December 2012 Newsletter
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Things I Remember
About Past Decembers
One of my favorite outdoor writers is Havilah Babcock, who might well be
termed the poet laureate of the bobwhite quail. The old professor had a
real way with words, and America has produced few, if any outdoor
writers with a finer knack for turning a phrase. Recently, while
crafting a piece on Babcock for a new magazine, Covey Rise (I
heartily recommend it to anyone enchanted by whirring wings and fly
feathers, wide ranging dogs and staunch points), I had cause to look at
some of his memorable quotations. One of them rang a real bell with me.
“Boyhood,” Babcock wrote, improves with age, and the more remote it is
the nicer boyhood seems to become.” Another wonderful writer and
arguably our country’s finest sporting scribe, Robert Ruark, stated at
the outset of his timeless treasure, The Old Man and the Boy,
“Anybody who reads this book is bound to realize that I had a real fine
time as a kid.”
As an ordinary sporting scribe who loves the literature of sport, maybe
I can, on this one subject, momentarily link hands with these giants.
Certainly I’ve reached the point in age where boyhood is pretty remote,
there’s no doubt that as a youngster pleasure was my middle name, and I
have a great fondness for looking back on those halcyon days of youth.
At no time does that ring more true than during the Yuletide season, so
this month’s newsletter is devoted to warm and winsome things I remember
about Decembers past. If you have been blessed, truly blessed, in your
life, you will share some of these memories. If not, it’s never too late
to start making them; better still, make them with a youngster. Here is
a sampling of my memories:
Gathering mistletoe for Christmas decoration by shooting springs of
it out of the tops of oak trees with a .22 rifle.
Collecting galax and running cedar for Mom to use as decorating
material on the mantle and elsewhere.
Gathering little items from nature—hemlock and white pine cones,
milkweed pods, sycamore and sweet gum balls, hickory nuts, acorns,
and the like. Mom would spray them with gold or silver paint and
craft them into wreathes.
The grand family expedition to get our Christmas tree. This was no
visit to a vacant lot or tree farm but rather a serious undertaking
that had been some weeks in the making. Dad would keep a keen eye
out for a shapely Virginia pine while we were out rabbit or squirrel
hunting, maybe contemplating and ultimately rejecting a dozen or
more before making the final selection. The whole family
participated in the actual cutting, usually on a Sunday afternoon,
and if there was some little imperfection Dad would add a limb, use
thin wire to straighten a wayward branch, or otherwise set things
Popping popcorn we had raised and using a needle to run through the
popped kernels to create garlands for the Christmas tree.
Making popcorn balls which were held together by molasses.
Bringing Mom several small limbs off of honey locust trees. She
would cover every thorn with colorful gumballs (sometimes using only
red and green, on other occasions opting for every available color)
and place the fetching decoration at strategic points around the
Sitting together of an evening as a family picking out black walnut
kernels from nuts we had gathered earlier in the fall and which Dad
had cracked down in the basement using a vise.
The smells of Christmas baking. Among the things Mom made were a
number of desserts featuring black walnuts--cookies, a black walnut
pound cake, and black walnut banana bread (see recipes for all three
black walnut dishes below). She also produced pumpkin pies, a
scrumptious applesauce cake, and more.
Christmas presents which always included hunting equipment—a box of
shotgun shells (the only time I ever had a full box; other times I
bought them individually at eight cents apiece or a baker’s dozen
for a dollar), new long johns, maybe a pair of Duxbak pants, or the
most memorable gift of all, a new shotgun. I still have the gun, a
little 20 gauge Savage Model 220A. It’s choked tight as a miser’s
purse but accounted for many a squirrel and rabbit, not to mention
the fact that I killed my first turkey with it for the simple sake
of nostalgia. There was invariably a book or two as well.
The inexpressible delight of having a full two weeks off from
school. That meant hunting almost every day, although Daddy wouldn’t
let me take the rabbit dogs out on a daily basis. Undeterred, I
simply went squirrel hunting on alternate days.
Riding around town on Christmas Eve night to look at the lights.
Listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” I truly dreaming of
and hoping for snow-covered ground on December 25.
Joining our elderly and widowed next door neighbor, Mr. Black, to
watch the Lawrence Welk Christmas show and enjoy cookies and punch.
This was special in part because we didn’t have a television.
Offers and Gift Recommendations for December
Want to get your turkey hunting buddy something special or give
yourself a reading treat for those grey grim days coming in
January and February. Consider my new book Remembering the
Greats: Profiles of Turkey Hunting’s Old Masters ($39.95+$5
shipping and handling). I’ll gladly sign and inscribe.
If you want a thematic item in keeping with the season, I’m
offering Carolina Christmas: Archibald Rutledge’s Enduring
Holiday Stories at $25 postpaid. The book and shipping are
normally $34.95, so you are getting a $10 discount.
Incidentally, the book includes not only dozen of
Christmas-related hunting and outdoor stories but a concluding
chapter of seasonal recipes.
