One September weekend many years ago, Cousin watched me tune in some rock and roll on my new transistor radio in the shade of my grandmother’s sycamore.
“Where’s the case?”
“The leather’s too thick. It’s too tight in my shirt pocket, but now it slides out easy as pie.” I demonstrated. “And another thing is this.” I wiggled the back off the radio and took a deep sniff of warm transistors. “Makes it easier to open up. I love this smell. Here, try it.”
He leaned over and shrugged, missing my point.
“Not bad, but let’s go hunting.”
I disremember the exact time the Old Man cut us loose with shotguns during dove season, but Cousin and I were pretty good size. We were pondering where to hunt when Cousin mentioned he knew of an old dirt road that wasn’t far from a pool.
“It’s the perfect place to shoot dove.”
“How far is it?”
“We can walk.” He pointed toward the east. “It’s that pasture down by the creek. Me and daddy were there a couple of days ago, and the dove were thick.”
I looked in the direction he wanted to go. Heat waves danced in the air.
“It’ll be hot.”
“Yep, but trees throw shade all the way across an old dirt road when the sun starts going down, and the pool’s not far away.”
I studied on his idea while Dusty Springfield sang Son of a Preacher Man.
“It’d be like hunting with Uncle Mack.”
His idea sounded better and better. Like Uncle Mack, we’d sit in lawn chairs beside a cooler in the middle of a lane (though it wouldn’t contain the cans Uncle Mack drank from), waiting for birds to fly over.
“It’s a deal.”
We got a pair of the Old Man’s lawn chairs from the smokehouse and beat ‘em clean of dirt-dobber nests. We didn’t have a small enough cooler to carry, but there was an old lard bucket with a dented lid on a shelf full of dusty fruit jars. I raided the refrigerator. Four six-and-a-half-ounce Cokes fit perfectly. I cracked open two aluminum ice trays and dumped in the cubes.
Cousin picked it up.
“It’s not too heavy.”
“You carry it then. I’ll get the chairs.”
Cousin stuffed all four of his jean pockets full of .410 shells for the shotgun Grandad kept behind the door, but I wanted something different.
Back then there were no such things as bird vests for kids so we had to make do. I dumped four boxes of .410 shells in a cloth sack, cut a couple of slits near the top, and threaded my belt through them. It was my first bird belt.
Getting to the pool was a challenge. Shuffling two chairs in one hand, and a shotgun in another, it was difficult to cross the bobwire fences between the house and the pasture. Then there was the added weight of the shells slapping the side of my leg that hung up on every fence we climbed through.
The transistor radio fell out of my pocket every time I slipped between the wires and I’d have to blow off the sand and put it back. I wished the leather cover was back on so it wouldn’t slip out.
All four pockets of Cousin’s jeans were filled with shotgun shells and the sweating lard bucket kept banging into them. Every hundred yards or so, he’d switch hands between the impromptu cooler and shotgun. He finally stopped, sweating.
“I need a Coke.”
It took ten minutes to pry the lard can open, because the lid was so tight. He plucked a bottle from the ice water and looked around.
“Did you get a bottle opener?”
We pondered the problem and could come up with no answer other than breaking off the neck like cowboys did with whiskey bottles in the movies.
“We’ll get glass in it.” I sighed. “Leave it here beside this tree and we’ll pick it up on the way back.”
The slog continued, but the remainder of the hike was easier with only a chair and shotgun. We finally arrived at the middle of a tree-lined lane not far from the pool and settled in.
There were no birds.
To alleviate that problem, I stumbled on a solution that I’ve found to work while hunting and fishing through the years. If nothing is happening, quit paying attention to what you’re supposed to be doing.
“We need music.”
I turned the radio on and dialed in Martha and the Vandellas singing Jimmy Mack. While I was looking down, Cousin fired and a dove fell. The flight was on.
Tinny rock and roll music played, the sun dropped, and dove flew over, heading for the nearby pool to get water. They came by in singles, doubles and flocks, and suddenly more shotguns opened up over by the pool. The Old Man and Uncle knew where we’d been headed and drove in for a little shooting of their own.
It was a good thing, too, because our aim left much to be desired. There was a Coleman cooler in the back of the truck, full of Cokes, and those two prepared marksmen drove us home after sunset and we cleaned dove in the porch light.
I never went back to that lane again. I’ve often wondered if anyone ever came across that old lard bucket full of unopened cokes.
It’s something to think about when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I kinda wish I had that transistor radio back, too. I liked the smell of new transistors.