In Dad and Grandpa McNew’s country pool hall, the veterans they called the front bench regulars were the same age I am now. I recognize the similarities in them that I now imagine is normal for me and others in their seventies. Out of 15 or 20 of those men who fit into the ‘old-timers’ category, there were men who were still hunting, trapping and rowing through the pines. Then there were some who could have but didn’t.
That was a puzzle to me, a thirteen-year-old at the time who always wanted to and could have, but had a problem with what dad would allow. I also didn’t always have enough money when it came to buying ammo, and a lot of the veterans had that problem too. And of course there were those who would have been out in the woods or on the river as they always had been, but age gave them a bad back or a bad knee or an ‘old lady’ who didn’t let them waste their time. money. None of those guys called their wives a ‘wife’. Throughout the front bench in various conversations, they were collectively called ‘my old lady’. Like “I went to church with my old lady yesterday” or… “My old lady made some cookies this morning that you could have used for rabbit hunting.”
Some of those men still had great affection for their wives, like my grandfather. Some were single and did not like women. Some were single and liked women but couldn’t find anyone they liked, and some were married and liked all but the married women. But several of those veterans were healthy enough to hunt raccoons all night and run up and down the Ozark foothills until dawn and still go in and milk cows or mend fences. Those men got along better with their old ladies. I also noticed that those men were the ones who didn’t smoke or chew or drink alcohol. So I never did any of those things and sure enough I can hunt raccoons all night if I had a good raccoon dog. However, you get to where you don’t want to do that too bad. Perhaps it has to do with the drop in fur prices. A friend of mine who loved to hunt ducks didn’t want to go with me last year because he said he wasn’t as mad at them as he used to be. Older hunters don’t need it explained.
Like I said, when it came to wandering through the woods trying to find a flock of quail or a rabbit or a squirrel or a duck sitting in the creek, there were those back then who still could but didn’t want to, and there were those who still wanted to but they couldn’t and those who still did but wondered why at the end of the day, when they could barely take off their boots or put wood in the stove. I’m starting to fit into that last category. Skinning and frying a squirrel becomes a more complicated job than making a bologna sandwich. Deer hunting is something the old men did until they couldn’t drive through the woods and carry a rifle. Leaning against a tree was no problem if you had brought a cushion. Ol Bill killed a good deer when he was very old… just a few months before he achieved glory. His wife was still alive, I think. I heard a comment or two that day about how some of the guys on the front bench were afraid of that situation, dying before their wives. A man whose wife had died before him always came to the pool room smelling better, with his hair neatly combed.
But the bowhunters were all young… seen in that day as a bit dumber due to their age. Most bowhunters were in their twenties, worked in the local factory, married right out of high school and had two or three children before they killed their first deer. Arthritis prevented the elderly from hunting with a bow, not so much a greater amount of intelligence. I shot my first deer with a bow in my early twenties, got married and had two little girls. So I guess you could say it was pretty close to normal.
When I was in the pool hall, I was told that one day I would marry a young woman who was beautiful and not as smart as me. That advice has stood the test of time. My first wife, Gloria Jean, was truly beautiful, and she still is today! But she, over the years, has gotten so much smarter!! She believed things when she was 18 that I can’t convince her of now.
When I graduated from high school, Ol’ Bill told me something that I never forgot. He said, “Son, I never got past the third grade, but no matter how educated you are, I know something you won’t know for a long, long time. I know how quickly 50 years go by.”
Well, if I didn’t know then, I know now.” And I’ve learned what everyone discovered at my age or before… fishing becomes much easier than hunting. I sure like to fish more and more each year.