Finally, if you want some simple reading to do in a spare moment
or two, at bedside, or for inspiration, consider Passages,
a collection of quotations from 30 years of issues of
Sporting Classics magazines and the greatest sporting
writers of all time. I co-edited the book and wrote the
Introduction to it. Just $20 and I’ll pay the postage, or I have
a few of the limited edition, slipcased, numbered version at $50
You can order online now by using the "Add
to Cart" buttons above, or
just send a check to me c/o 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, SC
The Christmas Eve gathering at the home of my paternal grandparents.
There would be an impressive array of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
All the children got a bunch of gifts. There are two gifts I recall
with great fondness. One was a stamp album my Aunt Emma gave me when
I was aged eight or nine. It set me striding down a lifelong path as
a philatelist (one of those $10 words which means stamp collector).
The second was the sheer joy with which Grandpa Joe greeted a gift
of dry twist Apple Jack chewing tobacco. Never mind that he might
have gotten a fine new wool shirt or even a suit of
Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, it was the tobacco which caught his
Discovering I had chicken pox on Christmas Eve.
Church pageants and carol singing, with bags of candy, nuts, and
fruits for the children afterwards.
Dad telling the story of his keen disappointment as a young boy when
he desperately hoped for a pocket knife—and got one, only it was
hard candy rather than the real McCoy.
The childlike delight Mom had in receiving presents. Her own
childhood was a rough one, being raised by relatives and never
having a lot in the way of material goods. She made up for it in the
finest of fashions by lavishing great love on her children and,
right up through her last Christmas, being greatly excited at each
and every gift.
Gag gifts for Dad. These included such things, over the years, as a
Sammy Davis, Jr. tape (he absolutely detested the man and his music)
and a pair of underwear adorned with Mickey Mouse.
The Christmas Day feast at the home of my grandparents. It was a
meal rivaled only by the spread at Thanksgiving.
Grandpa Joe “sassering” a cup of Russian tea and smacking his lips
as he drank liquid hot enough to scorch most lips.
The concluding words of every blessing I ever heard Grandpa deliver
as we were preparing to eat: “You’uns see what’s before you. Eat
Sneaking into the high school gym to play pick-up basketball. I now
suspect that the coach intentionally left a door or window open.
Listening to Grandpa Joe, as he sat close to a good fire, relive his
own boyhood days. He was a grand teller of tales and his experience
encompassed things such as killing a “painter” (mountain lion),
squirrel hunting in the days when the mighty American chestnut still
dominated forests in the Smokies, catching rabbits in two feet of
snow so soft you could identify their whereabouts by breathing holes
and the cottontails were unable to run.
Enjoying dressing made with chestnuts and cornbread and topped with
Feasting while afield after Christmas on scrumptious leftovers such
as fruit cake and orange slice cake.
Sledding on homemade sleds with wood runners.
”Skating” on frozen ponds or melted snow which had refrozen using
leather-bottomed shoes as a substitute for skates.
Listening to tales of old mountain Christmas traditions such as Yule
logs, the 12 days of Christmas, celebrating Old Christmas (January
6), and drinking syllabub.
Eating chocolate-covered cherries (I assume they are still made but
I haven’t seen, much less eaten, one in years).
Getting kumquats mixed in with fruit baskets containing oranges and
grapefruit. Like chocolate-covered cherries, I haven’t seen a
kumquat for a long time.
Mom saving orange rinds to use in making marmalade, as zest in
cranberry relish, or for other culinary uses. She didn’t waste much.
Enjoying crackling cornbread.
Eating Grandma’s picked peaches and Aunt Emma’s ambrosia.
The keen sense of anticipation in the lead-up to Christmas morning
and the opening of presents in our immediate family.
Most of all, being with folks I loved in a warm family environment.
I now realize we didn’t have a lot and quite possible would have
been, by citified standards, considered poor. Most everyone else was
in the same circumstances (or worse), and it wasn’t until I went off
to college that realization dawned that our family wasn’t exactly
blessed with an over-abundance of world goods. In truth though, we
were anything but poor. We had loving and devoted parents, enough to
eat, clothes on our back, a world of natural beauty surrounding us,
a comfortable home, and a staunch “make do with what you’ve got”
attitude. I fear that attitude, not just in my beloved Smokies but
all across the nation, is in abject decline.
There are other memories, many of them. Some are powerful and poignant,
and some bring a catch to my throat or a tear to my eye. Others evoke a
smile or a chuckle, but all remind me mine was a blessed boyhood. Here’s
hoping you have similarly fond recollections and all best wishes for
Christmas. May it be filled with joy for you and yours, and keep in mind
the true reason for the season.
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Last month I added a new feature to the newsletter, a listing of books I
was reading or had read in recent weeks. Let me know what you think as I
ponder whether it is worth the time to share this material. Basically,
it’s your call as readers. Here’s what I’ve been reading of late with a
few notes on the nature of the book or author. Those with an asterisk
(*) are ones I would recommend for leisure or armchair pleasure.
J. Cecil Alter,
Jim Bridger. Bridger was one of the early
mountain men and a truly interesting individual.
