Tractors, Dogs and Christmas…..

Sounds a bit like a country song, perhaps penned by the old master himself, Tom T. Hall, however there are no stars in this story that unfolded a day or two before Christmas, back in the early 70’s. I had just gone into service when radio notified me that my assistance was needed at a John Deere equipment company in Higginsville, Mo. I was met there by the high sheriff, Gene Darnell and my Sergeant, Bob Plymell.

It seems that somebody had decided on a new tractor for Christmas, however neglected to work out the financial arrangements with the dealership. The manager assured us the tractor was there the night before, as this was a small dealership and the inventory well known to the employees. The ground was damp and the tractor had been driven from it’s parking place onto Truman Road, likely westbound, leaving clear tracks in the grass. This tractor was big enough to have required a good sized truck to haul away, or, we surmised, was simply driven off. We cobbled together a plan, and I was assigned to contact each resident along Truman Road to see if they had seen or heard anything over the past 12 or so hours. The plan seemed reasonable and I was sure to meet a number of good people while enhancing the law enforcement image among our neighbors along the suspected route. I grabbed a coffee and went to work.

I had worked my way west through the heart of Lafayette county and, as you might suspect, was meeting with little success. This was farm country and tractors were a common sight along this road, although not so much in the dead of night. Many folks were not home and I was offered coffee and treats all along the way, including a piece of home made fruit cake that was absolutely delicious. I can assure you the good German descendants in this part of Missouri know something about great food. I made a note to volunteer for the next assignment that involved canvassing farm country, however; my good will tour was about to change.

I pulled into a long drive leading to a white framed farm home that was about 100 feet from the road, at the end of a gravel drive that circled the house and ended at a cluster of outbuildings. The yard and property was absolutely immaculate with only a barn door open in one of the small buildings. I opened the storm door and knocked on the entry door and received no response. I knocked again, louder before hearing a rapidly approaching German Shepard who was not at all pleased with my presence on HIS porch. He was huge and clearly furious with my presence so I cowered between the storm door and entry door while he assured me, in dog speak, that as soon as he could he was going to shred my uniform and whichever offending part he uncovered. I was in a bad spot, and no relief was in sight.

This standoff lasted for what I would guess was two or maybe three lifetimes but was actually only 10 minutes or so when the rural mail carrier stopped at the mailbox out front. It quickly became apparent the dog disliked rural mail carriers as much or more than errant troopers and he immediately charged the mail person’s vehicle. My brain, fogged by fear, carbohydrates and too much coffee told me this might be my only chance to escape without being gnawed on by the Shepard and I broke for my car, which was still running, about the same distance from the porch as the mailbox was from the car. The race was on……

I have never covered a hundred or so feet that quickly in my entire life. About halfway to my car, the dog realized he had abandoned his sentry duty and began his sprint back towards me. Had he gone straight to the patrol car, I would have been doomed. I beat Jaws to the car and slammed the door in his face, placing a nice piece of safety glass between me and his snapping jaws and saliva. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that point but made a vow to avoid eating fruit cake ever again while on duty! The gun belt and Sam Browne make it tough to catch your breath when you have a pound of fruitcake under it and are winded from a race with death!

I finished my canvass with nothing to show for it in regard to the tractor, which was never recovered during my tenure in Lafayette County. It took awhile for me to cover the rest of the road to the Jackson county line, as I honked and made a spectacle out of myself at each of the residences I stopped at. I had developed a new found respect for farm dogs. I shared the story with most of the folks I subsequently contacted, and we shared a laugh or two at the adventure.

When I think of Christmas in uniform, I remember that I seldom wrote a ticket on Christmas Day, loved helping folks determined to visit relatives in cars that were unfit to be on the road and the Truman Road Shepard. The good memories have replaced the occasional tragic circumstance that marred the season. We all have Christmas memories and I hope your fondest memory brings a smile to your face…….mine always will!

Merry Christmas

Golden Years, Golden Tears, The Power of Laughter….

