Monday, May 22, 2017

Thoughts About the Man in the Arena

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs,
who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best
knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst,
if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  
-Teddy Roosevelt

I don’t think about this quote all the time, but it does occasionally cross my mind.  As many others have before me, and many are newly discovering, this quote sums up how I feel about participants and spectators.  It summarizes what I think of critics versus doers, and quitters versus achievers.

First, the critics:

Many years ago I worked with some people who were sports critics.  Mainly, they were “experts” in football and basketball, but also with NASCAR, and even in military operations, (which is not a sport, of course, but you’ll see how that fits in).  Every Monday morning was an unending critique of what the quarterback did wrong, how the coach screwed up, what he should have done instead, who should have taken the final shot, and how bad the referees were. 

For a while I listened to these Monday morning quarterbacks with some interest, but gradually I became aware of a growing irritation at the fact that the men were working blue-collar jobs in a factory, in a small town, making hourly wages in the mid to upper teens, but they were way smarter than the coaches and sports figures actually playing the game.

Along about the same time, I had a Boss, and he was a boss, not a supervisor or facilitator, who constantly told us how he would have done things.  He had been there and done that, and had done it better, faster, and cheaper than anyone in the department, or any of the contractors we had brought in.  On several occasions he said something about how he would do something I was working on.  Finally, one day I stepped back and said, “Show me.”  He hemmed and hawed and looked and finally said the ones he used to work on were different and he wasn’t familiar with the newer technology in that machine.  He headed off down the aisle and didn’t bother me for a while.

Around that time, the US was deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, with daily news flashes on the latest action in the wars being broadcast on television and radio, and printed in the papers.  Out of the woodwork came the armchair generals to bloviate constantly about how they would have run the war and solved all the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the middle east.

The common thread among these people was that they were all spectators.  They weren’t in the game, they weren’t turning the wrench, or tracing the circuit.  They weren’t running the show with their job on the line.  They don’t count, neither do their opinions.

We’ve all done it.  I have, over the last several years, second-guessed the coach of the UNC Tarheels, Roy Williams because he seldom uses timeouts at times when the other team is on a run, or the clock is winding down and the team is behind.  But he’s winning championships and he’s drawing in the best recruits, so this year, I grudgingly admitted he had a really good system, and knew what he was doing far, far, far better than I.  It’s a hard trap to avoid.  We should try at all times and in all ways to avoid falling into that trap.

When we are the critic or the finger pointer, we contribute very little if anything to the situation at hand.

I’ll pause right here and say there is definitely a place for constructive criticism.  Someone pointing out, in a positive way, something I had overlooked has on several occasions saved me a lot of grief and extra work.  That’s not what I have been talking about.  If you are unwilling to accept constructive criticism, then there’s probably a lot to be written about your attitude.  I’m not going to do that.  Not right now anyway.

But then there’s the other guy.

He’s the guy, or gal, that is in the thick of it.

The person in the arena, (not at, but in), with the lights blazing down, focusing all attention upon them.  The heat from the lamps and the pressure to perform would cook lesser men alive, but there they are, giving it their all in the pursuit of…something. 

The man in the arena is down in the trenches.  He has only two paths: forward to victory and success, or backward to defeat and shame.  He’s facing the enemy, or the opponent, or the job that everyone is relying on.  These are my kind of people.  They know the hounds of defeat are loosed on their heels and a mistake at some critical point could destroy all that they have built. 

He’s the man on the face of the cliff. He looks above to great heights, or below to infinite depths.  He’s there climbing the mountain, while more timid souls sit at the base and comment on the ways they think he should go, or where his next footfall should land.  It’s his foot that has to work with a toe-hold, and his hand that’s hanging by its fingernails.  It’s his mind that has to battle the thoughts and fears that work to steal into his mind and paralyze him before he can climb the next few inches.

The man who strives is one who knows mistakes.  There is no mastery without them.  He has learned his skills through training, yes, but also in trial and error.  He has felt the bruises and blows and the humiliation of failure.  Some would have quit.  Some would have said, “Enough”, and settled down to a life of safe mediocrity.  The man in the arena has faced those demons and has faced them down.  Not just once or twice, but over and over on his road to mastery of his craft.

