My grandmother was pouring what was near ice water into the tub that had to be twenty-five degrees warmer than my bluish-black toes and felt like needles being pressed into my calves and thighs.
She was silent with her lips pressed tightly together and her gray head was moving slowly back and fourth. There was no doubt she was thinking “how does her grandson get himself into these situations?
Looking back on my childhood I’m going to have to blame the environment for the reason in the lapse of good judgment I showed from time-to-time.
I grew up in the area of the country where you were surrounded by wonderful opportunities to toss in a fishing line or to challenge your talents with a shotgun in the middle of the western flyway.
It was not unusual to walk the mile towards the city recovery ponds (a refined word for sewer) which was next to the rail yard for jump shooting ducks or during the warmer months fishing for croppy or blue-gill in the many diversion canals that brought water to the crops of the Klamath basin.
Although I enjoyed fishing…I loved bird hunting with a particular focus towards waterfowl.
My Uncle Erv was the first to set my path as a human retriever when we went quail hunting and he allowed me to shoot my Grandfather John’s twelve gage only after I had chased after the first few down birds running through the thick sage. If you just have a wing shot you could be chasing for a time.
It was a Stevens side-by-side with a shortened stock. Grandpa was not a tall man and the gun was a perfect fit. My uncle had his father’s thick Italian curly hair and I can only guess a bit of his sense of humor.
“To keep it steady just tuck it in tight and squeeze both triggers slowly.” Aiming not only the shotgun, but to please my uncle, I found myself about thirty-three feet from where I remembered standing earlier with barrels a smoking and listening to a slight chuckle.
My hunting companions were my cousins David and Donald, their two black labs and from time to time my best friend Bruce who did not own a dog. My cousins only used me when the first string couldn’t show.
This particular day the ground was frozen like granite other than a large hole in the ice towards the middle of the pond it looked frozen with inches to spare as Bruce and I settled in to the cattails pulling them tight making a natural blind.
Sitting just behind us was Bruce’s cleaver adaptation of a boat where he had taken an old inner tube and placed it around a small plastic barrel. His dad worked for Crater Lake Creamery so there were all sorts of containers around the house to be used for a good cause.
We could see the four mallards coming in from the river and it looked like they would set down on a pond near us, they made one circle and the second was just close enough for the Stevens with eights loaded in the barrel.
I was never as good a shot as my cousins but Bruce seemed to have a pretty good challenge with concentration, which your better off just lobbing your shells into the air by hand.
As luck would have it the injured male hit smack in the middle of the only water on the pond as I looked towards Bruce…”Your bird” he noted.
I grabbed the barrel boat and inched my way towards the downed bird, hoping for the wind to pick up, pushing it to at least one side of the opening.
I can hear the ice starting to groan about four feet out and I’m thinking that getting lower to the surface will help spread the weight of my morning oatmeal.
Just about another three feet, the fat lady sung and the only hole in the ice became the much larger hole in the ice with me going down like a ton of taters with a layer of wool long-johns two shirts and a canvas coat, I’m suited to be a anchor.
I can’t tell my fingers for the ice and pull myself into the craft feeling pretty good about my chances until my full weight hit the bottom of the plastic barrel and I was only left the inner-tube to paddle back through the shard ice to shore.
“Half the boat worked!” Bruce said in all earnest.