I have had a fun week. You know, the kind of week when you cringe at the news, so avoid much of it, and revel in the humor that surrounds you during that hectic week before everybody exhales on Christmas morning. One of my kid sisters sent us a text this morning with a picture of my brother-in-law busy assisting one of my nieces assemble a Christmas surprise for one of their kids. The instructions contained not a word of advice, just pictures and I had to chuckle. He is a construction manager, having overseen the building of motels and other major projects yet was concentrating mightily as he worked on the toy. Laugh with me for a bit……

My old friend arthritis continues to humble me. I reported for an MRI this week, to further explore the mystery of this malady as it relates to my lower back. The nurses manning the MRI shop were all younger (seems everybody is these days) and full of life. After removing my clothes and donning a pair of scrub pants and one of those lovely gowns, I placed my clothing and shoes into a locker and slipped the key onto my wrist, which was then removed while I enjoyed the ride through the noise filled little tube listening to some of the oldest Christmas music in existence. My cell phone was left with my clothing, and while I enjoyed the hammering, squeaks and hums of the MRI not synchronized with the sounds of cave men singing White Christmas, the phone was busy dinging away as my sisters enjoyed a robust text chat session. After the session, I returned to the cubicle, retrieved my belongings and was greeted upon opening the curtain, by a 20 something nurse who remarked that I surely had many text messages to answer, judging from my cell phone activity while I was gone. I replied the messages were likely from my many girlfriends checking on my well being. She calmly looked me in the eye and suggested, with a wink, that I keep them apart this Christmas or I would be wearing a lot of sweaters at the same time on Christmas morning. You know, sweaters, the gift of choice for old people. We shared a laugh and I walked out with another reminder that at nearly 70, you’re fooling no one.

I hobbled out to my pick-up and smiled as I reflected on the changes over the years. I remembered fondly my first pair of glasses, single vision to “help” with fine print, which evolved into bifocals to render road signs a little sharper and finally, morphed into trifocals to help with seeing anything. I was still smiling as I considered the noises in the MRI which are muted by the earphones you wear while you are reposing in the tube. It was good to get out of the contraption and replace the earphones with my newer digital hearing aids, another sure sign that I have lived a great life, as most fun things in life involve noise to some degree. As a footnote to this visit, I shook my head as I thought about the receptionist who looked over the pre-MRI questionnaire and carefully asked me what I had written in response to a number of the inquiries. This seems like a good time to apologize to my administrative assistants over the years who have developed twitches and headaches as a result of deciphering my penmanship. I can’t imagine the angst of folks today who try and read the same blocked hieroglyphic, arthritis modified, script that I generate occasionally.

I wear a hat, a lot. Back in the day, when the campaign hat was an essential part of my being, the removal of the hat was done in such a manner as to not disturb the carefully maintained hairstyle that I wore. Today, the hat keeps my bald pate warm. In a careless moment of vanity, I stopped in to talk with a “barber” (they call them stylists today) and inquire as to what I might do with male pattern baldness that I am afflicted with. She carefully studied my head and compassionately offered her opinion. She suggested several brands of multi-blade razors that would stay sharp through the every other day total head shave, which she opined, was my best option. Her soft smile is likely my last remembrance of being in a barber shop, forever denied access to the latest gossip and manly banter that men love. I’m going to buy myself one of those long, horsehair brushes that barbers douse with talcum powder before they whisk the hair from your neck. To be sure, it will be messy, but another advantage you enjoy after life in the carefully fitted, super straight appearance of the uniform, is the freedom to be messy. In fact, I am getting good at it. A little talcum powder won’t hurt anything!

At my age, Christmas shopping takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of having very little time to find that perfect gift for those you love, you have all the time in the world to walk around and eat stuff! (Starbucks, having relied upon the stoned opinion of one of it’s coffee chemists, has developed a Juniper Latte. I asked for a sample. It tastes exactly like of a shot of Pine-Sol carelessly poured into a cup of coconut milk and coffee. Stay away unless you are enduring some sort of fantasy weight loss or Christmas induced health regimen. It is exactly as bad as it sounds). At our age, everybody we know has everything they could possible want, leaving us to buy electronic stuff we know nothing about for the young folks on our lists who know precisely what they need. So, we eat. The restaurants are offering up one special after another, the bakeries are operating in overdrive mode, and we are in a Christmas induced festive mode. The Highway Patrol is responsible for our atrocious habit of eating out, almost daily. They required us to eat one meal per shift in a public venue. Old habits die hard and old people love their chow. Before leaving the shopping thing, old people are very much convenience oriented. One word, Amazon. A keystroke delivers Christmas anywhere you want it delivered, often before you finish the last course at your favorite eatery.