The person in the spotlight is someone who is in their groove.  They have found the thing that they have passion for and they have pursued it and taken hold on it and made it their own.  He or she knows the enthusiasm of knowing what they were made for.  The negativity of others does not dampen their desire to be in the middle of things, whatever “things” they are in the midst of.  The arena is different for every person.  The battle for mastery is a very personal battle.

The man in the arena knows what he fights for.  He knows his goals.  He knows the right and wrong of the things he does.  No person can master something they are unsure of.  The doubts that come can find fertile ground in the person’s mind who is unsure.  They know their cause. They know the worthiness of what they strive for.  They want to win that Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, because that trophy belongs to them and they want to claim it.  They want to run that Marathon, climb that rock, win that ballgame.  They want to get that degree, get hired for that job, earn that promotion because it’s rightly theirs if they earn it, and nobody can take that success away.  Even when the onlookers can’t see that it is worth the effort that they are putting in, they know that it is.  

I have watched the fans go wild when their team won the championship, or beat that historical rival.  I’ve seen them jump and wave their arms and even cry tears of joy.  I have seen them cry other, more bitter tears when their favorite team lost.  These are mere spectators.  Their stake in the game is just pride in their team.  They have crossed fingers, and prayed small prayers to the gods of sports, but they haven’t sweated and toiled and put their body and soul on the line.  I have seen these same fans moan and groan and criticize the players and coaches.

But the man in the arena, the man with the skin in the game, with his reputation at stake, I’ve watched them win and lose, and strive and fail, or win.  There’s a joy and a pain for them as well.  However, their joy, and their spirit is different.  The people at Mission Control celebrated when Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon, but they weren’t Neil Armstrong.  The Carolina Basketball fans celebrated in April when they won the championship, but they weren’t the players or the coach on the floor.  There is simply no comparison.  The man in the arena knows, he knows intimately, the struggle, the pain, the devotion, the years, and the sacrifices that brought them to this point.  The win is the culmination of everything they have striven for and the emotions are more than most ordinary people ever know, or can even imagine. 

But what about the loser?  What about the guy who gave it his all and in the end came up maybe one single point shy of the victory?  He’s the guy everyone will be talking about Monday morning.  They’ll be second-guessing him.

He’s not a loser.  Not like those critics are.  At least he had the strength to try, the grit to pit his best against the finest in his field.  The wherewithal to step up to the plate and swing for the bleachers.  He gave it his all and climbed as far as he could, and maybe the next time he’ll score that final point, but in the meanwhile, there’s always tomorrow and a chance to start over.  He climbed, while others sat and he had a goal while others just let the current carry them along. He had the courage and the will, and he has still made it further than most even if in the final seconds he came up short.  He knew victory along the way, and he will know it again.

I don’t care for timid, half-hearted people.  People who watch from the sidelines as life goes by. I don’t like their big talk with little action.  I’m not talking about people who are facing real problems and handicaps.  Those people are in an arena themselves every single day.  I’m talking about people who could, if they just would, but they won’t.  They fear failure, or are lazy, or nurture self-doubt as their biggest vice, because they can use that to avoid responsibility. 

I don’t enjoy conversations full of excuses.  Some people’s greatest talent is making excuses for the things they never did.  “Well, I would have joined the military, but…”  No you wouldn’t have.  If you had wanted to, there would have been a way.  I knew a guy who was broken all to pieces in a car accident.  He had all the excuses he needed to give up. He had wanted to join the marines…The MARINES!  And you know what he did?  He did it.  He signed some waivers and signed some commitments and raised his right hand and swore an oath.  He did a twenty-year career of pursuing what he wanted to do.  Crutches kill dreams; not the physical ones you use for a while and discard, but the mental ones that you carry around inside.

