The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #59418 Message #3305727
Posted By: Rapparee
10-Feb-12 - 08:57 PM
Thread Name: BS: The Mother of all BS threads
Subject: RE: BS: The Mother of all BS threads
that I have posted since the post of 11:04 p.m., February 8, 2012 has been written by me unless properly attributed. Everything. In fact, on the originals I asserted copyright to prevent Certain Types Of People from getting any ideas.
Thanksgivings were without exception a time for family gatherings as I was growing up, a time when relatives would gather at a previously selected home and share the food, chores and general living of the day. Some cousins would only appear on Thanksgiving, or to a lesser extent Christmas, and one could receive the impression that they were kept in the closet between holidays.
But Sundays were lesser holidays too, and Uncle Phil and Aunt Rose, neighbors Vern and Leona, and Mother and me would often share Sunday dinner with Uncle Mathias and Aunt Thecla. We would usually go over immediately after church and while Mother and Aunt Thecla would work to prepare dinner, me and Uncle Mathias would "get out of the kitchen" and do something else -- usually out of doors.
I was twelve on the Fall Sunday when Uncle Mathias gave me a rifle. I suppose now that he had discussed it with my Mother beforehand, but at the time I could only gape -- something I still do when I take it down and realize what I was given on that cool, sunny day over a half century ago.
Uncle told me shortly after Mother and I had arrived that we would be going hunting that day. We had often done so before: I would be the "dog" and flush rabbits for Uncle Mathias to miss.
But rather than taking his shotgun, on this day he brought from his den a flintlock rifle, a leather shoulder bag and a powder horn.
I recognized the gear; I had seen Walt Disney's Davy Crockett on television. I rather expected him to have a coonskin cap, for
it seemed to me that a flintlock wouldn't work right without one. But Uncle Mathias put his "huntin' hat," an old brown felt, on his head and his "huntin' jacket" on his body. He stuck a couple of sandwiches in his pockets, told me to get the canteen of water, and what was I waitin' for, didn't I want to go huntin'?
We walked a quarter mile or so down the road from his house, and turned into the pasture of the old Schletter farm. Uncle slid the strange rifle under the barbed wire fence, climbed through and held the wire for me. A short distance further and we reached a high clay bank, cut by the creek over time.
Uncle stopped and told me that it was necessary to "dry the pan" before we began in earnest. I was still so taken aback with the archaic weapon that he could have as well told me that he had to "energize the globbermet" before his death ray would work.
He took a ramrod from under the barrel and ran it down the barrel, and then took it out and compared it to the length of the barrel -- since Davy Crockett never did such a thing, I had no idea why he did this. Then he flipped part of the flintlock up, took something like a tiny powder horn from his pouch, poured powder (I guessed that it was powder) into the flintlock, pushed the flintlock down, pulled the other part of the flintlock back and pulled the trigger.
There were sparks and a flash from the flintlock. There was no great blast of smoke and flame from the barrel and I was disappointed.
Uncle Mathias looked at my face and could read my
"Here," he said. "Let's load her up and try her out with a load in her. You watch me, and I'll explain to you what I'm doin' and why."
And then he explained to me about measuring the barrel with the ramrod to insure that the weapon wasn't loaded, about loading from a measure and not from the horn ("Davy Crockett would have been called 'Hooks' if he did it the way they do it on television, so you forget that stuff and listen to me"), about patching and placing the ball with the sprue upright, about the use of the ballstarter and the ramrod, about priming and cocking and firing and he even mentioned the need to dress the flint from time to time.
And when he fired the old gun this time, aiming at a can I placed against the bank across the creek, there was a most satisfying crash and flash from both the lock (as I had learned to call it) and the barrel.
The tin can had a hole in it, right through the circle in the middle of the label. And I was in love with a rifle.
"You can try it later," Uncle Mathias said. "But before you do, you'll have to pass a test."
"You just told me all about it," I said. And because I wanted so badly to fire the rifle -- or even to hold it -- I added, "I remember what you told me. Just ask me anything."
"What do you do for a misfire?" asked Uncle Mathias. "How do you pull a ball? What's the difference between two F and three F? How do you read a patch? What's a possibles bag? What's a jag for, and how's it different from a worm?"
I, of course, failed the test.
"Look," said Uncle. "Just because I told you how this old gal is loaded and fired, why, that's only the top of it. You got a lot of growin' and knowin' to do. But you sit down here, and listen to me while we eat some lunch." And he took out our sandwiches, sat under a tree and laid the rifle across his lap. I sat facing him.
We ate in silence, as he prefered when we were hunting. After we ate, he filled and lit his pipe and relaxed against the tree trunk behind him.
"I never thought much of this old rifle," he began. "Not 'til the Depression.
