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Mom supported my early love of the outdoors

A few years ago, I wrote a Mother’s Day tribute for my mother who influenced and supported my fascination for the outdoors from an early age. I received so many favorable comments about it then, that I wanted to share a revised version of it on this special day.

My father was a city kid who never fished or hunted, but Mom grew up in the country during the Depression, when gardening, fishing and hunting weren’t just forms of recreation but rather a means of putting food on the table during those hard times.

Soon after they were married, my parents bought a piece of ground in the country where my father would start his own business and my mother could plant a sizable garden. I was the first of a crop of five kids they would raise on that property, and I have always been thankful to have grown up in such a wonderful place.

Two upsetting incidents during the summer I was 3 years old revealed to Mom how just how strongly I was attracted to the woods and waters. My parents had taken me with them to visit friends at a summer cottage along the Juniata River.

Despite stern orders not to go near the water, I promptly wandered to the end of a small dock and fell into the river. I vividly remember being upside-down underwater, struggling mightily, with afternoon sunlight shining through the water’s surface. One of the men jumped in and rescued me quickly as my mother watched in terror.

Later that summer, I was playing in our backyard one evening as Mom worked in her garden. Although under strict orders not to leave her sight, I tramped into the woods at the edge of our yard where I marched on and on, enthralled by greenery of the summer forest.

Soon, I realized I was lost and began wandering in circles trying to find my way back. I probably never was more than 200 or 300 yards from home, but too far to hear the calls from my mother when she discovered I was missing. Mom beckoned a small search party, and a neighbor soon found me a bit scratched and scared, but otherwise none the worse for the experience.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, Mom called me to the kitchen window one morning to see a rabbit nibbling grass in our backyard. While I watched the bunny, she fetched a battered old 20-gauge shotgun from a bedroom closet, sneaked around the side of the house and dispatched the animal cleanly with one shot. I’m sure a lot of kids nowadays would be thoroughly traumatized from seeing that, but it didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, it provided me a worthwhile life lesson.

Mom explained that rabbits were damaging her garden. Rabbits were also good to eat, and we would be having this one for dinner. She told me she aimed for the animal’s nose so as not to ruin any of the meat, a trick her brother-in-law taught her when she was a girl. She coated the pieces of rabbit with flour and fried them in a big skillet. I can remember how wonderful it smelled while cooking, and it tasted even better.

That event produced not only my first taste of wild game but also my first hunting story. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t rabbit season and that Mom didn’t have a hunting license when she potted that bunny in the backyard. I only divulge the details of that incident now because it happened more than 60 years ago, so I’m certain the statute of limitations has long expired by now. And to the best of my knowledge, that was the one and only critter she every poached in her life.

Mom was also a big help during my early career as a trout fisherman. The two closest trout streams to me at home were about four or five miles away. Many evenings during the spring, with a little coaxing and doing some extra chores, I could usually persuade her to drive me to one of them and drop me off to fish until dark. Those frequent trips allowed me to become a skilled young fisherman.

Back then both of those streams were stocked, but after the first few weeks of the trout season, I mostly caught smaller wild trout that often weren’t big enough to keep. When I lucked into one that measured six inches, the legal limit at the time, I usually kept it just because I could. One night I brought home a single six-inch brookie, and Mom pointed out that small fish weren’t much good for a family of seven.

“You like to catch them so much,” she said, “Why don’t you just put them all back and catch them again?”

It was a simple yet brilliant assessment, and from that moment on, thanks to my mother, I became a confirmed catch-and-release trout angler, long before the ethics of catch-and-release became as fashionable as they are today.

Sunday, of course, is Mother’s Day, and it is also my mother’s birthday. She is 95, and this is her sixty-eighth Mother’s Day. My best wishes to all the mothers out there on their day, and a special thanks to my Mom for nurturing my love of the outdoors throughout my life.

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