I don’t understand quitters.  I wonder, when I see someone quit, how bad they wanted something to begin with.  Did they only want it enough that they’d be glad to have it if someone just gave it to them?  Is a consolation prize the height of their ambitions and desires?  I understand when situations change and priorities change as a result.  But what happened when they made some small attempt and then when adversity or effort was involved in the next step, they threw up their hands and walked away?  I conclude they didn’t want it; they only would have liked to have had that thing. 

I once had a dog, years ago that would belly crawl up to everyone he met and even to me.  If a strange dog entered his territory the dog just rolled other and bellied up in total surrender.  The dog would tuck his tail and run if you made a sudden motion or tried to play or if you raised your voice.  I hated that dog.  He was an embarrassment to his species.  I can’t even remember his name.

I see people like that, and though I don’t “hate” anyone, I have no desire to be that person’s friend because I know that I can’t rely on their friendship.  I can’t depend on their help if sudden trouble comes.  I can’t even depend on them not to toss me under the bus if someone else intimidates them.

I like bold people.  People who act.  I am not saying rash and brash and reckless people.  Those people are fools.   I’m talking about people who see something they want and go for it; who strive and claw their way to it if necessary, who do things right and legal and honest, but face any barrier or hindrance with determination, intelligence, and willpower, and overcome to get to their goal. 

I like optimistic people.  People who see in every new day a field ripe for the harvest.  I like people who smile, even in the heat of the battle, and have a positive outlook for the big picture.   These people take setbacks in stride.  They may stop for a second to get their bearings or rethink a plan and step out boldly in the best way they see to move ahead. 

I like people who believe in something.  They are willing to say with confidence, “This is what I believe, and I am not budging from it.”  They take a stand.  I can respect someone that I disagree with if they actually stand for something.  I have a friend I once worked with, who was the political opposite of me.  We had a lot of good conversation and lively debate, and a very healthy dose of mutual respect.  He stood on things he believed and was confident enough in his beliefs to have a civil discussion about it.  I did the same.  It was fun times.  We are still friends even in the current insane political atmosphere.

Do you want an easy life?  Just coast on through.  Go along to get along, and don’t let anyone pin you down on a solid belief.  Don’t set goals.  Don’t dream of greatness.  Don’t try to climb the ladder.  Don’t take risks and lay it on the line.  Be careful to never really, really want something, and always settle for mediocrity.  Just plod along in blissful blandness.  You wouldn’t know what to do with success anyway.

You can have your pastel life and its feeble attempts, and idle amusements.  You can float on the current and be carried wherever the water or wind goes.  I don’t want any part of that.  I want to live.

Don’t be the critic, or the Monday morning quarterback, or the armchair general.  Be a doer.  Be the guy in the Arena.  Maybe the arena is small right now, but when you win here, you get to move up.  Go for it. The glory is yours for the taking.

(c)  May 16th, 2017  James L. Frady

Friday, November 4, 2016

My Ship

My Ship

She was a grand and elegant lady
So sleek and long and lean.
She was tall and proud and warm and cold
And in a fight she was hard and mean.
She was strong and fast and danced on the water,
Like a rainstorm in the spring.
She was dressed to kill from her mast to her keel,
And everything between.

She sailed out where the water’s blue,
The ocean’s deep, and the waves are high.
Out where every horizon you see,
Is the line between the sea and the sky.
Where the sea-winds blow the stinging spray
And the taste of salt is on your lips
Out there where the trackless ocean
Has carried men on countless ships

She was grey, not flashy or shiny like some
She wore the color of fog and haze
She cut the water like rapier blade
And sailed undaunted while underway
She crested waves and pitched back down
Or burst right through them sending spray
High above to the signal shack
Where it wet us down as we made headway

A fighter was what she was built to be
A Battle “E” she wore with pride
And flew our flag up high with honor
American Spirit upon the tide
We took her where our missions led us
She rode the storms on Poseidon’s domain
And protected her crew and kept her duty
And brought her sailors home again

A Tin Can afloat upon the sea
She wasn’t big, forty-five hundred tons
But she packed a hard punch wherever she went
With Torpedoes, Missiles, Asrocs, and Guns
She got there fast, some 30 knots
And the screws kept time with a lively beat
The head wind cut across the decks
While her stacks blew smoke and churned out heat

