Enriching a young boy’s life
Every young boy should have a “Pop Cliff” to grow up with. I was lucky enough to have mine. And because of him, I have some of the best childhood memories anyone could have.
This compilation of recollections dates from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, and takes place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and in the mountains of northwest Virginia, and southeast West Virginia.
These memories are true events that I experienced as a 6-12 year old boy, and are related as best as can be remembered. But, the fog of 50 years between the doing and the telling almost guarantees that mistakes in names, both people and places, happen.
The proof of this dawned on me when I called my uncle Howard, (in Shawsville, Va.), to ask about a particular hunting camp location, and I realized I was asking him to remember something that occurred 50+ years earlier. Luckily, cousin Randy, (Bo), had a better memory than either of us.
Caveat – The times and the people; These were the times before Political Correctness. Before people were afraid to say what they thought or felt – least they be judged poorly, and before we were expected to live life in a safe bubble. These were the people of those times.
• Pop Cliff – The introduction
…We were working our way back to camp along what was left of an old logging road which wasn’t much more than a path now. Just a couple of ruts, overgrown with knee-high underbrush, and close to the tree-line at the top of the mountain.
… Pop Cliff was born in 1906, and I was born in 1952. That would make him 54 years-old, and he ran past me like an 18-year old sprinter bolting from the starting-blocks, – the only thing I heard as he went by was a gasp, Bear!
I started spending my summers with Pop Cliff when I was six, right after first-grade. It was like a great adventure … [Read more]
• The First Summer with Pop Cliff
…Dad dropped me off on the very first day of summer vacation. I had just finished the First Grade, I was six years-old, and I was going to spend the whole summer with Pop Cliff and Mom Grace.
… Most six year-olds would get something like a battery-powered 6 mph Power Wheels or something -not me. We’re talking about a 5 hp Briggs & Stratton gasoline powered, pulley-belt-driven, no-brakes kid’s tractor!
… As I twisted to get off the tractor, out of the clutches of the Azalea bushes… I accidentally put my hand down on top of the motor, right on the spark plug… The muscle spasm from the shock landed me several feet away from both the bushes and the tractor … [Read more]
• My First Rifle and Redman’s
…“No Pop! Stop!,” I pleaded, and he did, until the next time. There was always a next time. For the next eight years I lived on guard for the next time.
… It was those little snorts that would start me grinning and giggling, I knew what was coming next, and it served him right.
Agh!, Erk! Cough! He woke up gagging, making those awful sounds. … but mostly he chewed. Redman’s Long-Cut Moist Tobacco – to be precise. … [Read more]
• The chicken did it!
“The chicken did it!” I sobbed. Over and over, as my little six year-old body was wracked with burning pain, that’s all I could say, “The chicken did it.” … so she could examine my leg, but I didn’t want her to touch it. There were pieces of skin just hanging loose …
… Grabbing the track, I climbed up to the seat with Pop. The seat of power where he pulled the levers that controlled the power of the big diesel engine and blade.
But I didn’t like the snakes very much! The wooded flatland of the Eastern Shore has a lot of snakes … [Read more]
• Is he Dead Pop?
“Is he dead Pop?” I asked, tears in my eyes. There was a wetness to Pop’s eyes too, as he gently laid him on the back seat. He didn’t look hurt. There wasn’t any blood or stuff like that…
… and sardines. Pop loved sardines and crackers. That was his lunch almost every day. The dog liked sardines too, and Pop always shared. … by the time we were ready to head home, that dog was primed and ready.
“Eeeww, he did it again Pop!” I complained. … Riding with his feet on the dash, he didn’t even look around. Mr. Innocence. … [Read more]
• The Seagulls and The Crabs
“Pop! Twenty-eight Dollars! Look, I got twenty-eight dollars for them!” I was breathless, I never had this much money in my life. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe somebody would pay that much for them.
… just a plank or two supported by poles driven into the marsh muck, just enough for a waterman or hunter to walk on to get to their boats …
… So out goes that piece of chicken fat, floating on the water. Down swoops a gull, scoops up that piece of fat and heads for open air. At least until he reached the end of that 30 feet of string. Wham! …
• Hold Still, I won’t Hit You!
“Just hold it still, I’m not going to hit you,” Pop said. Sure, my heart says I can trust him, but my head is saying, “No way, that’s a 16-pound sledge he’s swinging at my fingers.”
This was my second summer with Pop Cliff, I was a veteran now. I was seven years-old, and the official fetch-it guy. Also apprentice greaseman and novice dozer driver. Yep, Pop was teaching me to drive the dozer this summer.
… but he let his macho-bravado get him in trouble when he made a joke about Mom-mom’s biscuits. … he said “I bet you couldn’t even break these with a bullet.” I was too young to see the trouble we were headed. [Read more]
• One Me and a Million Bees
I was screaming for Mom-mom at the top of my lungs as I ran for the front door. Flailing at the swarming horde as I tried … tried to get me to sit down so she could get my shorts off, but every time she pushed me down, I screamed and bounced right back up …
… but as I came to the banks edge, I pulled back on the steering brakes instead of pushing the track-clutch to stop.
Riding that dozer down was like coming off the crest of a roller coaster. The tracks were spinning so fast on the way to the bottom … [Read more]
• My First Bear Hunt
The dirt road leading up Pott’s Mountain was so crooked that if you spit out the front window it would come right back in the rear window. At least that’s what Pop Cliff said. Even worse, if you stepped out the passenger side of the car on this road …
The other three hunters, Uncle Howard, Johnny C., and a fellow I didn’t know, named Bob, had arrived the day before and had the campsite completely set-up.
…and the “man-talk” started. I don’t remember most of it, but I do remember two things –the story telling got a lot more serious after the whiskey bottle had been passed around a few times, and … [Read more]
• My First Bear – Bear on the Trail
Our view down the cut, from the crest of the mountain, was straight from a postcard. Where we were, at the tree-line … Pop spotted a grouping of boulders right at the edge of the trees that he thought would work as a hide for me. …
My head said, “What! You’re going to leave me here! By myself!” but my mouth just said, “Ok Pop.”
It was only a few minutes later when I heard it… Thump…scrape, thump…scrape, thump…scrape! I had a death grip on that 30-30 and my body had turned to stone. … [Read more]
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