Social media has been a blessing in many ways. I have made, and enjoy, many “friends” that I likely would never have known, albeit through pictures and discreet peeks into their mental processes. While it cannot possibly replace the warm holiday handshake or hug, it can remind us that we are never really alone. My prayer is that we are all still here next year to share in the revelry and mystery of the season. To my young friends, remember that today is the memory of tomorrow. Enjoy every minute that you can, smile, laugh often and never make an enemy that you don’t absolutely have to. This is the perfect season to begin eliminating regret…….an unforgiving guest as you get older.

To my old friends and many new friends, Merry Christmas! I thank God for each of you……

Missouri‚Äôs Highway Patrol….

The decision was made as I sat on stacked boxes of 105mm artillery rounds, on a Fire Support Base named Gary Owen, located about halfway between Saigon and the Cambodian border, in Vietnam. The son of an Army officer, I had left college in Kansas City rather unceremoniously to enlist, thoroughly disgusted with the antics of my fellow students protesting our involvement in this war. I wore my hair short, tucked my shirt-tail in and was respectful to those around me, particularly those in positions of authority. A structured existence was the epicenter of my comfort zone as I contemplated my life after this war. I decided on law enforcement and narrowed my preferences to two agencies that I deeply respected, the Kansas City Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol. The unrest in Kansas City was the deciding factor, I would join the Highway Patrol.

In those days, there were many folks interested in this job, and the selection process was designed to weed out folks who were simply job hunting as opposed to those who had a burning desire to become troopers. The academy delivered all the structure you could possibly stand which provided a bit of an advantage to the sizable contingent of military veterans that populated our class. It was a galvanizing experience that finally culminated in donning the full uniform for the first time as we were sworn into an organization steeped in tradition with a proud history dating back to 1931. In 1931, the concept of a state police organization enjoyed broad public support as well as the support of Gov. Henry Caulfield, Attorney General Stratton Shartel, the Highway Commission, the Missouri Automobile Association and the Missouri Banker’s Association. Organized labor, fearing a strike breaking presence as well as a number of sheriffs were concerned with the formation of a statewide police agency. In 1931, jobs were scarce and approximately 5,000 applicants applied for appointment to one of 55 positions, which included 6 Captains. Appropriations were secured for the purchase of 36 Ford Model A roadsters, 1 Ford sedan, 1 Oldsmobile, 1 Buick sedan, 3 Chevrolet sedans, 12 Harley Davidson, 3 Indian and 2 Henderson motorcycles. Of interest, the Model A’s each cost 413.18. These early troopers were a hardy lot, ordered to drive about the countryside with the tops down on the roadsters, notwithstanding pouring rain or heavy snow, so the public might recognize their presence, further enhanced by the 12 hour days each officer worked. What did these fellows accomplish? In their first year, they made over 3,800 arrests and recovered 381 stolen cars. These officers arrested 14 men for bank robbery and cleared a number of murders. For these efforts, these officers were rewarded in 1933 with a salary decrease from $145.00 a month to $130.00 a month. These early officers began establishing a legacy on day one that endures to this day, that of service as opposed to personal wealth. Personal wealth is not the reason that men and women enter the uniformed services. ( In 1972, when I joined the Highway Patrol, we insured our own Patrol cars by securing a DOC rider on our personal cars…….yes we insured our own patrol cars!)

State Police organizations have evolved tremendously. The advances in technology and communication capability have resulted in commensurate advances in the efficiency of police operations. These tremendous advances have not, however, replaced the necessity to interact with the citizenry that we protect. The core principle of policing has remained the same since the first officer was commissioned in New York in the 1800s. Police officers lend dignity to the otherwise chaotic nature of a free and open society. Although there are many roles within this profession that require a non-uniformed approach, the uniform generally announces the presence of police authority without the necessity of a spoken word. The Missouri Highway Patrol Uniform was patterned after the uniforms of the New Jersey State Police in 1931. Today’s uniform is certainly more utilitarian than in years past, but essentially remains unchanged. The photograph below is of retired Captain Ernie Raub wearing a 1937 Highway Patrol Uniform. The jacket, or blouse, while very striking in appearance is essentially a straight jacket. When I became a trooper, these blouses were still worn during the winter months, an entirely unforgettable experience! Also note the antiquated swivel holster, something that I lobbied against tirelessly while teaching officers the art of handgun retention. The breeches and boots, while sharp were not practical nor particularly comfortable, but were utilitarian to officers assigned to motorcycle duty. In the first years of my service, our uniforms were custom tailored and relatively expensive, however the Patrol did provide funding that did little more than cover the expense of dry cleaning these uniforms!