Past midnight running darkened ship
She was a shadow on the waves
The hum of her engines and the spread of her wake
Were the only signs she passed this way
The soft, silent light of a million stars
Lit her way across the deep
The midwatch crew was sailing her then
While the other sailors were trying to sleep

At dawns first light in silhouette
She was lovely beyond belief
On the broad, empty, flat horizon
She stood out dark in sharp relief
And sailed into a new day’s sunrise
As her crew rolled out to shower and shave
Drink coffee, do sweepers, eat, and muster
And groan about what’s in the Plan of the Day

She was a world traveler and went afar
She graced every sea-port where she made land fall
The people walked by and stared at the lady
And whispered and pointed, struck with awe.
They strolled down the docks looking her over
And admired her as they walked her length
They saw her when she was in port, resting
And they understood her strength

I first saw her pier-side quietly rocking
In the Chesapeake’s evening tide
I was young and she had some age
But something about her swelled my pride
Newer ships were there around her
All were part of a mighty fleet
But she was special, she was my ship
The minute her decks were beneath my feet

Down to the islands and up in the Bay
Out in the Med, or alone on the sea
A long hard chapter she wrote in my life
A deep seated part of what makes me, me.
I think of her now more fondly than then
Memories tend to grow mellow with time
We treasure the good and the bad things fade
But sea stories bring them all back to mind

She’s gone now, at least from this world
They said she was too old and they put her away
I saw the pictures where they cut her up
And sold her for scrap and hauled her away
But she’s never going to really be gone
She’s still in her sailors’ heart and soul
She lives for us, as long as we live
We carry her always, wherever we go.

Rest in silent peace grey lady
We’ll sail again before too long
Some guy will mention a place or something
And across the years we’ll be gone
We’ll laugh and tell a few old stories
Maybe stretched, but mostly true
And we’ll remember you, bitter-sweet
And lift a glass for you.

© 11/4/16 James L. Frady

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Tree and a Boy

There's a tree needs to be climbed.
And a boy don't need a reason.
It's standing there like a challenge.
Its very existence is teasing.
It's daring him to try his skill,
To mount its trunk and lofty branches.
A boy cannot resist adventure.
He grabs a limb and takes his chances.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

An Old Friend

I wrote this about 15 years ago about a truck I had at the time.  It was a good truck and I still think of it a lot.  Added to the bottom are a few comments about the death of my truck.  It's just a description and meant to practice my skills in descriptive writing, but it also reflects how attached a man can get to his truck over a period of several years.

An Old Friend

I locked the side door and set the latch on the storm door as I backed out into the cool, late-February evening.  Giving the handle a slight push to insure the door was closed, I turned and started toward my old truck.  Just for a second, I stopped, and a nostalgic sigh slipped quietly out as I looked at the truck which had carried me so many miles for so many years.  The fading light of the setting sun for a moment had hidden the age and wear that time had etched into the paint and bodylines, and it looked much younger than its fifteen years.  Many miles and many memories had been left in the long-settled dust of the little red Toyota.

As I stood in front of the truck, I noticed that, in spite of its age, the red bug shield was still intact, even after 272,000 miles.  It had developed a rattle and was spider-webbed with hairline cracks and scratches that caught the sunlight and reflected it in shiny sparkles across the hood.  The aluminum frame had lost its shine and now looked a dull whitish-gray, which underlined the clear red of the Plexiglas shield.  The age and condition of the bug deflector prompted my nostalgic feelings even further, and led me around the truck looking at the details of this old traveling companion.

At first glance, the front end seemed unchanged over the years, but closer inspection revealed chrome that was quickly losing its luster.  The grill, though undamaged, looked weathered by the wind and grit from uncounted roads.  The bumper below was still shiny, except two round spots where water dripping from the hood had worn away the chrome entirely.  It had a dimple on the front of one end where an unfortunate dog had run suddenly out of a roadside ditch and into my path one morning and had quickly been dispatched to wherever the good dogs go.  In spite of the wear, the front end did not look to have faired too badly over the years.

