My grandfather was born in 1914 in a poor neighborhood in Southern Illinois. His family had a farm and a store, both of which were lost during the great depression. In addition to hunting for food he used to fish in a river called ‘The Big Muddy River’ in Southern Illinois. He started to sell the fish he caught out of a model-T truck in order to make ends meet. He very quickly learned how to customize the fish and sell it to people. He knew that Mrs. Smith wanted the fish with the pin bones removed but that Mrs. Jones might want to do that herself to save money.
After World War II, and with his background in food sales, he went to work for Wetterau Incorporated – a food warehousing and distribution company. He worked there for 35 years and when he retired they gave him a Rolex watch. It was a very simple watch with a bubble crystal and no date. On the back it said, ‘To <name redacted> For 35 Years of Loyal service. Wetterau Incorporated.’
My grandfather was without a doubt the single most important influence in my life. He taught me how to hunt. How to fish. How to take care of dogs. How to take care of your family. What it meant to be an honorable man. That life required doing what was necessary, even when the tasks were unpleasant.
Growing up I wasn’t allowed to hunt until I was 11. It seems young to be hunting when you’re 11, but that was our culture in Missouri back then. Hunting was almost like a rite of passage, but it wasn’t something that was just handed to you, you had to earn it.
When I finally got to go hunting I was really excited. It was a big deal. My father, grandfather and I went hunting for quail, duck and rabbit. I wasn’t allowed to carry a live round in the shotgun, which made it hard to be successful because quail usually flush quickly. Anyways, while we were hunting for quail a rabbit jumped out and stopped a short distance away. I loaded my shot gun and blew it in half. My grandfather was a man that rarely used profanity or raised his voice, but he came unglued.
“You just murdered that animal for no good reason! It’s one thing to slaughter an animal to preserve your own life, but what you did was stupid and foolish and wasteful! You shoot the nose off rabbits, you don’t blow them in half! This isn’t hunting and this isn’t what our family is about. If you do that again it’ll be the last time you hunt with me.”
I was so shocked I couldn’t even comprehend what had happened. I thought I did something manly but he showed me that what I had done was actually the opposite of being a man. It was a profound lesson and to this day it has affected who I am and my views of life.
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