Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"A Call Remembered"

Not long ago I had someone from an internet duck hunting forum contact me concerning the making of a call...two calls actually. The calls were to be a father and son set, celebrating a birthday. Being highly honored, I accepted. The thing is, as messages where traded back and forth, I realized that this was a bit more than "just a call". The daddy, rightfully so, wanted the call to be "just so". Questions like "do you want antler to be used?", "contrasting woods?", "brass bands, stainless steel bands, etc?", were all met with either "no" or "I'm not sure, what do you think?"

After a week or so of just not knowing what to do, I came across a story I had read a long time ago - "The Neglected Duck Call" by Nash Buckingham. In that fabled tale, Mr. Buck lamented on duck calling and duck call making in general. Several "collectable" characters make appearances including Perry Hooker and Tom Turpin - either of which, if you can find a call in some estate sale made by these two, consider holding onto them like grim death.

Quietly, I closed the book when the tale was done, setting it back in it's proper place, and sometime around 3 a.m. I turned a call.

This call was turned from a memory. A memory of a call that I had never really paid much attention to until it was most assuredly too late. Yet, this call bares a story. Not an epic mind you, but a memory that tugs at me every time I think of taking the fly rod out, every time I think of the Rockies, every time I think of him - my Granddad.

Pm'ing the father, I declared, "let's forget about bands and other embellishments, but rather, let's give your son something more valuable. Let's give him a call graced with a blessing and a story!"

This is that story:

"HOLY CRAP MAN! SLOW THE HELL DOWN, YOU'RE GONNA TO KILL US," exclaimed Magic as my old trusty Jeep Cherokee slid damned near off the levee. It didn't matter, this was the last weekend of the season, it had started sleeting - sideways I might add - and we were headed to camp. GranGran had been there since Sunday night, as he was every year. He only left camp during duck season on Saturday evenings, heading home to be there for Sunday service and dinner at our house. This was pretty much his schedule since we lost MaMaa some ten years prior. Daddy had gotten someone to come fill in at the store and had been there all day, calling and telling momma that the greenheads where thick.

"Cajun" of course was there. Much to the chagrin of Gran Gran. I can't figure it, but there was always a bit of tension between them. I guess, looking back, it was more just a lifestyle difference than anything. But, they got along well enough I suppose, particularly when daddy was around to buffer things.

So there I was running breakneck on a tiny levee, that was rapidly freezing over in Northeast Louisiana, headed to the camp, with only thoughts of food and fun on my mind.

Considering the sloppy conditions, the torrid pace, and the intrepid arguing concerning farting and smoking in the truck, courtesy of Chunk, we were lucky to make it there alive. Not to mention feeling ten foot tall, bulletproof and in rather jovial spirits per the peach shine we were sipping - compliments of Cajun. But made it we did, right at dark, and thus convened another meeting of the minds. Around the campfire we sat eating my dads famous hamburgers which were drenched in some of the best BBQ sauce I've ever tasted. I ask what is better than sitting around a fire, eating burgers, laughing with your best friends? That night, around the fire we told old tales concerning snipe hunts, an atheist graveyard, and questioned what Freddy Moore had going on at his store. That particular part of the evening brought cold stares from my daddy, who knew we often bartered with Freddy Moore for beer. A deers rib meat or a stringer of fish might get us a case or so, a hind quarter a bit more. So was the way we dealt with Freddy Moore and his country sto'. Seemingly others dealt with him differently because we were always seeing folks come from the back of the store and we always had the same question, "why where they all the way out here getting gas...they lived in town." At the time, a question we figured would go unanswered.

Maybe it was Cajun and Daddy's refusal to tell a story, saying only, "our time is past, you've heard them all, you are the ones with the stories now" or maybe it was the noticeable absence of Gran Gran - who never missed a night around the camp fire - hell, maybe it was all of it, but something was gnawing at me. Something I just couldn't quite place, but things were different.

Late that night after everyone but me, Daddy and Cajun had gone to bed, the sleet turned to snow and the winds abated. With concern in my heart and curiosity on my mind, I asked Daddy about "how Gran Gran was doing". I was met with a tired, truly tired like I had never seen nor hope to again, expression and a "I'm going to bed". Cajun merely handed me his flask and walked into the cold night, beckoning me to follow.

We walked forever that night, well past midnight in fact, not really heading anywhere, but definitely going somewhere. Down the road that led to the camp, back to the levee, over it and slipping all the way down the far side, we finally came to a stop at a rice field that some other hands from town were leasing. And, all we did was listen. Thousands of ducks chattered together, fresh arrivals on a new North wind. I remember that night and it's sounds like it was yesterday. Everything that could quack was doing just that, and it melted together into a symphony like none other. Taking sips and passing the flask, me and Jim just sat there in awed silence. After a while, Cajun asked how things were since "we found out", but taking notice of how uncomfortable I became at having to answer grown up questions, quickly changed the subject by stating, "Justin, never forget the past because you never know how it will affect your future." And that was it. Nothing else was said until we got all the way back to the camp. Our hands, ears and nose where cold as Dante's hell. Having had enough of Jim's brew, I started to bed and Cajun just about knocked me over clapping me on the back exclaiming, "Helluba good talk we hab toni'!" Seemingly, ole Jim was damned near as snookered as I was, off his own brew no less.

The next morning found us graced with about 2 inches of fresh fallen snow and me with a stupendous hang over. I had never hunted in such before, and despite the little African in my head with the ball peen hammer, couldn't quite contain my jubilation. Quickly getting dressed, I ran over to the grownups trailer to wake them. Cajun and Daddy were sitting at the domino's table drinking coffee and smiling. Seems they found the little boy in them as well that morning.....and Gran Gran slept.

We were all going to hunt to hunt the "woodpecker hole" that morning, so Daddy and Jim rode up front and me, Chunk, and Magic were to make the short ride to the boat launch in the truck bed.

Not being able to stand it, I stalked back into the trailer to get Gran Gran up myself. I walked in and could hear him snoring soundly. Looking at a chair sitting around the domino's table, I saw his call and thought, "well, if he ain't gonna go, I'll take this thing with me." But, I couldn't. I just sat there, staring at that call in utter disgust and anger. Anger at what was going on and anger at "finding out". Dammit, I wished that call would burst into flames right before my eyes that day. Over my shoulder came a solemn voice, "the chemo just works on him Justin.....he'll be out there tomorrow, I'll make sure of it." Turning back I faced my daddy's downcasted gaze. Confused and frustrated, I started to say something, couldn't, and just walked out to the truck.

That call, the one he wore around his neck all those years, the one he killed all those ducks with, the one I never really noticed at all............that call.

This call:

Custom Fiddleback Walnut Duck Call

To the future owners of this call (and the other), may it do for you what it's memory has done for me.

To my GranGran, you gave it and got it over Europe in WW2 for God and Country, you lived it and taught it to your friends and family along the way, yet your greatest gift is how bad it hurts to say, "I miss you".

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