Moving to my right, I rounded the left front corner of the truck.  There on the hood were three deep scratches badly covered by touch-up paint.  A rather dim-witted horse had tried to eat my hood while I had my kids down at the river in the pasture swimming.  I suppose the dust and dirt had a salty taste, and he wanted the salt.  The horse had found my truck quite unpalatable and had gone in search of better dining.  Unfortunately he had left a permanent reminder in my paint of his attempt. 

The pin striping down the side was still looking good.  A few gaps in the silver and gray stripes were there because I had gotten too close with a high-pressure washer.   They ran smoothly back from front fender to door in three parallel lines then overlapped with other, darker lines.  From there, five new lines ran beneath them back across the bed to end just behind the rear tire.  Together they all formed the impression of a long, stretched out ‘Z’ that stretched down the side of the Toyota.

Dried globs of red clay clung tightly to the inner edges of the fender wells like stalactites in some ancient cavern, while streaks of the mud ran along the bottom of the truck from the front tire, all the way back, ending near the bottom of the tail light lens.

As I reached the back end of the bed, I noticed the rear bumper.  It was still bent down at a sharp angle from bumping into a lady’s car at Wal-Mart last fall.  This was the third time that bumper had been hit, but I just kept straightening it up and bolting it back on.  Some of the wrinkles in the metal date back eleven or twelve years.  Behind the bumper, I could see the only dent on the truck body.  It had come from the second time my bumper got crunched.  A forklift had backed around the corner of the hardware store and knocked the bumper in far enough to bend the sheet metal of the bed.  The dent had begun to flake off paint, and rust had invaded the bare metal to ring the dent with a burnt brown halo of corrosion.  It saddened me a bit to see it, and I vowed then and there that this spring the bumper would be fixed and the dent repaired.

My examination of the bed completed, I rounded the right rear corner of the truck and noticed the tires were beginning to wear.  They were dingy gray instead of the slick black that I had at one time maintained religiously.  Flat black rims, circled by weathered chrome beauty rings, weren’t quite the image I recalled from yesteryear either, and several lug nuts had lost their caps.  The fading light could not hide the truck’s age from a slightly closer examination.

There was more light from the setting sun shining on this side of the pick-up, and I noticed that the once-brilliant red paint was now quite dull with oxidization.  I ran my index finger over the side of the bed and looked with dismay at the amount of dead, dry paint that rubbed off onto my fingertip.  A good wash and wax would probably help tremendously, but when to find time?  Another sigh, and I walked on up the passenger side to the front fender.

The pin striping did not extend on to this fender.  Six years ago, I had fallen asleep at the wheel driving home from work and had crashed this fender.  The paint on the new fender was very slightly more red than the rest of the sheet metal, but you had to know before you would notice.  I had often thought of repainting the whole truck but that is a lot of money for an old pick-up with as many miles as this one.

Digging in my pocket for keys, I circled the front once again and opened the driver-side door.  The unmistakable, musty smell of an old vehicle rose to greet me as I climbed in behind the wheel.  Years of use had worn the cloth on the seat thin and a small hole was growing in the back of the drivers seat. The dash had split wide open, front to back, all in one day a couple of years ago.  I had repaired it with gray caulking, but the patch didn’t match the vinyl.  I took a deep breath and thought of how many hours I had spent gripping the wheel, staring through the sandblasted glass, driving, thinking, and dreaming.  In all that time, the Toyota had never let me down. 

I patted the gas once, inserted the key in the ignition, and turned it over.  In an instant, the engine purred to life with a wonderful-sounding hum.  272,000 miles and it still cranks like a brand new truck.  I love it.  Don’t offer to buy it.  It’s not for sale.  A man can’t sell an old friend.

Note: Three years, almost to the day, after this was written, while driving home one morning, I crashed the little red Toyota and totaled it.  With far more damage than the truck was worth, I opted to buy a new truck. 

The new has yet to measure up to the old. 

I had planned on fixing the old one eventually, but as time slipped away I realized I never would get time, so I sold it to a man who trimmed trees.  He beat out the sheet metal from around the radiator and bolted a single headlight on the front, and drove it for another couple of years to haul brush away after trimming trees.  He took Little Red all the way to Florida after a hurricane and used it hard to clear away the debris there. 

