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Wishing I’d listened more carefully to Dad’s stories about trapping

November 22, 2011

Every Sunday afternoon after they sold the Culligan business and moved to the country, Dad grabbed his walking stick and tramped over the 80 acres of woods across the road from our small west Kentucky beef cattle farm. Sometimes the collie/shepherd dog of the moment or Muffin, the yellow cat who thought he was a dog, trailed him. Dad would come back with a sparkle in his eye because he’d seen a fox or deer beds or deer tracks, but he had no interest in hunting. Said he’d rather see animals alive.

Why didn’t Dad ever hunt or trap again after “the war”? Did he tell me outright that he knew what it was like to be hunted? Or did I imagine that from other things he said?

I just finished reading about Minnesota author Will Weaver’s hunting and trapping episodes in his book The Last Hunter, an American Family’s Album. And I wish I’d listened more carefully when Dad told his stories about trapping as a child and a young man. He and his brother would reach into the cloth bag of dried sweet potato pieces in the attic and fill their coat pockets. Then they’d suck on these sweet treats when they got hungry running their traps in the cold and snow. He’d tell about that, licking his lips. And he’d tell about Uncle Ott getting so mad at a fox killing chickens in the hen house that he cornered that fox and strangled him with his bare hands. But I’m straining to remember more.

Uncle Ott and Uncle Bob and some of my cousins continued trapping. But we were the city kids who went to visit the country cousins. We were lucky to be able to roam the thoroughbred horse farm and its fields and streams just across the road from our house in central Kentucky. But we didn’t know the thrill or disappointment or cold that went along with trapping. And we never even heard much about it.

When I was dating my Wisconsin dairy farm boy boyfriend (who was working on his MBA), I took him to visit the country uncles. Several of us sat in a circle in the living room of Uncle Ott’s little brick house, which was near the home place where Uncle Bob lived. A wiry hunchbacked little man, a friend of my uncles, made statements that started with “Friends and brothers…” and spoke in the almost stuttering cadence of the mountain people further east. Later Wil asked me if he was always speaking English.

During a lull in the conversation, Uncle Ott looked at Wil and me over his askew glasses and asked quickly: “Wanna go down the basement and see my fars?” For a split second, I had to translate in my head: Fars? Fires? A furnace? No. Furs. I translated for Wil and we went to the basement to see all the red fox and mink furs hanging from the rafters in the basement.

Now I’ll have to ask my cousins and my Aunt Jane for more details about the trapping and hunting history of my family. This history is part of what defines us.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Beverly Stamper permalink
    November 25, 2011 5:34 am

    Enjoyed this post, Julie! I’d forgotten how much Dad’s trapping was a huge part of our history. My first memories of Daddy bringing home his “catch” was of mink and muskrat. He’d lay the stiff bodies behind the coal burning stove and I thought it was to warm them, but later learned it was to dry the fur before he skinned them. He never protected us from seeing the skinning process, and it never occurred to us that it was cruel or an unusual way to make money for our family. It was entertaining, and it represented our dad’s skill to us. Yesterday (Thanksgiving) was made more lonely because it was Dad’s favorite holiday . . . not because of turkey and trimmings, but because it was the first day of trapping season! Thanks for sharing your memories!

  2. December 1, 2011 4:16 am

    I hadn’t heard any of this before. Very interesting. We should do some careful listening about the Wisconsin grandparents’ childhood too! I’m sure there’s a lot I don’t know!

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