"I got it from my Father, who got it from his. This rifle was made in Pennsylvania a long time ago, and it came out here when my Grandfather came out here as a young man. This rifle wasn't new then, but of course it was a lot younger than it is now. You're Great-Grandfather got it from a gent in Tennessee who had put it up as a bet in a card game.
"It's not new, but it is in real good shape. I hope I'm in that good of shape when I'm as old as this rifle -- it was 162 years old last year, you can see the date it was made here by the tang.
"Anyway, like I was sayin', I got this from my brother -- your Grandfather. It had been in the family, and I wanted somethin' to hunt with and so he gave it to me to shut me up. I used it for a few years, and when I left home on my wanderings, I left it behind and your Grandmother took care of it for me while I was gone.
"What did I want with an old flintlock anyway? It was okay to fiddle around with when I was a kid, but I was a man when I left home, I was nearly sixteen years old! I was goin' to make a bunch of money up in the Yukon and I'd buy me a really good gun then!
"'Course, I left Juneau with about a thousand dollars, a lot in them days, but somehow I never really got rich. I learned a lot in the meantime, though.
"I came back and married Thecla and bought this farm and settled down to raise my kids. 'Bout the time the first one came along, we were in the War in Europe and I marched off to fight the Hun. I carried the best rifle of the time in that war, and I did my part and was glad to come home when it was over.
"Thecla and me had four kids by the time the Depression hit in 1929.
"Things got real bad around here real fast. I'd had a job at the mill in town, 'cause the farm didn't pay enough. We'd raise vegetables and a few chickens, but I couldn't make the farm pay -- it was just a tad too small for that, but it was a good place to raise the kids.
"But like I say, things got bad fast. Early in 1930 the mill closed, 'cause Mr. Miller, who owned it, had borrowed too much money to expand it in 1928. And there was nothin' else around here that was hirin' people. Even when some people got hired the pay was poor, but it was better than nothin'.
"Nowdays, you have unemployment and other kinds of help. Back then, you were on your own.
"Thecla don't like to talk about those times. She'd bake bread and stretch the flour somehow. We couldn't afford butter and we sure didn't have a cow, so we'd spread lard on the bread instead. Meat'd be a chicken we'd kill, but that was only for special occasions since a dead chicken couldn't lay eggs. And there were six mouths to feed and sometimes we'd even try to help out them what was even worse off than we were.
"I had two rifles and my shotgun then. Only I couldn't afford the shells -- shoes for the kids came first.
"Then I thought of this old friend. I had all of the stuff for her from the old days, and I traded a live layin' hen to Old Man Hawkes down at the store for two pounds of powder. I melted down some old lead I had in the barn and molded it into bullets, cut some patches, made some patch grease and I was on my way.
"I started walkin' along the old C B and Q right-of-way. There was two reasons for this: first off, I could nail a rabbit or a squirrel along there, and second, I could collect what coal fell off the tenders and take it home for the furnace.
"No, I didn't have a huntin' license and I shot rabbits and squirrels out of season. And I'm sorry I did it, because not only did I break the law but I believe now and I believed then that we'll only have any sort of game to hunt if we conserve what we have. But I had hungry kids, too, and I felt very close to that Indian prayer that apologies to the soul of the slain animals and explains that the animals were only killed to feed hungry people.
"Then and today, I think that the person who shoots an animal only for the head -- the kind of person who shot that deer last Fall on Phil's place and took the head and left the meat to rot, you remember -- is something which ain't either human or animal, but some kind of other thing that should be squashed.
"But I knew I was doin' wrong, and I took the responsibility for it. And when the Game Warden finally caught me, he put me to work paintin' park benches in town as a punishment. He knew I was only shootin' what I needed to feed the kids, and he never took me into Court. 'Course, it would have been different if I was shootin' deer, or sellin' what I shot or somethin'.
"Thecla and me made it through '30 and '31, but '32 wasn't any better and didn't look like things were goin' to get that way, either.
"Then one day, I was out walkin' along the tracks like usual, hunting for coal and rabbits, when a handcar came lickety-split around the bend and started brakin' as soon as it saw me.
"Now, I knew I was trespassin' on the railroad's right-of-way, but I never thought anything of it, and the railroad workers had even got to know me and sometimes a shovelful of coal would miss the firebox right when the engine was near me. Why, some of the railroad workers were my neighbors!
"But Old Discher was the Supervisor for the railroad here back then, and he was a hard man. When that handcar started
slowin' down, I saw that one of the people on it was Discher and I took off for the woods. Poachin' rabbits was one thing, but Discher would send me to jail for thirty days for trespassin', and then what would Thecla and the kids do?
"I chose the wrong place to run into the woods, 'cause there was a creek borderin' the track -- and the creek was at the bottom of a fifty-foot gorge. I just dropped into the bushes and hoped that I wouldn't be seen.
"Well, Discher knew right where I was.