Finally, at last, after about 20 years, Little Red’s engine gave up the ghost and died forever.  The man sold what was left to a salvage yard.  And so ends the story of my amazing, awesome, loveable little truck.  I still miss it.

James L. Frady (c) March 1, 2001

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pop, and Learning to Hunt and Fish

I remember…
                It was early.  The stars were still blazing in the frozen sky as we crossed the barbed-wire fence and started into the woods on a long-unused road bed around the side of the mountain.  The deep grass was white with a heavy frost that gave the impression of a light snowfall instead.  It was cold.  To my ten-year old body the cold was a probing blade seeking gaps in my none-too-efficient armor which consisted of an old pair of Texas Steer work boots from Kmart with all the socks I could fit in them, long johns and denim pants topped off with an undershirt, a long sleeved pull-over, a flannel shirt and a coat.  My head was capped with a knit cap, primarily called a toboggan in the Western end of North Carolina. 
I wasn't worried about the cold at this moment; I had one thing on my mind, and that was   squirrels.  The mountains around Maggie Valley, North Carolina are full of them and this was the first day of hunting season.  And my dad, whom we have always called Pop, was taking me and my brother Roy hunting.  It would be the first of many trips into those woods learning the ins and outs and ups and downs of squirrel hunting.  We made it a tradition and we almost never missed first day until my brother and I each joined the military and could no longer make it. 
Pop planted the seed…
Pop got us our first guns.  My first was a daisy BB gun and my brother got a Crossman air rifle.  Later we graduated to our first shotguns; a .410 for me and a 20 gauge single shot for Roy.  We were in hunting heaven.  He taught us gun safety early and often, and we learned to respect firearms.  We had no question what they could do; the evidence was vividly displayed in our first squirrels and doves.  Young people who actually learn to handle real guns don’t have a problem with treating them with the respect they are due.
…back to the hunt…
We eased quietly around the dark mountain in the graying dawn and up to a ridge that runs out from the side of the mountain, where he turned us up and back into a large stand of old-growth hickory trees.  The mountains across the valley were turning grey by now and Pop picked us out two nice spots and told us to watch the trees above as the morning progressed that the squirrels loved the hickory nuts and would be in for some breakfast.  He was going to circle below and get some at another spot, just down the mountain from us.  Pop had taken us with him hunting near home along the Catawba River many times before we got old enough to carry a gun so we were safe. It never occurred to us that we could be otherwise, besides, looking back, I realize that he needed to kill his limit, if possible, to help feed our family of six, at the time.  Money was tight and squirrels were good food for the cost of gas and a few shells. 
Roy and I sat and waited while he eased off the ridge to circle the base of the mountain.  The cold came creeping and probing in short order.  It’s one thing to stay warm while you hike around and up a mountain.  It’s an entirely different story when you stop moving and your heart rate slows down.  My fingers and toes went numb first, and then I started shivering.  Then I couldn't sit still.  I wanted to move, which Roy tried to discourage at first, but he was in the same boat.  We were several yards apart watching trees in different directions, but close enough to whisper rather loudly to each other, which we did more than we should have.
The sun was behind the mountain and we were on the western slope.  We watched as the sun crept down the mountain across from us.  It looked so warm over there, and the ridge to either side of us was glowing with the sun peeping around the side of the mountain.  The tops of our hickory trees lit up brilliant yellow as the sun began to creep down them.  The leaves were still on and at the height of their autumn color explosion, a part of the tradition that over the years I began to love even more than the hunting.  Soon enough we decided the trees over there were just as likely to have squirrels as the ones we were watching, so we gave in and crept over where the sun was shining.  It was deliciously warm. 
Pop’s gun began to boom with a rhythmic regularity as he circled below.  We continued to see nothing.  Finally Roy spotted one in the trees to our right and he started trying to sneak up on it.  I don’t think he got the first one, or maybe even the second one, but I think he got one or two before we left that section of woods.
Pop came back and we hunted with him for a while. He showed us how to trick the squirrel into circling the tree by sending one ahead while the other waited behind and stood quiet and still.  When the lead guy went by, the squirrel would try to keep the tree between him and the hunter and would circle to where the second guy could get a shot.  By taking turns we could each get chances at several kills.   There were many other things we learned through the years of hunting that mountain with Pop.
…Pop shared his knowledge…
Pop seemed to know every tree and bush.  He knew what it was called, what the leaves look like, what it was good for, if anything.  He pointed out weeds and told us their names.  A bird or an animal would appear and he would identify it and tell us its habits.  We learned of sourwoods, dogwoods, maples, hickory, oak, and so on.  We learned what ragweed, milkweed, Indian paintbrush, goldenrods and black-eyed-susans were.  We saw wood hens, goldfinches, mountain bluebirds, crows, ravens, hawks, blue jays and doves.  On and on, Pop opened up the wild to us, and we made it our own. 
He taught us how to walk quietly in the woods, even in dry leaves.  I was never perfect, but always passable and before long I could creep up on a tree with a squirrel in it and for the most part not give myself away.  Stalking was something he was really good at, and he taught us the tricks.  Sometimes he would whisper and tell us what to do.  Sometimes a hand gesture or even a nod of his head would indicate what he wanted us to try to do.  Sometimes we failed miserably and sometimes we nailed our quarry.  Often, we didn't even realize we were learning something about the woods, but then years later I recall doing something and suddenly realizing I had learned that from Pop.   

