark up the wrong tree but praise them when they do a goodjob. Most important , recognize that it's mainly you who's being trained by them and not the other way around. By helping gather family food, Jack and I simply repeated what kids had been doing for thousands ofyears, I guess. Maybe that's why it felt so good. The genes knew best. But our predatory ways posed problems I didn't think much about until later. The "start" button gave a greater thrill than the "stop" button . Our predecessors had found this out, too, and by the time Jack and 1 set out to harvest food from the woods, only the small animals remained. ~During my early teens, I followed a monthly column by Carlos Vinson in the Farm Journal. He sometimes talked about hunting or trapping wild animals. "Possums Day or Night," said the caption one month, and it opened up a new realm ofpossibilities. "I refuse to cook a possum," my mother said in a tone that sounded final. "You'll have to talk to Mama about that." "All right," said Fannie. "I'll cook him. As long as you get him out of a persimmon tree or some other place far away from dead cows and other garbage." Opossums smell bad...


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