Unrepentant Sinner. This is the autobiography of
the younger Charles Askins, a career military man and noted hunting and
guns writer. He’s bombastic at times and probably a bit prone to gilding
the lily. The book, published by Jim Rikhoff’s Amwell Press, desperately
needed an editor and proofreader, but it is interesting stuff.
Rudyard Kipling. Along with Robert Service,
Kipling ranks as one of my two favorite poets, with Sidney Lanier not
being far behind (obviously I like poems that rhyme).
Retrospect: Reminiscences and Impressions of a
Hunter-Naturalist. Chapman was a peripatetic Brit who hunted across
Europe and Africa and wrote a number of books.
Characters and Critters. Skipper is an outfitter
in Texas with whom I’ve hunted turkeys on multiple occasions. He’s a
gifted storyteller, and if this book doesn’t tickle your fancy and have
you laughing I suggest you forthwith make an appointment with a
psychiatrist. You have problems or else were born without a funny bone.
Zane Grey, A Biography. Most folks think of Grey in
connection with his bestselling Westerns, but he also wrote a batch of
fishing books and lived to fish. One of his early stories fishing, “The
Lord of Lackawaxen Creek,” is superb.
William Manchester and Paul Reid,
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer
Churchill—Defender of the Realm, 1940-65. This is the third and
concluding volume of the definitive life of Churchill.
Snowbird Cherokees: People of Persistence. The
Snowbird Cherokees live in Graham County, NC, in an area I fish a lot.
This is a scholarly work of interest to me but not recommended for
The Old Man and the Boy. I usually try to read
what I consider the greatest book on the outdoors ever written in this
country at least once a year, usually in November of December. Some of
Ruark’s finest stuff comes from these months, and one of his finest
stories is “November Was Always the Best.” In this case I also had an
ulterior motive since I was working on a little piece for a dandy new
magazine, Covey Rise.
*Barbara Taylor Woodall,
It’s Not My Mountain Anymore. This is a
moving chronicle of growing up close to the land in the Southern
Appalachians. At points the book is glad, at others sad, but for anyone
who loves the mountains it’s a sometimes earthy, always moving and
meaningful testament to a hardy people and their way of life. I’ll offer
just two little examples. The first is a riddle. What has “four stiff
standers, four down hangers, two lookers, two crookers, and one
switchabout?” The answer is a milk cow. The author writes about a spell
of bitterly cold weather with deep snow; a situation which produces a
comment to the effect it was so cold you couldn’t even get to the
outhouse. The solution? “Piss down the gun barrel and shoot it out the
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BLACK WALNUT AND
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 cups very ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup finely chopped black walnuts
Mix vegetable oil, sugar, eggs and bananas well. Add flour, salt, baking
soda and walnuts and mix until thoroughly blended. Place in greased loaf
pan and bake at 350 degrees for an hour or in four small loaf pans for
BLACK WALNUT POUND
This recipe came from the late Beulah Suddreth, as good a soul and fine
a cook as ever called Swain County home. I was blessed to have known her
well, as will be the case with many readers.
1 cup butter (no substitute)
½ cup shortening
3 cups sugar
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups finely chopped black walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup half-and-half milk
For a more moist
cake, use 8 ounces of sour cream
Cream butter and shortening thoroughly. Gradually add sugar; cream until
light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. In a
separate bowl sift flour and baking powder and add chopped black
walnuts. In measuring cup, add vanilla to half-and-half. Add flour and
walnut mixture alternately with half-and-half to creamed mixture, and if
you opt to use sour cream, alternate it as well. Blend and mix well
(beating well is the secret to a fine pound cake). Pour into a prepared
10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes or
until done. Cool for 10 minutes and remove from pan.
You can, if desired, prepare a frosting for this cake (1 stick melted
butter, 1 16-ounce box powdered sugar, half-and-half, and ½ cup finely
chopped black walnuts. Blend butter and sugar and add enough
half-and-half to reach desired consistency. Fold in walnuts and frost
COOKIES WITH BLACK WALNUTS
½ cup sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 ¼ cup margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups oats, quick cooking or regular
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins
2 cups black walnut meats
Cream sugars and margarine; add egg and vanilla. Place dry ingredients
in separate bowl and mix well. Add raisins and walnuts to dry
ingredients. Combine creamed mixture and dry ingredients well. Drop by
tablespoons onto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or
until golden brown. Yields three dozen cookies.
BLACK WALNUT BARS
½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups shredded coconut
1 cup chopped black walnuts
Cream butter and brown sugar. Slowly add flour and mix until crumbly.
Pat into a 7 x 11-inch baking dish. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees
Combine brown sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla. In separate bowl, add flour
and baking powder to coconut and walnuts. Blend into egg mixture and
pour over baked crust. Return to oven and bake for an additional 15-20
minutes or until done. Cut into bars and place on wire racks to cool.
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Finally, if you're in the area, I will be a featured speaker
offering seminars at the Southeastern Council of the Federation of Fly
Fishers, May 17-18, 2013, at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee,
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