Article for September - October 2008
S.C. Wildlife readers share tales of their outdoor traditions.
Like many parents raising children in this rush-rush “no-time-for-that” world, my husband and I have consciously tried to build family traditions for our children—things that they look forward to each year, whether it’s during the Christmas holidays or over summer break. We hope these repeated events will stay with them in memory and become part of the stories they tell their own children in years to come.
In my own childhood, my parents built a number of family traditions, not only around holidays and vacations, but also around outdoor events, some of which I shared last year in an article called “We All Have a Story to Tell,” in which I asked for readers to share their outdoor traditions with us here at South Carolina Wildlife.
When that article came out, people responded, and the magazine staff and I have truly enjoyed reading through the many submissions. After awhile, we noticed the tradition stories sent in by readers were falling into several categories, with some overlapping: stories about shared hunting experiences, stories about shared fishing experiences, stories about shared meals, and stories about other events or gatherings shared among friends and/or family. Of course, perhaps because we are Southerners, the common theme of food ran through almost all the stories.
In selecting the stories to include in this issue, we looked for outdoor-based traditions that were truly traditions, or at least likely to become traditions. We wanted to highlight a few of those repeated events that arrive predictably and provide reliable touchstones in the navigation of busy lives, rituals with returns that can be counted on, looked forward to, made fun of and treasured by all involved.
The Woods of Home
I love the woods, marshes and tidal creeks of the Carolina Lowcountry. From the early 1940s to the early 1950s—my formative years—my father was a radio engineer at a transmitter site on the edge of the marsh overlooking the Ashley River near Charleston. He built us a house on a nearby point brushed by a small tidal creek.
My dad loved the woods, and over the years we spent many happy hours exploring the unspoiled wilderness around us. About a mile from home I had a hideout overlooking a marsh. It was a tall cedar, and we called it “the ladder tree” because the limbs were like the rungs of a ladder. You could climb to the very top where all you could see was green down below and blue sky above. Farther on in the deep woods we discovered another marsh that branched into three fingers reaching inland. In one of these the reeds were so thick that we could lie on them, and we spent time just looking up at the sky and listening to the forest sounds. We were sure that no one else knew about our “hidden marsh.” After dark, my dad would build a fire on the high bank and bake sweet potatoes in the coals. I can still smell the sweetness in the air and see the stars overhead. A bit farther was a wetland where wild ginger and May apples grew, and where we stalked spring peepers in the darkness. Sure enough, the little guys would be drawn to the floating candlelight, and they would scramble up on the board and begin their piercing chorus.
The woods of my youth are gone—all of them. They have given way to roads and highways, shopping malls and homes that dot the landscape along the marshes. But no regrets—other people have dreams, too, and I have a wealth of beautiful memories to cherish. Now it’s time to confess: As a boy I would pull up the survey stakes for the roads that were about to be built, pitching them into the woods. My efforts to slow the advance of growth were unsuccessful. I hope the statute of limitations has run out on this one. If not, you know where to find me!
—Gordon W. Knight
Winter Park, Florida
A Place Called Hagood
It was all I knew, moving from town to town and country to country. It was all any soldier’s son knew growing up in the early 1960s; we were at war, the Cold War.
My father, born in 1917, was raised in the town of Stateburg, South Carolina, located in rural Sumter County. My mother was raised a few miles away in a place called Hagood. It was a tiny town situated on a railway line. My father’s family house in Stateburg had burned long before, but my mother’s home in Hagood, a rambling place called Dutch Cottage, survived. My maternal grandmother lived there. Each summer it was this house, and the people and places around it, that constituted my childhood wonderland.
I still have an almost visceral recollection of waking up in the back, upstairs bedroom of my grandmother’s house, the one with its own sink. A blue jay was making its familiar call loud enough to overpower the noise of the portable fan directed at my head. I pinched myself with glee. I was home, even though this home was a place where I had never lived and never would.
Fishing was my passion—fishing with a cane pole using crickets and occasionally worms for bait. We’d fish in the gravel pit, Rafting Creek and Little Lake. All of these places were close and all held fish, lots of fish. I was good at it, too. Dad made sure I could bait my own hook and clean the fish I caught, but it really wasn’t the fishing. I finally figured it out long after Dad was gone; it was being with him. Fishing was simply the vehicle we used to spend the long summer days together.
