The Frosty Morning and the Bean Boots

By Bill Dunaway

Introduction by Mickey Dunaway

I have often written about the importance of memories, and when one just turned 76, writing those memories down for the younger generations becomes even more important.

In the December 2022 Garden and Gun, the southern man of words, James Lee Burke, a frequent contributor, blessed all Southerners with another column filled with memorable metaphors and similes that no one uses quite as well as he does.   At 85, James Lee Burke is still writing every day.  His latest story is filled with memories from growing up on Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, and newly discovered lessons in his memories of that time.  I find it challenging to find new lessons to be learned from long-ago memories that rise to our minds like morning mists.

The title of the column is “James Lee Burke’s Bayou Baptism—Fishing for Answers in Ancient Louisiana Waters.”

The memory below was penned and sent to me by my brother, Bill, back in October.  When I received it, I told him I wanted to publish it in Southern Exposures (www.southern-exposures.com) because it reminded me of my childhood and the Bean Boots I received that Christmas.  I trust Bill’s words will generate a few similar memories for you. 

Bill’s story took place in Montgomery, Alabama, last October, but his memory was created much, much earlier as a teenager. The fragile nature of memories is that they are often generated by an equally delicate set of events.  When they come, we should do as Bill did here, write them down and pass them on.  I am sure glad he did.

~~~~~~

The Frosty Morning and the Bean Boots

By Bill Dunaway

It was around 1958.  I was about 16.  That Christmas, Mother, and Daddy gave Mickey and me each a pair of LL Bean classic hunting boots—the ones with the leather uppers and rubber lowers.  It was an extravagant gift for a family which had few financial resources.  They came with a pair of long woolen socks, grey with a red top.  The boots were long, maybe 16 inches high, to protect from briars and snakes while chasing after rabbit-dogs chasing after swamp rabbits.  Cottontail Rabbits inhabit the hillsides where walking is easy for rabbits, dogs, and hunters.  Swamp Rabbits, on the other hand, are half again as big and onery as their hillside cousins and live, as their name implies, where the briars are thickest, and only the bravest beagles and hunters go.

I wore those Bean Boots until the bottoms wore out, and I sent them back to LL Bean and had the bottoms replaced.  Good company, LL Bean.  They still make those same boots but will cost you considerably more.

The morning that generated my memory of those days gone by, I was in Montgomery, and it was freezing cold on October 20, 2022.  The temperature was 30 degrees—a record-low temperature for the date.  As the sun was just peaking over the horizon, my wife, Helen, and I were out early, running Chick-fil-A biscuits to our granddaughter Lucie.  Don’t ask—  Lucie had to have her Chick-fil-A biscuits.  Yards were covered with frost, and the ponds around Wynnlakes, where we live, were steaming in the cold morning air.  A flock of Canada geese flew overhead, headed for a nearby grass field. 

That early morning light and the frosty glimmer brought back a memory I often think of, but only on crisp cold days like this one.  I don’t know why; it just comes back.  

~~~~~~

It was some time after 1958, and the breaking day was freezing cold as I walked across Long Branch, the small creek one had to cross to get to the hill beyond.  Frozen water in the soil had erupted the ground and crunched as I walked.  I was headed for a patch of trees parallel to Long Branch, where, based on past hunts, I knew I would likely find some squirrels.  As I crunched up the road, I realized I had no feeling in my feet.  The Bean Boots were waterproof but had no insulation, and my wool socks only did so much.  

I leaned my .410-gauge single-shot squirrel killer against a tall longleaf pine, unlaced my boots one at a time, and massaged my poor cold toes till circulation returned.  When I had only one boot on, I suddenly heard a loud rasp,  scratching noise that, for an old-time squirrel hunter like me, said, “Squirrel on a pine tree!” I turned barely quick enough to see a great red fox squirrel finish his descent down his pine tree, hit the frozen ground, and bound away far beyond the range of my .410.

~~~~~~

I don’t know why that day remains prominent in my memory unless it was the frozen beauty of a south Alabama pine forest, the one who got away, and the opportunity to see that elusive fox squirrel.  

I doubt the pine forest remains.  I know that fox squirrels, never many in number, are diminishing.  The memory remains, though, to pop up on frosty mornings like today, and for that, I am thankful.

Bill Dunaway

October 20, 2022

Montgomery, Alabama

3 Comments »

  1. Frosty mornings in South Alabama, I remember them well. I lived with Grandma and it was the days before you could wear pants to school (can you imagine?). My birthday is in mid-October and I remember walking to the bus stop down the road with the weather being bitterly cold. Today, comparing weather to those days, it seems to me the seasons are changing, moving around; not fitting into the clear, three-month timeline they once were. I guess that’s what they call climate change now. Thank you Bill, for your squirel-hunting memories and those much cherished, and expensive, Bean boots. Merry Christmas to you, Mickey and all your families. I am so happy to have reconnected with ‘family.’

    Like

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