Passing It On

By Capt. Cefus McRae

I grew up spending most of my daylight hours outdoors. The woods, creeks and ponds on our property were my playground. In the summer, we stomped through the creeks looking for crawdads during the day, and spent many nights setting trotlines for catfish. In the fall and winter, we traded our fishing rods for shotguns; walking the fields and treelines to hunt rabbits, quail and squirrels. There was always something to keep us occupied, and put some tasty treats on the table as a result.

My grandfather was born in 1889. He was over 70 years old when I was born but he was tough as nails, and had the heart of an angel. He taught us to have a deep respect for the wonders of Mother Nature. We developed an understanding of the roles each creature plays in the circle of life…how some are prey and some are predators. And he instilled the notion, that even though we are at the top of the food chain, we should only harvest what we needed for the freezer. In those days, little thought was given to wildlife conservation and management. But Grandpa would say, “If you kill all your chickens for a big supper on Sunday, you won’t have any eggs for breakfast on Monday morning”. He was a very smart man.

Grandpa Jim, as everyone in the community called him, was a carpenter, a clock-maker, a gunsmith, and farmer. In those days, you had to be sort of a jack-of-all-trades. People would bring their shotguns and 22 rifles to him to repair. Some had broken stocks, some had worn down firing pins, and I remember one shotgun with a crack that went about a third of the way down the barrel. He would firm up the action of the breach or make a spring for a tube magazine. And the cracked-barrel shotgun, he turned into a sawed-off scatter gun.

One of the widowed ladies in the community once needed some kitchen cabinet doors replaced. Grandpa made them from white pine boards and painted them to match the rest of her kitchen. The widow didn’t have much money, so she gave Grandpa her husband’s Browning Sweet 16 shotgun. It was in pristine condition, and Grandpa told me he might let me have it when I was old enough. The lady also gave him a mantle clock, but the mechanism was worn, the pendulum was missing, and the face was all scratched. But the wood cabinet was beautiful, and the etched glass door was quite elegant.

Grandpa made springs and gears for the mechanism. He hammered out a pendulum from a lead fishing weight, formed a chime from a piece of brass wire, and created a new face made out of the bottom of a coffee can…which he then hand-painted numbers on. On my 18th birthday, he gave me the clock. At the time, I really wanted the shotgun, but I came to realize the clock meant more to him (and me) than any shotgun ever could. That clock still keeps good time today, and chimes every hour.

So, why the story about my Grandpa? Most all of us have people in our lives who have influenced us in a positive way…true role models. Individuals who have taught us and others how to hunt or fish, how to be self-reliant, how to be respectful of Mother Nature’s bounty, and how to be a good person. Although I never knew my great-grandfather, I’m sure he taught those things to Grandpa JJ, and he passed them on to my generation.

That’s what I’ve tried to do with my kids, and they turned out pretty good. Now they are passing on those same things to their kids, and it makes me proud. It’s never too late to share your knowledge, your passions, and your life experiences to engage our kids and grandkids in the majesty of our outdoor treasures. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you.

Tight lines and calm seas, Capt. Cefus McRae.