I am reading a book called The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. Daddy gave it to The Hubs and our son to read a year or so ago. They each have tossed it around a bit but neither have really sunk into it yet. Ya know how sometimes the time just has to be right to really sink into a book?
This book is a compilation of stories told by a grandson as he learns from his grandfather to hunt and fish in the hills of North Carolina. The inside flap of the book says this: “[The Old Man] has an infinite store of things he wants the Boy to learn, to understand, to possess as his very own. And, always, the Boy listens, quiet, fascinated.” As the Boy says, “The Old Man knows pretty near close to everything. And mostly he ain’t painful with it…”
The Old Man shares some wise words in this book. And, to my liking, they are sometimes hidden in a tale, a set of instructions or just an observation. In the first chapter, the Old Man gives the Boy his first shotgun and talks to him about quail hunting. On their first go out, Pete, the bird dog, points at a covey and when the birds “shoot up like rockets on the Fourth”, the Boy “fired both barrels and nothing dropped. At all.”
I’m just going to give you this next part straight from the book because it’s so good:
I looked at the Old Man, and he looked back at me, kind of sorrowful. He shook his head, reached for his pipe, and made a great to-do about tamping down the tobacco and lighting it with a kitchen match.
“Son,” he said, “I missed a lot of birds in my time, and I will miss some more if I shoot enough of them. But there is one thing I know that you might as well learn now. Nobody can kill the whole covey – not even if they shoot the birds on the ground running down a row in a cornfield. You got to shoot them one at a time.”
The Old Man said he didn’t know what I’d be when I grew up, and didn’t care a lot, but he said I might as well learn to respect quail, if only for practice in the respect of people…The way you handled quail sort of kicked back on you.
I kind of regret to inform you that this came from page 4. Only page 4. And I understand the entire book (303 pages, to be exact) is full of this kind of stuff. This is good stuff! I could fill The Civilized Minute for a year with this kind of stuff. But, I’ll try to pace myself.
Just this short bit made me think about new years resolutions. Hate ‘em. Just keeping a “resolution” through Lent is a burden, so 365 days? It’s too much. Plus, how can you choose just one thing? How can you name the one thing that would make your life better for an entire year? It’s too much. Did I mention that already? So, when the Old Man told his grandson Nobody can kill the whole covey, I wanted to yell That’s what I’m sayin’! Why set yourself up for failure? I’m certainly not opposed to having goals, but how about making them attainable. Give yourself a reasonable chance to succeed, for Pete’s sake (not Pete the bird dog; the other Pete). Choose one thing you’d like to accomplish and work on it. Work hard on it. And when you – and only you – feel like you’ve done all you set out to do, choose another thing.
And, of course, that last sentence about respect…it IS something to be taught, ya know. We don’t come into this world understanding respect and how to show it. And teaching respect is a big part of our responsibility as parents, mentors, coaches, group leaders, supervisors and friends. I like the way the Old Man goes about it. He eases into the concept by using an activity the Boy enjoys. Maybe you aren’t a hunter, but I’ll bet your team at work would respond to the give-and-take of learning to manage flex time or I’ll bet your child would understand the lesson in the context of a sport.
I happen to like quail hunting and enjoy watching our son and daughter learn the respect, humility, self-discipline and skill involved in such a sport. I wonder if the Old Man is going to weave in a way I can teach them to keep their rooms clean. Or to not leave their shoes in the kitchen. Or to not leave their shoes in the driveway. I’d better keep reading…