When I was not with Dad, I played with my cousins. An aunt and uncle lived close by, and other relatives would visit. Hagood had two stores and a train depot. My cousins and I would walk the railroad tracks to the store where we’d buy a nickel soda and an ice cream.
It is all gone now—the places and the people. Mom, Dad, my aunt and uncle have long since died. The train depot was removed and the stores closed decades ago. Dutch Cottage still stands, but I cannot bear to look at what it has become. Consequently, I never pass through Hagood anymore; it is too painful. But that wonderland still exists exactly as it did in 1964. Sometimes, late at night when everything is quiet, I go there.
How To Rob Yellow Jackets Nests
Growing up in Johnston, located in Edgefield County, we kids lived outdoors and shunned any inside activities, with the exception of eating and sleeping.
Donnie Parker was a good friend of mine, and one day he told me he knew how to rob yellow jacket nests for the larvae that people loved to fish with. Always ready for an adventure, we were off.
We first caught a small bream, and after collecting some cigarette papers, matches, one railroad flare, a knife and a bag we went to the woods.
We selected a young tree about 1 inch in diameter and maybe 5- to 6-feet tall. After cutting the top out of the tree and sharpening the standing trunk into a point, we would skin the fish and stick it, mouth first, onto the tree top. We then shaved the bark from the tree about 9 inches below the fish to allow a sticky sap to form and prevent ants from reaching the fish.
We patiently waited until yellow jacket scouts discovered the fish and led others to it. The yellow jackets would sit on the fish flesh and cut small pieces to carry back to the nest. As they attempted to cut portions, we would take small pieces of the cigarette papers (about half the size of a thumb nail) and roll a piece of fish around a spike on one end of the paper. We would then introduce the fish paper under the rear of the yellow jacket who, thinking he had cut his piece of fish, would take off and start flying home to the nest. We then subjected our bodies and faces to slapping tree branches and briars as we blindly followed that little white flag while running through the woods.
When the yellow jackets reached home, they, and the little flag they carried, would drop to the ground and into the opening of the nest.
We then would light the railroad flare and blow the smoke into the nest, immobilizing the yellow jackets while we dug up the nest cakes containing the larvae and bagged them. The cakes of larvae kept well in the refrigerator until used or sold.
—Wendell B. Hall
Many South Carolina families gather at Thanksgiving to celebrate outdoor traditions and enjoy fellowship. Our Thanksgiving tradition of gathering at the family farm, Snipe Hill, helps us celebrate our rural heritage. Several outdoor traditions are renewed each year, including the ultimate kid fun, climbing on hay bales.
Every year for as long as I can remember we have gathered together in the country to celebrate family and Thanksgiving. Hay rides through cow pastures, family walks through woodlands and, of course, catch-up conversations between family members are some of the highlights. One break with tradition concerns the menu because, with an extended family gathering of this size, no turkey could suffice, so we have always had a whole barbecued pig for our holiday centerpiece.
But the story in recent years has been the sheer joy brought to the youngest generation by our placement of three large hay bales in the “goat lot.” Add a few small hay bales as steps and you have a day-long hay climbing bonanza that leaves everyone feeling in touch again with the earth and the farm.
I remember that, when I was a youth, a Thanksgiving afternoon dove shoot was as sure as the holiday itself. Presently, the hay bales cannot be abandoned for that long an event, and any other activities that day are sure to end with the question—“Can we play on the hay bales now?” Good clean fun, if you don’t count the straw in everyone’s clothes, is hard to come by these days, but this hay-bale romp seems to gather approval as our newest outdoor tradition.
Turkey Hunt Traditions
As the father of four daughters, I am happy that they all enjoy the outdoors. We live on James Island, and they never miss a chance to shrimp, crab and fish with their granddaddy, Bob Schurmeier, who lives on Parrott Creek.
Seven years ago, their papa, Mac McLeod, invited Julie, who is now sixteen years old, to the youth turkey hunt that is held each year in the Upstate of South Carolina. Each year, we look forward to traveling to Spartanburg for this hunt. My daughters know that Papa has worked hard planting the chufa, scouting the hunting land and listening for turkeys.
