2018-02-28 / Opinion

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

The Son of Omission
by Bob Kornegay

My buddy Casper Osborne is a master of understatement. He is cool, calm, and collected in almost any crisis. A man of few words, Casper sizes up a situation, tersely states his observations, then waits patiently to see what develops.

As I said, a master of understatement. Or perhaps he’s merely a dull-witted clod whose thought processes are too slow to suggest the proper course of action. He is, after all, a mutual acquaintance of Cletus Monroe, which says little in the way of mental alertness.

Sometimes I think Casper’s living as long as he has ranks right up there with turning water into wine. I mean, cool and calm is okay as a rule, but there are times…

Consider the occasion, more than a half century ago, when Casper and I sneaked onto Old Man Starbuck’s property to shoot wood ducks. Old Man Starbuck, by the way, had the best duck pond in the county, 50 acres of waterfowl habitat he jealously protected from poachers young and old, much in the way he did his storied catfish ponds.

At the time, we had never done any real duck hunting. By that I mean the kind where ducks are actually involved. We’d been looking forward a long time to a duck hunt during which waterfowl actually made an appearance.

Perhaps our fantasies would have been fulfilled that day had not the duck pond’s owner showed up quite so early.

I was tying the bow of the old wooden johnboat to a stump when I heard Casper nonchalantly remark, “Why, look, there’s Mr. Starbuck.”

That statement alone was normally grounds for a hasty departure, but with the old man on the bank and the two of us a ways offshore, I was nowhere near panic. I began to calmly untie the bow rope in preparation for an orderly retreat.

Then, matter-of-factly, Casper said, “He has a gun.” That came just as the report of a 12-gauge reverberated over the water and motivated me into action.

“Uh, Bob,” Casper said, barely making himself heard over the rushing water parting on either side of the boat with each frenzied paddle stroke, “ there’s something I should tell…..”

Boom! The old man’s second shot split the air like a summer afternoon thunderclap.

I came off my seat and landed hard on the floor of the boat. The old craft listed perilously to one side. Casper, stepping toward the stern to aid me, added just enough weight to cause the water to pour in over the side. Overboard we went, guns, gear, and all.

Surfacing, I found Casper clinging to the side of the half-swamped skiff.

“We fell in,” he philosophically sputtered. “Our guns are gone.”

“Forget the guns, fool!” I yelled, swimming rapidly toward the bank.

“But…..” Casper began, but noticing I was by then out of hearing range, he slowly followed me.

Minutes later I crawled ashore, dripping wet and terrified. My pucker factor markedly increased upon discovering Old Man Starbuck was there to meet me.

“You young’uns gone slap crazy?” the grizzled old landowner growled. The double-barrel was menacingly nestled in the crook of his scrawny arm.

“Well, Mr. Starbuck, we just, uh, you see, we were…..”

“Shut your mouth. I knowed I’d messed up when I told that boy’s daddy ya’ll could hunt ducks on my pond. I come down here to do a little squirrel huntin’ and find ya’ll rippin’ and roarin’ and scarin’ off every critter in the woods. Missed both them squirrels I shot at, too. Git on now, and don’t never let me catch you on my property again!”

Casper swam up just as the old man stomped away.

“Uh, I forgot to tell you we had permission,” he sheepishly said. “Reckon we don’t anymore.”

As I stood there speechless, trying to think of the appropriate cuss-word to extract from my youthful blue vocabulary, a big flock of woodies pitched in and lit down, directly over the watery graves of our shotguns.

There are moments in a hunter’s lifetime when being unarmed proves fortunate.

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