I am often asked, would I do it again, referring to my career with the Patrol. My answer is an enthusiastic yes. I served with a host of characters called to this unique profession, each contributing to the aforementioned task of lending dignity to undignified happenings. My daughter is a trooper and I am very proud of her service in a time that is much different than when I worked our streets and highways. The diminishing respect for authority and creeping lack of self discipline is deeply troubling and presents a new challenge to our officers today. As I write, many outstanding officers are at work, writing new chapters in the legacy of the Patrol. These officers are linked to the past by tradition…and the french blue of the uniforms they wear.

The Devil You Know……

By all accounts the scene was shocking, even to seasoned corrections personnel assigned to one of the most violent prisons in America, the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia. James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was dead in his unlocked cell having been beaten to death with a padlock in a sock, a favorite tool to administer prison justice. He was beaten well beyond recognition, his face and head reduced to pulp by the merciless beating. One of the suspected killers, a fellow inmate, is a known mafia associate, a hit man to be more specific. Whitey, himself a prolific killer, must have died knowing full well the visitor to his cell this day was not there to talk about the prison menu or inquire about the flight from his previous residence, a federal prison in Florida where he was housed in solitary confinement. Whitey Bulger had lived in a world of violent death. Below is a photograph of Whitey Bulger taken during his transfer.

Whitey Bulger was represented by attorney Hank Brennan. Mr. Brennan had represented Whitey over the past seven years and, as such, spoke with his client on many occasions. In his last telephone conversation with Whitey, he was pleased that Whitey was being moved from solitary confinement to an undisclosed federal medical facility where his declining health could be more closely monitored. Bulger was associated with the notorious Winter Hill Gang in Boston, where he was an undisputed underworld “boss”. He was Machiavellian in nature, and thought to be an informer who cooperated with the FBI. Informers, or “snitches” as they are known in this business are detested by the rest of the underworld and enjoy a shaky existence often ending in death at the hands of their associates. At some point during his stay in solitary, he allegedly threatened a staff member at the Florida prison, and was then scheduled for a transfer to an undisclosed medical facility within the prison system. Whitey was distrustful, a characteristic honed on the streets of Boston. Whitey was as street smart as they come and possessed the cat like instincts necessary to survive in his business. He had good reason to be apprehensive. The telephone conversation between Whitey and Mr. Brennan occurred a month or so before Whitey’s transfer, not to a medical facility but to notoriously violent Hazelton, where he was beaten to death less than 24 hours after his arrival. A Bureau of Prisons spokesman has stated that Whitey’s transfer was made in accordance with their policy. Prison records obtained by various media outlets reflect a lowering of Whitey’s medical classification, a change that facilitated the transfer to Hazelton, where the mafia hit man from Massachusetts was housed. The Burea of Prisons has indicated they have dispatched a team of experts to Hazelton “to assess the operational activities and correctional security practices and measures to determine any relevant facts that may have contributed to the incident”.

One must remember that Whitey had evaded capture and criminal justice for 16 years, under an assumed identity before being captured and convicted of presiding over a sprawling and lucrative web of murder, extortion, money laundering and drug dealing from the 1970s through the mid 90s. He is reputed to have preferred dispatching his victims personally as opposed to contracting the killings. He also had many contacts in and out of prison and likely knew just how dangerous Hazelton is. It is fair to assume that Whitey Bulger knew full well the implications of deplaning for the van ride to Hazelton. His heart problems were the least of his concerns at that point. One can only speculate as to the knowing looks exchanged between Bulger and his visitor to his cell on that fall day in West Virginia.

There is a lesson in this sordid affair for all that read it. During his last conversation with his counsel, Mr. Brennan, Whitey remarked, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” “I don’t trust them.”