Pop taught us to enjoy it…
Pop took his deer and squirrel hunting seriously.  I think he had to.  He had a family to feed, and had hunted growing up to help feed his brothers and sisters. But dove shooting and rabbit hunting was another matter.  We dove hunted on the same farm where we squirrel hunted, only lower on the mountain in the cow pastures.  There was a group of us that went year after year to the farm to shoot the sky full of holes trying to kill a few birds.  We were good friends and when good friends go hunting together, the good times roll.  The hills rang not only with the sounds of gunshots, which echoed and rolled down the long valley, but with the shouts and laughter of friends poking fun at each other and each other’s shooting. 
There were times we were laughing so hard we couldn't shoot.  There were times we couldn't believe the shot someone just made.  There were times the birds flew in, in numbers that seem unbelievable when I look back, and there were days we sat and watched the empty skies.  Not one of those days will be forgotten and not one of them was wasted. 
When we started rabbit hunting we had no dogs.  Guess who played the beagle?  Most of the time it was me stomping through a brush pile or a thicket to scare up a rabbit, while Pop and a friend flanked the cover to either side and waited for me to run them out, but I got my share of shots when we would work our way up the valley in a skirmish line.  With rabbits, we didn't have to be stealthy or soft-spoken.  Once again we let the insults and laughter fly.  I had a Remington and our friend had a Winchester and we got a lot of mileage out of poking fun at each other’s favorite gun.
…Pop was a fisherman…
                As far back as I can remember, I recall Pop bringing home stringers full of fish.  I can’t clearly recall my first fishing trip.  I remember black Zebco 202 reels on fiberglass rods, with bobbers, hooks, and sinkers.  We dug “wiggle worms” and caught night crawlers in the yard for bait, which we used to catch bluegill, bream, and catfish in the river.  Pop showed us how to tie hooks and lures on with a knot that wouldn't slip out when we hook a big one, not that we hooked many of those, but just in case.
                Pop taught us how to cast lures and retrieve them at a speed and with some action to attract the fish we wanted to catch.  We learned that “fish ain't growing in the tree’s, boy”, and “leave it in the water long enough for them to find it”, and “all that racket’s going scare the all the fish in the river”, and many other pearls of wisdom associated with fishing. 
                Pop took us trout fishing on Buck Creek and Little Buck.  We sat in the truck in the dark and listened to the creeks as they tumbled over rocks and old dead logs into pools we hoped were full of trout eager to bite anything we had to offer.  Often they were.  Pop showed us how to float corn into and out of a pool or eddy to present it to a hungry trout.  Later we learned to use other lures and work them to get a wary trout to come after its dinner, only to become ours.

