"Careful. You don't want to scare him," whispered Clyde waving me to a stop. I froze. The woods were quiet early in the morning. The occasional crow call could be heard in the distance. Sparrows darted from tree to tree. Clyde's attention was on the rather large grey squirrel sitting on one of the limbs of the pine in front of us. Slowly he raised his .22 rifle, took aim, and pulled the trigger. There was a light pop. The sqirrel fell to the ground.
"I got 'im!"
"Yay!" I shouted. We ran to the spot. "We can dry out the pelt and make a "coon" skin cap." Davy Crockett was the rage.
"But it's a squirrel," I said.
"Oh who cares," Clyde said looking at me like I was a country bumpkin. "It's a fur pelt."
"We'll leave him here and pick him up later. Have you tasted squirrel before?" he asked me.
"You're gonna like it. Tastes like chicken."
"Why not just eat chicken?"
"Good grief, nef. Don't you know nothin'."
"Remember this tree." I answered OK as he trudged off deeper into the wood.
We'd left really early that morning without telling anyone where we were going. Kids were left to themselves back then. Grownups had stuff to do that didn't include children underfoot. It was always best we be scarce while they were taking care of preparations for Christmas.
We had mentioned the day before we might go squirrel hunting so we could add to the feast in a couple of days.
While we were traipsing around the woods that bordered the dirt road leading away from the farm a small drama was unfolding in the kitchen at great grandma's house.
"Anybody seen Clyde?" asked my grandmother (Clyde's mother).
Everybody shook their heads or answered no.
"Land sake's where is that boy?"
"I saw him and Rickey walking up the road to the branch," said Richie, my cousin. The branch was a small stream of water turned brown from all the leaves that lay upon the bottom. It was called the branch because, duh, it branched off from a larger stream somewhere deep in the woods. All us chilluns used to gather at "the branch" to socialize and get away from the dull world of grownups.
"When did you see them?" asked my grandmother.
"I don't know. Early on."
"Thanks, darling," said my grandmother. "Kids just being kids."
Every thing was fine then until Richie mentioned the rifles we had in hand.
"What?! Rifles? What rifles?"
Granddad piped in, "The .22's that were in the closet. They said they were gonna hunt squirrels yesterday. Remember?"
"No! I don't remember. You let Rickey take a .22 rifle along with my baby, Clyde, to hunt squirrels? What were you thinking? You know Rickey will end up shooting Clyde. Oh my baby boy. You need to go find them now."
"Now settle down, Miss Meddie. Those two will be just fine. We used to go ahuntin' all the time for squirrel when I was a youngen. Don't you worry your pretty head about those boys."
My grandmother stopped fretting out loud but she continued to worry about her baby boy, Clyde out with a child who carried a .22 rifle.
Heck I was 6 years old. Clyde was 10. We were way big. We knew how to shoot a gun.
All that was unbeknownst to us as we continued deeper into the woods. I kept stepping on twigs. They would crack under my feet and Clyde would give me the stink eye each time. Finally, we stopped. He waved me still and pointed up into the branches above. Silhoutted against the blue of the sky was the rippling tail of another large squirrel.
"Want to try a shot?" Clyde asked.
"Oh, yeah," I whispered.
"Come over here, quiet-like, and lean your gun against this tree. Yeah, that's right kneel down and set your sight squarely at his center."
I knelt by the tree holding the rifle up against the trunk and took aim squarely at the squirrel with the agitated tail.
"OK. Pull the trigger once you have him in your..."
Pop! I pulled the tigger and a second later the squirrel was knocked from the limb and fell a few feet away.
"Wow! Nice shot, nef," he looked amazed.
"You mean I got him?"
"Huh? Didn't you see him fall?"
"No, I closed my eyes when I pulled the trigger."
"Amazing." He shook his head as he walked over to gather up the limp body. "It's a grey fox squirrel," he said walking back to me. "Nice on, nef."
We walked around looking up into the trees for more game but the squirrel population had obviously decided not to take chances when two such deadly shots roamed the forest floor.
"Guess that's it then," said Clyde after a while. "Let's go get the other one. We'll have to skin them before granma can cook 'em."
Retracing our steps we found the first victim of our prowess with the gun. With each of us carrying our spoils we trudged up the dirt road with rifles resting in the crook of our arms. We bragged about our skills as huntsmen as we kicked up dust from the red country road.
Meanwhile, back at the farm.
"They've been gone a long time," Said my grandmother. "We need to go looking for them. I know my baby is lying in a ditch bleeding. Oh whose idea was it to let Ricky have a gun?"
"They'll be coming up the road any time now. Stop worrying so much. Rickey won't shoot Clyde."
"What if he trips and the gun goes of? Oh, my poor baby."
"What if Clyde trips and the gun goes off. Rickey could be hurt too.'
"Clyde would never do that. He's much older and so much more responsible'"
"There. Look out the window. They're walking up the road now. Looks like they are holding up a couple of squirrels too. Now let 'em be. They've proved that they are both responsible with those guns. They both know how to handle them and not be reckless."
We approached the gate. Clyde took my prize and motioned for me to open the gate. I slid the plank from its slot freeing the long wooden gate. We walked through and I closed it and replaced the wood lock. Clyde handed me the tail of my squirrel. We continued on past the screened porch. My grandmother and granddad stood there watching us walking past. We both held the dangling squirrels by the tails in their direction. "It's gonna be squirrel for dinner tonight."
Granddad looked pleased. Grandmother seemed to sag into his arms as we continued to the gourd barn. An old wooden shelf was attached to the outside of the gourd house. We lay our two grey critters on that shelf and leaned the rifles against the wall.
"What do we do now?" I asked.
"Now we skin 'em."
He took out his pocket knife which was always sharp. His dad had taught him how to whetstone sharpen his folding knife to a razor edge. He dug out the blade and took the first one. As he was slitting the skin open Richie came up.
"Watcha doin'?" She asked hands behind her back head cocked ot one side.
"We're skinning these squirrels for eatin'," Clyde answered.
He had slipped the skin over the head and scraped out the insides which fell to the ground at our feet. Amongst all the innerds and feet plopped the testicles.
"Boy, he's a biggun," boasted Clyde.
"How do you know he's a boy?" asked Richie moving in closer to see.
"You're stepping on the proof right now," Clyde said with an evil grin
She looked down and lifted her foot. On the ground she saw two soiled grey and pink orbs.
She let out a scream and ran back to the house. We laughed and laughed as the screen door slammed shut.
When Clyde finished cleaning up the meat, we hung the pelts on the gourd barn wall.
"That'll dry 'em out til we can cure 'em and make hats." With that we marched into the kitchen with two pink carcasses for the pot. My great grandmother took them and made them into the best stew I had ever eaten in my short life. Clyde and I had brought home the bacon, well, the squirrels, that day. We had done our part. We were all happy. My grandad who enjoyed squirrel and my grandmother, especially, as she hovered over her darling boy, Clyde.