As the summer wore on, and school loomed directly a head, I found myself not wanting to do the normal things a kid would do during
summer vacation. Fishing, swimming in a creek deep in the woods of southern Mississippi, just wasn’t the same without grandpa. I missed him terribly. I missed the tall stories that enthralled me countless hours as we would walk toward our favorite fishing hole. Now, it was just me. Mama told me that grandpa wouldn’t want me acting this way. I was only 9 years old with my entire life in front of me. I just didn’t care. I wanted my grandpa back!
And, so the summer did eventually end that year back in 1959. I went to school to register for the fall quarter, to meet new teachers, new friends and old friends. We would be off for just two more days and then back to start a new school year the following week. After I got home from school registration, I decided to take that familiar walk back deep into the woods that grandpa and I would take so many times. It was funny; I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings back then because I had grandpa with me. I just always thought I could find my way back. So, I just went down the trail we had been so many times that late afternoon. Mama told me not to go far, that dinner would be ready in about an hour or so. It would be corn bread, butter beans with okra, squash and fried chicken. I hated everything she said would be on the dinner table. But, I also knew I had to eat everything on my plate. That was non-negotiable with my father.
So, I walked down that trail and looked around the tall pine trees leaning in a late summer wind that day. When the wind went through those pine trees it would give off a gentle, whistling noise that always made me sleepy for some reason. It was so peaceful that day as I remember. It made my heart ache for my grandpa even more. I was thinking about how grandpa told me so many things that could save me time, money and maybe even my life. I could see the swimming hole where grandpa taught me how to swim just two summers before. I could still picture him holding on that rope he had tied around one of my feet. He was laughing and telling me, “Come on Jimmy! You can do it! Swim now.” And swim I did…straight to the bottom of the swimming hole. We laughed about that many times. Grandpa said I needed to stay in the “creek” less than 100 feet from our home there in the woods of southern Mississippi. I remember that creek so well…the smell of scuppernong berries in that creek. And, the thing I remember most was that creek was cold year ’round.
As I was thinking of that summer of two years ago, I noticed something off to my left that got my attention. I guessed maybe it was a tree that had fallen. So, I did something that grandpa told me to never do; never get off the beaten path in an unfamiliar wooden area. It was about 200 yards or more. I felt I could come back and find my way back to the path with no problem. So, I took off in the direction of that fallen tree. It was just something unusual about it. The limbs didn’t look natural on down toward the base. I had to push aside some thick bushes to get to the tree, scratched my face up a bit. I knew I would get a scolding from mama about that. It also would mean I would get dabbed with rubbing alcohol and finished off with iodine.
Anyway, as I walked on up to the tree, I saw something that was nothing short of amazing. The limbs that looked so unusual to me were not limbs at all. They were antlers! Underneath this old, fallen maple tree, was a 6-point buck! He was huge, about 250lbs, I guessed. He had been dead for about six weeks or so. We had a hellacious summer storm about six weeks back. This buck probably got underneath the maple tree for shelter from the storm. He probably even laid down to rest. What he didn’t expect to happen was for this maple tree to fall on top of him. Judging from the looks of things, he suffered for a while. His front hoofs had dug grooves about 6 inches deep in an effort to escape. But, he also had a broken back. He wasn’t going anywhere. He died a slow, torturous death it appeared to me. Now, I had shot my share of deer since the time I had turned 7 years old. All of two years experience at the time. They start you young in Mississippi. But, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that big buck. He must have screamed for hours before finally dying.
I don’t know how long I stood and stared at that poor unfortunate deer. Nothing deserved to die that way. But, I suspect I stood around probably about an hour or more. What I didn’t pay attention to was that daylight was rapidly disappearing that late summer day. I had neglected to adhere to one of the set rules of walking alone in the woods. Grandpa always said keep your bearings and watch the sun. To quote Yogi Berra, “It got late, early” in those Mississippi woods. I suddenly whirled around, realizing it had gotten dark. I know on some of those trips with grandpa, darkness would fall rapidly in these dense, dark woods. It was happening to me then. I also did another thing that grandpa taught me not to do; I panicked. I quickly lost interest in the dead deer and went back the way I was certain was the path. But, it was just more tall grass, more unfamiliar bushes. Fear was gripping me as it continued to get dark. I walked back toward a tree with a hanging limb that I felt was the one as I walked off the path. But, it was not. I went in each direction. And, finally, I walked right back into that dead 6-point buck. I was lost. It was getting darker by the minute and I didn’t have a clue how to get myself back home out of these suddenly menacing Mississippi woods.