…Pop was a deer hunter…
                I remember from before I started grade school that Pop loved to deer hunt.  At some point in those early years, some idiotic hunter shot at Pop during deer season and hit the tree he was standing next to.  It was years before he would let me or Roy go with him deer hunting.  Finally, one year I saved up my money and bought a rifle and got it sighted in.  It was a lever action 35 Marlin and it was used but in good shape.  So we scouted an area and I picked out a deadfall that looked down into a hollow which had several intersecting deer trails.  Pop thought it was a good place and I was excited and expecting to make a kill on my first hunt.  It wasn't to happen that day, but that morning I saw a very nice buck jump a log on a logging road bed that was out of range of my 35.  It was as beautiful a picture as ever you will see in any magazine and I was hooked.
                As it turned out, It was several years later, after my military enlistment was up before I got my first deer, but It was Pop who arranged the hunt and helped me learn the lay of the land. 
…Pop passed, and still passes, his knowledge along…
                From trailing deer, to catching fish, to sneaking up on a wily old squirrel, to the best way to lead a flying bird to get a killing shot, Pop was free with his help and guidance to not only my brothers and I, but to several other young people he took under his wing at various times.  He also often gave advice to older hunters who wanted to know the secrets of his successes in hunting and fishing. 
…And then I had a son…
                My son John was born in 1993 and before his first birthday I had his lifetime licenses purchased.  The Bible says “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  I was determined to raise my son to love the outdoors as much as I do.  I began when he was old enough for a cap gun and a toy lever action.  Early and often I talked about gun safety and respect for the weapon and the game.  I had toy raccoon and other stuffed animals that we pretended to stalk and kill. 
                Later I got him a BB gun and took him with me hunting for squirrels and doves.  I taught him the same things my Pop had taught me.  My father-in-law handed down to my son his old .410 and I got John a Henry lever action .22.  I had him on the right track, but more and more I had to put in some long hours at work and a lot of weekends.  My ability to get him to the field and woods was severely impacted and both he and I got frustrated with it. 
                One sad week I wanted desperately to take my son hunting but was mandated to work again.  I was upset terribly.  Then the thought crossed my mind.  Send him with Pop.
                I called up my dad and asked him, “Pop, are you going to the mountains this weekend?” He said yes and I asked if he could take my son along.  He was happy to get the chance to do that and I sent him off with Pop on Friday evening so they could go groundhog shooting in the mountains on Saturday. 
                Sending my son on that hunting trip turns out to be one of the best things I have ever done.  Pop took him under his wing and taught him more about hunting and fishing than I ever could have and in the process built a bond between them that will last forever. 
                Groundhog hunting is like a fine art in long-range shooting.  You find a groundhog way off down the valley with your binoculars, estimate the range, figure out your windage and try to bust it in one shot.  It’s a primo way to hone your sniper skills, and my Pop is the best I have seen at it.  I’m mediocre at best.  Pop has now spent ten years teaching my son to make that kind of shot and my son is now as good as Pop is, and a better shot than I will ever be. 
                That is why my son is deadly on deer.  Pop has taught us both everything he can about deer hunting and we both do very well almost every season in recent years. 
…Pop is 73 years old…
                To this day, Pop is still taking new hunters under his wing.  A couple or so years ago, he began to take one my nephews on hunting and fishing trips, and this year he started with another young nephew who needs a mentor in the outdoor skills he needs to become a hunter.  He has begun to nurture the interest there that will bring these young men into the hunting fold with the rest of us.  If you look at his legacy, my Pop has done a lot for his family and for our heritage of hunting, fishing, and loving the wild outdoors.  Every time we go, we will have stories and laughs to share and remember with and about the man who showed us the way. 
                Now it’s our turn.  The next generation is coming and they are a blank slate.  I hope I can teach more to my nephews, once my Pop no longer can, as we continue to hunt and fish the hills and valleys of western North Carolina and beyond. Then the torch passes to them.

James Lee Frady (c) 9/21/2014