Out of respect, never did I refer to Big Dink as “my old man.” However, there’s an “old man” I want you to meet. You may already know this role model for all fathers and grandfathers. He’s the courtly, outdoors-loving gentleman in Robert Ruark’s THE OLD MAN AND THE BOY. In the 1920s, the “old man” exposes his grandson, Bobby, to the majesty of God’s handiwork along the Carolina coast.
The grandpa’s curriculum focused on four things: the love of nature, hunting, fishing and how to be a gentleman. I had no real exposure to either of my grandfathers. One died when I was young. I barely knew the other. My dad was not an outdoorsman, but he was a quintessential gentleman from whom I learned much. All I had to do was to watch him and practice the same.
The woods-and-waters education came from my mother’s brothers. I thought Joe and Billy were “old men.” Looking back, my uncles were a tad on either side of 30. Neither one had a son. I was their boy. During holidays and summers, I was their shadow, too. Uncles Joe and Billy taught me to swim in a creek, paddle a boat, skin a squirrel, unravel a fishing reel’s backlash, pick out one quail on a covey rise and drive a Jeep. And that’s just the beginning.
Over plates of my grandmother’s country cooking, my Vines uncles lectured on such topics as respect for nature and safety. I devoured every word, just as I did the pork chops, buttermilk biscuits, fried okra, squash, speckled butterbeans and blackberry cobbler. As an 8-year-old, I knew natural resources were a gift. The “old men” made sure I knew we had a responsibility to take care of what God had entrusted us to enjoy.
They were safety fanatics, as well. I got a single-barrel .410 early. I toted an empty gun for two quail seasons. Even Barney Fife got one bullet. I had to prove I knew and obeyed all the rules. I can take you to a Baker County live oak tree on a dirt road off Highway 91. There, on a chilly November morning, Uncle Billy helped me bag my first squirrel, circa 1956.
At suppertime, the fried meat was on the table with a bowl of steaming cheese grits and another round of cathead biscuits. Always within reach was a bottle of Happy Kids cane syrup. Any time my feet were under Nanny’s black-and-white-speckled Formica-topped table, I really was a happy kid.
When our sons came along, Uncle Joe was gone. Sadly, they didn’t get to visit much with Uncle Billy before he died. Nonetheless, those “old men” left indelible impressions. I preached their sermons to our children. And now, I smile watching Alan, Emily and Eric recycle those 60-year-old sermons. Our eight little ones are happiest outside, soaking up nature. That would make my “old men” smile, too.
When grandchildren started coming, I made sure each household had Robert Ruark’s masterpiece. If you will read THE OLD MAN AND THE BOY, you’ll understand why my passions are rooted deep into my soul. That list includes sense of place, respect of people and respect for nature. Again, I ask, “If you can’t stand up for the people and the place you love, what kind of person are you?”
That’s why I cannot and will not sit idly by, watching our people and our environment put at risk in Broadhurst. At my age, I now realize that I am the “Old Man.” And besides teaching our grandchildren to love and respect nature, I must show them how to stand up and protect it.