"'Come on outl,' says he. 'I want to talk to you.'
"I lay still. I had a good idea what he wanted to talk to me about.
"'If you do not come out, and put your gun on the ground, I will send these two railroad policemen with me to get you,' he said.
"I stood up and put the gun on the ground, thinkin' that this was a heck of way to end up a day that had started out pretty well.
"'Oh, come here,' said Discher. 'I feel no need to continue shouting.'
"I walked over to where he and the other two guys were.
"'I am told that you have been walking along this section of track for quite some time. I assume that you are picking up coal spills from the trains?'
"I admitted as much.
"'And you also shoot small game along the railroad right-of-way, even if it is out of season?'
"Again I had to agree.
"'Would you say that you are quite familiar with the tracks in this ten mile section, and with the roadbed in this section in general?'
"I told him that I had been walking along it for a couple of years and that I had lived around here for more'n ten years, so that I felt I knew the area pretty well.
"'Well,' he said then, 'Would you like the position of track walker for this section? The pay is twelve dollars per week, and you must furnish the kerosene for your lantern. You will be expected to replace spikes which have worked loose in the ties, and perform such simple maintenance tasks as that. More complex problems you will report. I warn you, you will be expected to work every day of the year, and you will be on call twenty-four hours each day. We will expect ten hours work each day from you and you will be supervised to insure that the railroad is getting its money's worth. As long as you perform your assigned tasks, you may also pick up coal and do what you have been doing. Are you interested?'
"I just couldn't say anything. I thought I was goin' to jail, and instead I was offered a job. A job! I'd been more or less out of work for two years and this man was offering me a job! "'Come, come! If you aren't interested in my offer, say so! I can find others for the position, I should think,' said Discher.
"I told him that yes, I was interested and that I would report to the railroad offices the next day at seven in the morning, since I heard that that was the startin' time.
"'Very good. I'll see you then.' And he got on the handcar and away he and the two railroad dicks went.
"I sat down on the side of the roadbed and just shook my head. Then I stood up and started back home.
"Thecla was surprised to see me back so early and thought that I was sick. Well, in a way I was, I guess -- sick with happiness. When I told her what had happened, she didn't believe it at first and then forgave me for not bringin' home anything for the stewpot. We ate a chicken that night to celebrate and I started doin' what I had been doin' the next day, but gettin' paid for it too.
"I worked for the railroad until I enlisted in the Navy in 1941. Mr. Discher got to be a good friend of mine, and he told me later on that he'd heard about me from the train crews and after he had looked into my situation he'd decided to do something for me if he could. When I quit the railroad, Discher had retired and I was a foreman.
"But that's how I came to realize how much this old rifle meant to me, when I had to use it to put meat on the table for the family. Now, men and women in our family have been good shots for years, good gun handlers and responsible citizens. I'll tell you what I'm goin' to do. You go down to the library in town and study up on shootin', and more important, shootin' black powder guns and flintlocks specifically. If they don't have nothin' on it, tell me. When you've studied up on it, I'll quiz you, and then I'll teach you some more. When you have the book learnin', I'll let you shoot. And when you can put five balls in a row in a three inch circle at one hundred feet, I'll pass this rifle on to you like my Father passed it on to me. Is it a deal?"
I was so surprised with the offer that I could only stare. I quickly agreed to his terms, and Uncle Mathias looked at his watch and allowed that there was no more time for hunting that day, and only barely enough to get back in time for dinner.
It took seven months before I fired the rifle, before I had the "book learnin'" to Uncle Mathias' satisfaction. It was another six months before I could meet his accuracy standards and the beautiful old rifle became mine, lock, stock and barrel.
I own several guns, including two other muzzleloaders. But when I take the Old Lady down and rest my cheek against her stock for a moment I can feel the presence of Uncle Mathias, and of those who held and used her before him. It gives me a feeling for history, a personal place in the flow of Time. I've looked into her past, and now know what the crossed arrow and tomahawk mark means; I've tried to trace her wanderings during the years, and found a very distinct possibility that she was fired from a cotton bale rest outside of New Orleans one day in 1814. Her rifling has never been refreshed, as far as I can tell, and yet she will send a ball as true as what she must have when she was first "shot in."
Once, as a teenager, I was shooting her when my Mother came to pick me up and take me home. In the way of the cocky kid I was, I suggested that my Mother take a shot with the Old Lady. My mother proceeded to swab, dry, load, prime and fire -- and shot in two a stick one inch square 75 yards away which I had been firing at for over two hours.
Her only comment, later, was that she had had some lessons from Uncle Matthias "before you were born. Now take out the garbage."
The Old Lady connects me with my Mother, too. I feel that I stand at the end of a long line of people who have entrusted the
Old Lady to me. And it is a trust, not an ownership. I cannot sell the Old Lady; I can only pass on the trust. Someday I shall.