This time, Whitey Bulger was absolutely correct.

There Are No Guarantees….

The Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and Museum provided the perfect venue for our first visit since the death of Kathy Raub, the wife of Ernie Raub, a Patrol classmate and dear friend. It has been 3 months since the emperor of maladies, aka cancer, dissolved a long partnership between Ernie and Kathy, stilling the heart of a beautiful lady who could melt your heart with a smile and just as easily chill it with a sharp comment or observation. I listened, mostly, as Ernie talked about the struggle they knew they were going to lose, carried along by the shallow hope that a breakthrough in immunotherapy would release cancer’s grip on Kathy. Our visit left me with a cauldron of emotion and reflection, related to the fragility of life, to consider. Ernie is a smart guy and I always come away from our times together having learned something new about navigating life and in this instance, death.

For me, this week has been a study in the management of time. I am reading a book, the last book written by a personal hero, Charles Krauthammer. He, like Ernie is, was a smart man. While his many observations about life in America are mini college level dissertations on navigating our complicated culture, I am struck by the incredibly wise use of his time on earth. As lifetimes go, he made an early exit, however, he maximized his presence. In simpler terms, he made a difference. The same can be said about Kathy Raub. Ernie is a very complex man, perhaps the most organized human being that I know, a trait that requires a support system that shares that need for precision and organization. Their lifestyle reflected a balanced approach to virtually every aspect of living. This organized approach to life presented a stark contradiction to the very unorganized business of dying. Kathy Raub’s seemingly moody countenance was all about intrusions into her structured existence. Given this backdrop, she died well, accepting her fate and dealing with the assured outcome with courage. To the extent she could, she established the terms and followed through. Charles Krauthammer did the same. This strategy only works when the Master gives advanced warning, a courtesy not always extended to us.

The museum was the perfect backdrop for our visit. The thousands of fish swimming about are analogous to the human condition as we move about in our daily lives. Fish don’t reason as we do. They have absolutely no regard for their time in the tank, oblivious to the fact that one day they will be unceremoniously dipped from the population and casually discarded. We have the ability to reason, but are not always provided advance notice of the day the net is coming our way. Throughout the museum there are wonderful quotes from the great observers of nature that frame the significance of our individual contribution to a beautiful earth. The American Indian placed the stewardship of the earth on a pedestal, always concerned about tomorrow and what future generations are going to inherit. These same native Americans were also very much aware of the fragility of life. Their wisdom was hard earned.

As we walked and talked, we would pause and consider the brutality of nature. You will see great sharks capturing and killing terrified seals. You are reminded that a drink of water on a hot day might result in a huge crocodile lunging out of the water and grabbing a leg, dragging you to your end in deeper water. The great cats were masters of stealth as they stalked and dispatched their prey. There are hundreds upon hundreds of exhibits of the work of the most deadly predator of all, man, in the form of magnificent wildlife mounts. Nature reminds us that death can come in an unexpected fashion, leaving us little time to prepare or establish some sort of plan to deal with it.

The picture accompanying this musing was taken by Ernie from his office window. Take a minute to consider what you are looking at. A rabbit, hopping about, enjoying life as rabbits do, is snatched from his existence by a hawk and likely dispatched quickly before being consumed. There is evidence of life, the efficiency of flight, the silence of a glide through cold air, and the last hops of the hapless rabbit.

As a parting thought, Ernie and I share the conviction that, in the natural order of things, Kathy’s demise was not supposed to happen on this timeline. We are both older than our wives, have both experienced the necessity to overhaul our hearts, and can both read actuarial tables. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the order it did. If you are not squeezing every minute of happiness and enjoyment possible from your life, there is still time to do so. Remember, how much time you have is a closely guarded secret, known only to God.

There are no guarantees…….

Mechanics and Doctors……

As we age, it is a good idea to develop a close working relationship with a good mechanic and a good doctor. It should come as no surprise that each of these technical professions is populated by folks who, in the end, either tow their mistakes to the salvage yard or bury them. It also should not be surprising that each of these professions is populated by folks who are really good at what they do and others that have met the minimum standards necessary to hanging a shingle or picking up a wrench. Let’s have a look at the differences.

