I love Saturdays for many reasons: sleeping past the alarm, lounging in comfy clothes, a slower pace, slowly enjoying a second cup of coffee; sometimes even a third. But right now in my life, I love Saturdays because it’s a day when I hear from my dad. His words, his stories, tell me more of his life I never knew. In case you’re wondering, I read it for the first time right along with you. I have a stack of typed stories and I pick the next one off the top and begin typing.
I dreamed of him last night, only the 3rd time since his passing. The dream is sketchy and choppy at best. I just know that he was back, only for a little while, and I got to tell him how much I love him and thank him before he left us again. It was a happy dream. I was a sad dream. I awoke longing to return. Somethings are impossible, aren’t they?
Have a nice Saturday, friends and I hope you enjoy the following story.
My uncle was my huntin’ and fishin’ buddy while I was growing up here in Eastern Oklahoma. He was also a good guy just to hang with on those soft summer evenings. He would tend his garden and smoke his pipe while I would just lay there in the grass swearing I could hear the grass growing.
Whenever he’d take me hunting or fishing, which was pretty often back in the days before the “touristas” discovered Eastern Oklahoma, you could spend an entire day and night on the upper Illinois and never be in danger of being run over by a canoe full of tourists, never seeing anyone but your neighbor fishing for his supper, life indeed was good.
He could pack a pretty good “jungle” lunch too. Sometimes it would consist of leftover “cathead” biscuits, slathered with French’s mustard and fried potatoes. Or a piece of rat cheese and all the saltine crackers you could eat, but when the fish stopped biting or the bee tree that we’d planned to rob became unfindable, that grub certainly hit the spot.
He also taught me about using a Dutch Oven. About using the coals from your burned down fire, spreading them across the top of the Dutch Oven so that you could cook or bake almost anything in one of the cast iron monsters.
He used to say, “If there’s anything that can’t be cooked in a Dutch Oven, I don’t know what it could be. And I sure don’t want anything to do with eating it, do you Bob?” He’d always say that just before taking up a big batch of fried potatoes and onions.
A Dutch Oven will accomplish things that an equal weight of lesser utensils will never get done. With a good one, you can bake bread or biscuits, cakes or cobblers. You can boil, bake or fry potatoes in one. Steaks, chops and roasts are a cinch in one while chicken can either be fried, roasted or baked in one, duck soup so to speak. You can build a great stew in one, make a delicious fish chowder, steam corn or make “bean hole beans” in one.
He was the best shot that I had ever seen, also the very best at fishing, hunting or reading sign and as a trapper he had no equal. I always wanted to grow up and be just like him. Still do.
He always said that the Dutch Oven should go down as one of the great inventions of man. Right up there with the axe handle and the clipper ship. I never knew what he meant by this saying, but I’ll agree with him on the Dutch Oven. If you find one at a yard sale, latch on to it.
As I grew older, he seemed to age a great deal and we hung around less and less often together. Eventually we’d only see each other once or twice a year and we’d set around talking hunting or fishing or the price of furs while he would put a slow smoking on that old briar of his. I feel bad now that I didn’t go visit him more after he was diagnosed with cancer, but I was already wrapped up in youthful endeavors such as fast cars and chasing skirts. I didn’t get out into the woods again for several years, shelving all the good things that I had learned from him.
The main thing I liked about my uncle was he would never talk down to a kid who wanted to know things like I did. When you get to being his age, you’ve already forgot more than most people will ever know and so you try to pass things along. It’s too bad I didn’t listen closer. He was a good friend and I’ll miss him….
Speaking of best friends and Dutch Ovens, my friend out West who knew that I was unequaled as a Dutch Oven cook, asked me to accompany him on an overnighter to this small island that set there in the middle of Lake Meredith. I already knew the guy was crazy because of the three tours he had pulled in the Nam.
“Don’t bring anything to eat, we’ll make do with things I picked up at the Army-Navy store. Be sure and leave that blankety-blanked Dutch Oven at home, too.” Sarge like traveling light.
Sarge welded for the same pipeline company that I worked for so he knew I had a brush-hog type of dog that went with me wherever I’d go. Looked like hell, but a real gentleman dog.
Sarge hauled me and Gus (the dog) out to this little remote spit of land in his flat bottomed boat and we pitched tents and prepared to settle in for the night. Sarge opened up a couple of industrial sized cans of this C-ration glop (no expiration date included) for supper, you never smelled anything so bad in your life.
The smell was so bad that we fed the first can of glop to my dog. He inhaled the whole can in a typical dog fashion and in two seconds was watching me and Sarge to see if we had more of the dreadful stuff.
We watched Gus for awhile to see if anything was going to happen to him. When he circled around a few times and curled himself by the fire and went to sleep, well that was good enough for me and Sarge. So we went after the remaining can with the same gusto. In all fairness to Sarge, it did taste better than it smelled and with a handful of Fritos, it wasn’t bad.
We had no sooner finished supper and were just breaking out the bottle of Wild Turkey, when Gus sprang to his feet and proceeded to yuk up the entire contents of his stomach. He followed this embarrassing performance by dry heaving for several minutes.
Sarge and I prepared ourselves for death. Botulism. Throughout the long night, it was hit the bottle and come up with a new diagnosis for every rumble and growl our stomachs made. It was the worst case of psychosomatic food poisoning that has ever been recorded.
Gus made us feel a little better in the morning by licking the empty C-ration cans for breakfast. Sarge and I decided to forego breakfast. It couldn’t have been the Wild Turkey, could it?