Two years ago, Julie and Kelly, now thirteen years old, shot their first turkeys. One turkey was a true trophy, weighing 22 pounds with an 11-inch beard. Papa commented that this was “the best hunting trip I have ever been on and I did not even carry a gun.” This comment was especially moving to me because Papa has hunted big game and birds all over North America and Alaska. Last year, Emily, now ten years old, was able to go hunting. She enjoyed the hunt and especially enjoyed having her uncle Steven call in three large gobblers and four smaller jakes.
Lindsey is now five years old. We hope to continue this tradition for the next twelve years. My daughters are very lucky to be able to spend time in the outdoors with both grandfathers. They enjoy all the Lowcountry has to offer. When Lindsey is too old for the youth hunt, I will be looking forward to the day when I can continue this tradition with my own grandchildren.
—W. Keith McLeod
Friday After Thanksgiving
Hickory smoke swirled about as my granddaddy, Alison Patrick Long, his first cousins and his father barbecued rabbits from the day’s hunt. They told stories and joked while they tended the fire and cooked supper. My family enjoyed that Friday-after-Thanksgiving night in the 1930s so much that the hunt and supper on Friday after Thanksgiving became a tradition my Aull family has upheld every year since.
The meal has always happened at Grandaddy Long’s house. In the early years, after supper, our family sang hymns and shared jokes. We played group games such as “Malaga grapes” and “pass the scissors.” Once the games ended, Granddaddy Long’s first cousin, John Calvin (JC) Aull, did his traditional storytelling.
Though the hunts became smaller during World War II, they resumed in full force at war’s end. In the 1950s and ’60s, boys over seven were allowed to accompany the men. By age eleven, those boys could carry guns, too. Though these youngsters killed their share of rabbits, the hunters could not provide enough meat for the rapidly growing family. As a result, barbecue chicken was added to the Friday-after-Thanksgiving meal.
Few hunters are in our family now. Usually, two or three people squirrel hunt on Friday after Thanksgiving. We shot skeet a couple years back. On rare occasions, a “snipe hunt” is held for the “city kids.”
Supper largely consists of barbecued chicken, and the few rabbits served are home-raised. We still cut barbecue wood ourselves and cook with the brick-lined barbecue pit that Granddaddy Long built in the 1950s. Our family eats in the same house we did in the 1930s. And the scent of hickory smoke fills the air as we crowd into the living room to play the games and listen to the stories that were shared around a fire nearly a century ago.
It is amazing how thoughts of a certain meal can bring back vivid memories of childhood.
I was very fortunate as a child growing up in the 1950s to have a father who was an avid hunter and fisherman who didn’t mind taking me along on many of his trips. I was truly blessed to have a grandfather who loved to hunt, fish, cook and eat in the outdoors of South Carolina.
Whatever expedition we undertook, if Grandpa was along, it started at the smokehouse. Grandpa would cut a just-the-right-size chunk of streak-o-lean off the salt pork that he cured himself. All of Grandpa’s outdoor meals began with streak-o-lean, the half-bacon-half-fatback wonder that produced a tasty morsel and provided grease in which to fry eggs, fish, canned salmon, potatoes, onions . . . even bread. I remember some truly wonderful meals prepared with these simple ingredients on lakes and rivers all over South Carolina.
The most memorable and enjoyable was the annual trip to the Tyger River, where we fished a small lake formed by an old slough just off the river. We kept everything we caught except the carp. I can still smell the streak-o-lean sizzling as we sat down to savor the small bream and catfish. I have dined at many fine restaurants across this country, and none compare to that childhood memory. At dusk we would put out set hooks in the river to catch some catfish to take home, sit around the fire and enjoy life.
When I was at Clemson several years later, some friends invited me to go backpacking with them. I had never been backpacking, but I had spent many wonderful nights in the woods, so I gladly accepted. I even volunteered to do the cooking. Oh no, they said, everyone will bring and prepare their own food. I really felt sorry for them as they ate their freeze-dried concoctions while I enjoyed my fresh rainbow trout and potatoes sautéed in . . . streak-o-lean.
Post Script: My grandfather passed away several years ago at the age of ninety-nine. I don’t know if it was the pork fat that got him, but if it did, he enjoyed it.
No Babblers, Deer Chasers or Footwarmers
We hunt rabbits with a fine pack of beagles. The hounds have varied antecedents, ranging from the best AKC field trial bloodlines to excellent local grade hunting stocks. Regardless, each hound must earn its place in the pack—no babblers, deer chasers or footwarmers (except perhaps on wintry mornings).