When you are young and in good health, a doc-in-a box can take care of most of your medical needs. These days there is a good chance that you will see a physicians assistant or nurse practitioner for the occasional bout of flu or sprain, a scenario that works most of the time. I know these professionals are well trained and meet the minimum standards for non-acute primary care, however; I prefer the trained eyes of a physician when I present for a feeling of tightness in my chest or an episode of blurred vision. I also feel it is important to establish a record with a single PCP, who sees Steve coming through the door with a problem as opposed to seeing a problem coming through the door named Steve. I have enjoyed a tremendous relationship with a wonderful PCP in Jefferson City, Dr. Neal LaPointe, since 1992. Dr. LaPointe is a doctor who actually practices medicine and handles many problems that are quickly handed off by today’s physicians to one of hundreds of specialists and sub-specialists. When his extensive experience suggests the services of a specialist is needed, he will quickly enlist their assistance. Only through years of communication and trust can a relationship such as ours develop. Two factors have combined to force me to change PCP’s this year, to a new but established osteopath in Springfield, Mo. who I believe shares Dr. LaPointe’s philosophy. First is the growing list of problems associated with aging, arthritis and a stressful profession, necessitating more frequent visits to the doctor’s office. Secondly, the distances involved in traveling to Jefferson City from Springfield when you don’t feel well really don’t make much sense. Choose your doctor carefully, it may well be the most important partnership, outside of marriage, that you form. Below is a picture of Dr. LaPointe.

To a great extent, our lives revolve around internal combustion engines. A significant portion of our income is committed to the ownership and maintenance of cars, trucks and other forms of fossil fuel burning devices. We are seeing the impact of various adaptations of electric powered conveyances, all wrapped in conventional vehicles, with conventional systems and technology. There are technicians, who are skilled at system replacement and there are mechanics who are skilled at actually repairing and servicing systems as opposed to simply swapping them out. Occasionally, these folks are one and the same. Motor vehicles have been a huge part of my life since turning 16 and earning an operator’s license. In the course of patrolling our streets and roads for many years, I have developed relationships with some of the finest mechanics in existence, many of which worked within our Highway Patrol garages. One of the best mechanics that I have ever known is an affable, down to earth fellow who can shame an Admiral in language skill, all the while tearing a complicated fuel delivery system apart to locate and replace a defective component. He is also a terrific body man, able to straighten and rebuild nearly anything driven or towed into his shop. He can work on diesel engines, heavy equipment, and nearly any marine engine in existence. A beer or two sharpens his analytical skill and his shop is always open to a friend. He has saved me a fortune over the years with his ability to correctly diagnose a problem and repair it, charging a fair fee for his services, all the while sharing his salty philosophy about life. If you have not developed a relationship with a mechanic like my good friend, Scotty Stunz, do so. You will enjoy an experience where “flat rate” doesn’t exist and the job will be done correctly. You will also come away with a new perspective of life in general, an earthy perspective where the unvarnished truth trumps the spin of America in our world today. Pictured below is Scotty Stunz.

So it is with doctors and mechanics. These are two professions that demand honesty, skill and experience. From my perspective, you are missing something if you do not have a relationship with a member of each of these professions where trust is the first consideration. In this season of giving thanks for all that we enjoy, take a minute to thank your doctor and mechanic….

Opening Day…….

Opening days are magic. There have been numerous articles written about the opening days of virtually every sport or activity in America, but in rural Missouri, there is a good chance that when you hear these words, the speaker is referring to the firearms deer season. Not so long ago, opening day of deer season found me sitting somewhere in the deep woods after a pre-dawn walk in, keenly attuned to every sound in the timber around me. A woodpecker sounds like a jackhammer and your own heartbeat resonates with every quiet breath. The anticipation is palpable as you slowly scan the woods for the smallest sign of movement, being ever so careful to not telegraph your location to the critters around you. I can remember bone chilling mornings and cool starts to sweltering days, but mostly I remember just how beautiful our hardwood ridges and cedar glades really are.

