Joe woke early to a magnificent November Saturday. Silver frost glowed in the moonlight in patches on the lawn while beads of condensation wreathed the glass of his bedroom window. Hands behind his head, he laid in the warm bed remembering years before when his father rousted him out into the cold to hunt whatever was in season. He smiled at how much he complained getting ready and how his first kill made it so worth it. His father was adamant—never shoot an animal you weren’t going to eat. Consequently, Joe had developed a great fondness for Hunter’s stew and was just now thinking how long had it been since he had had some? Out loud he said, “I bet Ethel makes a mean Hunter’s stew. Come to think of it Gordy would probably love shooting some squirrels with Early and me.”
At just six, he debated if it might be too early to call. Then remembering that cows needed milking, and all the other farm chores, he took a chance. Quickly dialing the number as excited, as he had been as a child when finally up, feed and heading out the door, he waited expectantly, after the sixth ring; he reached to put the receiver back in the cradle when he heard, “’Lo?”
“Early, Joe Mackey, I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“Lord, no, Mista Joe. Ethel an’ I’s been up t’ de barn an’ back. Nothin’ wrong is they?”
“No, I was wondering if Gordy and I might come over and go squirrel hunting with you? What with all of those oak trees you have, I imagine you have a lot of—” Suddenly realizing his presumption he added lamely, “squirrels this morning?
“Mista Joe,” Joe flinched at the name, “I was jest dis here mornin’ sayin’ t’ Ethel how much I ’spect Gordy would like squirrel huntin’. Come on.”
Joe wanted to whoop but managed to get his emotions in check enough to say, “Thanks. It’s six now, how ’bout an hour? We can help with any chores that might still need doing.”
“Dat a be jest fine. Will ya be needin’ some guns?”
Already out of bed, Joe pulled clothes out of the drawers within reach, tethered as was to the phone. “I’ve got some, thanks. See you soon. Oh, and Early, please call me Joe.”
‘De apple didn’t far from de tree,’ Joe could hear Ethel chuckle as he attempted to wake his son. “Don’t you want to go hunting?”
Gordy groaning rolled away from his father. “It’s too cold and early to get up on a Saturday.” As his father’s words finally permeated his sleep fog, he popped up to sitting, “Hunting? Did you say hunting?” Joe grinning nodded.
“Get dressed, and I’ll fix us something to eat. But be quiet, we don’t want to wake the rest of the house. Meet me at the truck in five minutes.” It didn’t take Joe any time to throw two sandwiches together. Stuffing them in his jacket pocket, he hurried to the garage to collect the guns, and ammunition. By the time Gordy arrived Joe had the truck toasty warm. “You might want to go back and get a hat and some gloves.” Gordy triumphantly pulled them from his coat pockets.
“Did you sleep at all last night?” His fathered laughed.
“Your hair tells another story.” Gordy attempted to flatten his wild mane before giving up and shoving his hat on his head.
Hours later Ethel was presented with a half a dozen skinned and dressed squirrels.
Gordy bounced and gushed, “Ethel I learned to skin ‘em. Early showed me how to clean off the hair around their butt and pull the skin off the tail and all. It was cool. He hopped for emphasis, “I thought it was going to be gross and bloody but wasn’t. It was kind of like taking their shirt off. Dad gutted them while Early pulled the hair off the legs. We had a regular assembly line.” He stopped and thought for a second then corrected himself, “A disassembly line.” They all laughed.
“Des here is nice young squirrels. I’m gonna jest fry ’em up.” Ethel looked at Joe for assent, “what you think? I already made the biscuits won’t take no time.”
“Whatever you think. You are the expert.” Joe nodded.
Gordy was not sure he was up to eating a squirrel but kept the thought to himself reasoning that he could hide the meat in one of Ethel’s biscuits and with enough butter and jam it would have to taste okay. After the second bite, Gordy was stuffing squirrel meat into his mouth without the benefit of biscuit, jam or butter. The biscuit still on his plate, he used to sop up ever drop of squirrel and gravy.
Fried Squirrel and Gravy
Cut three young squirrels into bit sized pieces. Sprinkle all sides with, salt, pepper, and flour. Cook in half vegetable oil and butter until golden brown. While meat drains on a paper towel, pour off the grease. Add a pat of butter to the pan. Let it melt and mix in a small handful of flour. Thin with milk and season to taste.