Lunch is one of our traditions. Extracted from the recesses of the hunting party’s pickup trucks, it invariably includes cans of stuff we seldom consume at home. I relish sardines, especially in mustard sauce; my husband favors Vienna sausages. The beagles eagerly consume whatever we offer, including my share of Viennas, then clean the cans for recycling.
The repast is enlivened by a thorough critique of the performance of the morning’s events. It’s an equal opportunity process. Nobody, neither man nor woman nor hound, escapes scrutiny, but everybody joins in the laughter.
I cherish these occasions.
—Barbara Taylor Brooks
Return to Tillman Hunt Club
When I was a young girl, my dad belonged to Tillman Hunt Club. Back then, it was a “man thing,” and wives and daughters were only allowed to attend on “Ladies Day.” This hunt usually occurred in late October, and when I was five, I was allowed to go “hunting” for the first time. This hunt became my first of many outdoor traditions. Dad would get me out of school early on a Friday in late October (this was a treat in itself), and we’d drive down together. Mom went along a few times, but she worked weekends as a mail carrier, so for many years, it was just the two of us. He always packed special treats for me. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were our favorite!) Mr. James was the cook down there, but unless you really liked a lot of black pepper, you had best pack a few snacks for the woods!
This hunt club was paradise for the tomboy like me. The club used dogs to run the deer since so much of the land was swamp. Dad would help put the other hunters out on their stands, so we always ended up deep in the woods. At times, when the water level was high in the swamp, he’d let me ride on his shoulders so my feet wouldn’t get too wet. I don’t remember seeing a lot of deer, but there was so much more to enjoy: the huge cypress trees with Spanish moss dangling from the branches (one bigger than four adults and one child could reach around!), vines to swing from, shooting the twelve gauge for the first time (at a water moccasin!) and riding on the back of a gopher tortoise. My only complaint was that I just got to go once a year!
When I was thirteen, my dad joined another club that was closer to home, and I was allowed to go hunting even more often. During the off season, Dad often took me fishing or scouting for new places to hunt in the fall. We continued to be hunting and fishing buddies through my college years and even after I was married.
In 2004, my husband and I took my parents on vacation to Hilton Head Island. On the trip home, Dad asked that we follow him the “back way” because he wanted to make a few stops. After crossing several old bridges and viewing a few alligators, we turned down dirt roads that led to the old Tillman Hunt Club. My dad stopped in the drive and motioned for us to get out. To our amazement, there was a gopher tortoise crossing the road. We wondered if this could have been the same one I had played with almost thirty years ago. We took several pictures as we toured around and reminisced about the good times we had there. It wasn’t quite what I remembered as a child, but there was still a special feel about the place.
A week later, my dad died. The hunting and fishing trips with my dad became more that just a tradition; they became a way of life and treasured memories.
The rain drove us from the campfire into the camper that had provided our shelter. We had sensed the coming of rain while in our deer stands on the last afternoon of our hunt. One could feel the moisture and smell the brackish hint to the air as the wind pushed in from the Atlantic Ocean and up St. Helena Sound.
A combination of frequent early morning arousals, a dinner of venison steaks smothered in onions and mushroom gravy and the warmth of the heat generated by the gasoline lantern took its toll.
It was Thanksgiving week, and we were camped at Field’s Point Landing, which is located between the confluence of the Chehaw and Combahee rivers within the ACE Basin in Colleton County. During the week we had experienced both stand hunting and dog drives. My son had just harvested his first two deer at Lightsey Brothers Plantation on SC Secondary Highway 26. His success had made my week successful, also.
Over the past several decades, camping has become an integral part of family hunting and fishing excursions. The convenience of the many types of campers and tents is complemented by Mother Nature’s varying infrastructure. The patter of lightly falling rain on an aluminum roof, the lapping of waves against the shoreline, the rattle of the garbage can as raccoons stage their midnight raid and the breathtaking sunsets are all parts of that never-ending infrastructure. In addition, camping cannot be adequately discussed without mentioning the campfire. Here is where the backside is warmed, food is cooked and coffee perked, kids are lulled to sleep and countless stories are told.
Many young people have started their maturation by learning the responsibilities that go with camping, hunting and fishing. My son is one of them.
—James A. Roach
© 2008 South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, September - October 2008 - www.scwildlife.com