As I sit in my northern Wisconsin home I see, across the lake, six middle aged men getting out of their trucks dressed in hunter orange, heading out into the woods. It’s a November Saturday and the first day of Deer Season in Wisconsin. Their coats, probably purchased yesterday at the Farm and Fleet, blaze brightly in the cold November sun. One hunter is rather “chubby” and I wonder if I’m going to have to haul him out of the woods sometime today or tomorrow. I sit here in my house because I don’t hunt. In fact I’m pulling a 60 hour shift on the Rescue Squad because all the other EMT’s and Paramedics are out in the woods this weekend. I’m the only one on the Squad that doesn’t hunt and the only one who would be on call this weekend.
It’s not that I’m anti-hunting because I’m not. But the political events of the past month have got me thinking why I don’t hunt and why I ended up in Northern Wisconsin instead of Central Illinois. I actually believe in hunting. I know the damage of deer over-population. I believe in harvesting the bounty of the land, and I would rather see a pheasant on the table than starving through a long winter. But the events of Thanksgiving 1975 have pretty much made me a non-hunter.
My dad, Earl Eugene Brown(Gene), grew up in Sullivan Township just west of Cullom Ill. His father (my grandfather) owned a farm near the Old Sullivan Twp. Cemetery. He lost the farm in 1932 because of the great depression. The price of corn was ten cents a bushel. My grandparents could not pay the back taxes on the farm. In 1932 while an unpopular Republican president was being replaced by very popular Democratic president, the bank and the sheriff foreclosed on their property, and their farm was gone. (sound familiar)
Being the only male child in the family, my dad was forced to quite high school and work elsewhere. He never did graduate from high school. He and Mom eventually moved to Pontiac where I was born and grew up. We often went hunting back over to Cullom. The opening of pheasant season was always a special day for Dad and me. We would walk the cornrows and ditch lines. There was a special grove of hedge apple trees we liked because several dozen pheasant would take refuge in the grove. We always hunted the week before Thanksgiving; and from the time I was 8 until our last hunt. I always look forward to November, Thanksgiving and hunting with Dad.
Why do I think of this just now this week?? Because just this week Nov. 22, 2008, home foreclosure have reached an all time high. The “Fed” has pumped 700 billion bailing out the stock market, and Thurs. and Fri. the 3 heads of the car companies flew their private jets to Washington to get a 25 billion dollar bailout. Where would I be if my grandfather had help in paying the 300 dollars in back taxes in 1932?
Dad and I went hunting for the last time the day before Thanksgiving 1975. I was 28 years old and Dad was about to turn 70 in December. We went to Cullom to his old homestead. We knew that the land was now owned by a 90 year old lady who lived in a nursing home in Fairbury and the land was rented to someone, but we had hunted the land before. After all, this was the land that Dad used to plow with a team of horses. These were the roads Dad rode on with his old gray horse “Gyp”. So we parked near a ditch line and spent the morning walking the grassy ditch, the hedgerows and the corn stubble fields that Dad knew so well. It was a beautiful Nov. day, no clouds, a warm wind from the south. We didn’t see a single pheasant. By farming practices in 1975 most of fields were plowed soon after the corn or beans were picked. The hedge apple grove was gone, cleared for more fields, and the ditch lines were mowed to stubble. “No-till farming” practices were not heard of in the 70’s. But this was not a real hunt; it was a nostalgic walk for my Dad. He was about to turn 70, had already had one heart attack and other health problems. Besides this was the land where he grew up.
As we started to walk in from one cornfield, a truck pulled up to the fence line. A man in his 30’s got out, started yelling and cussing at us. He basically read us the riot act for trespassing on his land. Dad said nothing. I said nothing. We went to our car, put our guns away and started to drive back to Pontiac.
On the way home not much was said. At one point Dad started swearing, but once that was done he was quiet. I looked over at Dad and I saw tears on his face. We got home and the incident was never mentioned again.
Dad never went hunting again. Instead he put his effort into his horses. He kept horses out west of Pontiac and many times could be seen riding near what is now the Golf course. Dad died in Aug. 1987. I moved to Southern Wisconsin, and taught school in Antioch, Ill. for 34 years. Hunting where I lived in Kenosha, County was extremely difficult and expensive. All the farmland was gobbled up with urban sprawl and housing developments. Hunting could only be done in the State park or at Private hunting grounds. So, I never went hunting again.
I know not whether the bailouts of the past week are good or bad for the country. I wish someone had “bailed out “ my family in 1932. But, if they had, I would never have grown up in Pontiac Ill; I would never have become a school teacher, a paramedic, or a scout leader. I probably would never have met my wife or had our 2 wonderful kids or never have ended up in Northern Wisconsin. On the other hand my dad and mom would not have had it so hard in the 30’s and 40’s. The one thing I do know is that if there had been a bailout for my family, I would be a hunter.
So what do I miss about hunting? I miss the adventure; I miss the comadery between friends; I miss the great meals of pheasant; and I miss the friendship between a man and a dog;
But most of all I miss hunting with my dad.