Things that make ya go HMMM: RT @GoodMillwork: Good Millwork: Sinker Cypress Turkey Calls http://om.ly/ezOW. This was a tweet on Twitter that caused me to reflect on conversations, my family and takes me back to my childhood. Thinking not of turkey calls but of duck calls. My grandfather, uncles and their commercial fishing buddies had a "hunt club" near Tule Lake in Northern California where they would retreat after months gone fishing. (Tule Lake is famous for their horseradish sauce.) For the most part, this was a ‘boys only’ club, though I remember my grandmother going when I was little and have pictures of her with a plaid shirt toting a deer rifle.
I don’t remember ever having to endure eating the spoils of their hunts. The only real evidence I recall was a glass lamp base that belonged to my uncle that had a stuffed quail in it. I heard they ate their catch at the club because they didn’t think we would appreciate biting into buck shot. I was grateful. I inherited the lamp, ditched the dead bird and filled the lamp base with seashells.
I don’t know if the hunt club still exists as the members I knew have long since passed on. My brothers fought over their armory when my grandfather died. I wanted nothing to do with owning guns and never enjoyed shooting them. At the time, all I could think of was my long suffering grandmother as my grandfather was never home. He was either out at sea, or when he was home, gone hunting. My uncles never married so they never had anyone to disappoint by not being around much.
One would think my grandmother would have grown into a bitter old shrew or might have had a little self-respect and flown the coup long before. I know now that their “arrangement” worked out perfect because being the independent woman that she was, she had her hobbies and activities and a life-long group of friends that occupied her time and fulfilled her many interests. She loved to golf and bowl and had a closet full of trophies from the tournaments her various teams won. She and my great aunt and other friends often took secret side trips to Reno to spend hours plugging the one-armed bandits while the guys were away at sea.
Her life was not at all disconnected from my grandfather as her circle of friends were also the wives of fishermen –many of whom were also members of the hunt club. They would travel up and down the West Coast to meet up with their mates at the various commercial fishing ports they landed in. Some of my favorite memories are of big gregarious barbecues on the docks when the fleet landed in San Pedro, CA. When I was older, I got to stay with my grandma at the Charleston Boat Harbor on the Oregon Coast in her little camp trailer. We played a lot of Yahtzee which had slightly augmented rules –we played the whole card and added something called “two pair” in the middle. All her friends played it. It made me feel so ‘grown up’ to be included with her group of friends and allowed to participate in The Game. (I still have the leather dice cup she had with her name, Beryl, tooled into it). I could never count points fast enough and thought I was just ‘math dumb.’ I later found it was because she’d had years of practice counting the fish when they were being hauled out of the hold when the fishermen came into port with their catch of tuna or salmon.
My grandma and favorite person in the world died of a heart attack at 59 (just a few years older than I am now). My grandpa had just retired from fishing the past year and they had made all sorts of plans to travel and make up for the time spent apart. They had been married for 44 years. (Yes, if you do the math, she was 15 when they married which was not at all unusual in those days.) Within a few months, I’d heard that my grandfather was hitting on one of my grandma’s friends, a widow of one the fishermen. Then there were others he met and took on trips. (He’d bought a motor home and decided to travel in spite of grandma not being there to go along.) I wondered if this is something that he’d done in secret for all the years my grandma waited patiently for his return from wherever.
When I was in college living in Oregon a couple of years later, he stopped by in his motor home with his new wife, Gerry, so that we could meet. I was a little disturbed (to say the least). When I got him alone, I asked him why he’d been in such a hurry to find a replacement for Grandma. I knew then that he had been as faithful and devoted as he could have been. “Because,” he said. “I don’t do well on my own. Even though I was gone a lot, I always knew she was there for me. I still need that.”
I think he went up to the hunt club a couple of times with my uncle after he married Gerry. He stopped going when my Uncle Richard was killed at sea. Gerry was grateful because she didn’t appreciate the alcohol consumption that went with it which she forbade at home. But also, I think, because she didn’t like the idea of being a hunt club widow.
They are all gone now. I recall some hand-carved pieces that my Uncle Kenneth had carved from some sort of soft wood to pass the time while out fishing. One was a few links of chain with a cage at the end with a ball in it –all carved from a single piece of wood. The other piece was a duck call box.