My first opening day was in 1966. I was fortunate to enjoy this day with one of the best woodsmen that I have ever known. Don Hathaway still lives in Evening Shade, Missouri, just south of Ft. Leonard Wood in Texas County, a perennial leader in numbers of deer taken in November. Don is an unassuming Ozarkian who I have personally watched kill a flushing quail with a .22 rifle. It may have been a lucky occurrence, but it was an intentional shot that left me speechless, as I blasted away with the new Remington 1100 shotgun that I had purchased with my earnings from a early career as a food packing and transfer specialist, a job title adopted to avoid telling the girls that I was a bag-boy at the Commissary on Ft. Leonard Wood. I managed to scatter 3 ounces of shot over a pasture, with none of it finding the feathers of a flushing bird! On this cold morning, Don deposited me near the end of aptly named “Long Hollow” where I waited for first light. I was relying on that same shotgun and a 1 ounce Remington rifled slug when a yearling buck nearly ran over me. An offhand shot at a distance of 50′ or so dispatched the little guy, the shot alerting Don that I had shot or shot at something. He soon appeared and slung the little buck over his shoulders and we walked out. You would have thought that I had just topped the Boone and Crockett record books! I was now a deer hunter. Don quickly field dressed the buck, relying on a sharp pocket knife and hatchet, hung it to cool and we adjourned to a VFW for pancakes, sausage and the camaraderie of fellow deer hunters all jabbering away as they warmed themselves with strong black coffee before heading back to the timber. These folks were Ozarkians, no pretense, no nonsense and purposeful men. More magic.

There were many more opening days for me in the years that followed, interrupted only by the US Army. As I write, I am under the watchful gaze of a very nice buck that was taken on the Dave Cook farm near Falcon, Missouri, not far from the Gasconade River. Dave and I worked together when I was assigned to Troop D and this farm was his old home place. A hastily erected stand built the night before the season opener with scrap lumber was my perch on a very cold, windy, opening morning. I had located a scrape the day before and thought the location ideal for seeing deer. The buck sauntered into rifle range soon after first light and I dispatched him easily from the stand. His strong heart carried him 30 yards or so to an enormous brush pile that he jumped into before dying, resulting in a considerable effort to get him out of. This bruiser weighed 200 lbs., field dressed, and provided me with one of only two mounts that I have kept through the years. It was another memorable hunt on a beautiful timbered farm in central Missouri. There were five hunters invited to hunt Dave’s property and at noon there were four deer hung from a tree in the old house’s yard to cool. Another magic experience.

I enjoyed a number of opening days hunting on Ft. Leonard Wood, a deer rich military reservation that adjoins Texas county near Evening Shade. My High School buddy, David Strang, his father Col. Tom Strang and I spent many mornings behind Ballard Cemetery, a location not far from the airport. The cemetery was a virtual textbook relative to the history of the tough folks who settled this country many years ago, with graves dating to the early 1800s. We have taken a good number of deer from the ridges behind this cemetery, ridges once populated by Indians who have left behind archeological sites that we were careful to not disturb. Among the many sounds on cold mornings, with just a little imagination, you could hear the Indians quietly slipping along these same ridges harvesting game for their villagers. The military reservation required the use of shotguns only, loaded with rifle slugs, and the shots were usually very close. A few years ago, I sold an Illinois State Police surplus shotgun, equipped with an open choke and iron sights, that I relied on when on the reservation. I should have kept the shotgun, a reminder of the wonderful hunts near Ballard Cemetery.

Late yesterday afternoon, I noted numerous orange clad hunters moving around, each anticipating the opening morning that is upon us. I could feel their anticipation and I certainly wish them a successful and safe hunt today. I have been tempted to join them, but arthritic hands and feet that won’t support the walk in and drag out have reminded me that my deer hunting days are most likely behind me. The memories are vivid and I will always respect the sacrifice of the critters that I have killed over the years. I have not looked down the barrel of a hunting firearm in several years, preferring to work a pool on one of our beautiful rivers or lakes instead, attempting to fool one more fish for the deep fryer. I will always view hunting as a noble sport. The ethical pursuit of game and appropriate consumption of the critters taken is a wonderful pastime and tradition.

Today is opening day and this morning I have relived a number of hunts from the comfort of my office desk chair. I have taken the time to again thank the bruiser on the wall behind me for the terrific hunt on November 10, 1990. The scars on his neck are a clear indication of his strength and dominance before he fell in front of my rifle.

Thanks, big guy, for the memories!