Being country boys, my two younger brothers and I found ourselves outside 365 days a year. Each morning during the school year, before we would head off to school, we had to water and feed the animals before a quick breakfast and then departure on the school bus. When we returned home it was another trip out to the animals, dinner, and then that country landscape opened to us for adventure. On the weekends and summer vacation that landscape was open for business all day long and we took full advantage of it.
Some days we would be fighting Soviets and other days we would be reliving WWII, either fighting in the Pacific or Europe. Sometimes we would be traveling through the area on our way to the Rockies to search for beaver pelts that would make us rich. Quite often we would construct ramps that would rival those jumped by the great Evil Knievel and we would patch each other up with words of confidence and lots of band-aids. The field across the gravel road that ran by our house was our baseball and football field, competing with the majestic beauty of Wrigley Field or Lambeau Field. To my youngest brother, though, that land became Texas and our home was the Alamo.
Jeremy lived, loved, dreamed, ate, and slept all things to do with Davy Crockett. It didn’t matter he was a Tennessean and we were Kentuckians. Oh, no. Jeremy could feel in his very fibers that he was Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen’s character George Russel was right alongside of him. When Jeremy would go feed and water the chickens he could see Santa Ana wondering why Davey was sent to feed the chickens. Occasionally he would wave at old Santa Ana, just to let him know he knew he was watching him.
Beginning in the fall of 1986, Jeremy, a wiry six years old, began to hound my folks about what he wanted for Christmas. Our father had been out of work from the coal mines for almost two years, but he and Mom would do their best to see that Santa Claus came to visit their three boys. Jeremy produced a short simple list: a buckskin jacket, buckskin pants, a coonskin cap, and a rifle: just like Davy Crockett’s. It was a short list for sure, but not an easy one to come up with. Deer season didn’t start until late in November and to kill a deer then cure the skin, then to sew the outfit before Christmas? That was almost impossible.
During the fall my brothers and I would tramp through the woods that bordered our home and as possible we began to stock the freezer with rabbits. The were plentiful and we boys could scare them out in the open in a heartbeat. My dad had told me after Jeremy produced his list that I needed to keep my eyes open and if, during the evening while I was out roaming the grounds, if I happened to see a raccoon, I needed to shoot it. When I found out why, raccoon hunting became my newest and most sought-after adventure.
About two weeks later I was looking into the woods from our front porch and thought I saw a rather big squirrel mosey down a tree and land on the ground. He looked like the fattest squirrel I had ever seen and upon closer inspection I saw his black mask horizontally crossing his face. I went inside the house and grabbed my .22 rifle and my brother was no where around. Dad looked up for his newspaper and asked, “What’s going on?” “Coon”, I replied. Dad’s curiosity got him, and he was on my tail as we progressed through the yard.
The coon was walking around the outer edges of the woods and had stopped by our walnut tree to have a small meal on the leftover walnuts laying around. I carefully pulled up the .22 to my eye and went down to one knee. I breathed gently and placed my finger on the trigger, ready to bag my quarry. Crack! One flip-flop, a stutter, and a slump were all the coon had in him. “Ya got ‘em”, Dad exclaimed, happy as a lark. Now, my old man could skin a rabbit in about 1-minute flat, and I’ll be danged if that coon’s skin wasn’t nailed to a board and drying in about 5 minutes flat. There would be at least a coonskin cap under the tree in 1986 for my little brother.
My mother, the female version of Columbo, who could sniff out a lie faster than a speeding bullet and who could track down a need item better than any scavenger in Kentucky, was on a mission. She kept out rotary pone burning hot from morning to night, asking everyone in a tri-county radius if they had any buckskin they weren’t using. Now the chances of her being successful were about as remote as the chance of a polar bear and a grizzly bear teaming up to have high tea at our house on a Thursday afternoon, but Mom was persistent. Finally, about three weeks before Christmas, tensions high that the buckskin outfit was not to be under the tree, Mom struck gold. An old man who ran a store catering to hunters in our area, that had closed shop in the 1970s had a complete deer hide that had been tanned and he would part with it…for free.
Now, my mother is 5’ tall. Her legs are short, and I only remember her running twice: once playing a baseball game with us kids for fun and when she grabbed her purse, cigarettes, and keys to jump into our land yacht: a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba. With Bel-Airs in hand, my mother shot down our gravel road like the Devil himself was chasing her and about forty-five minutes later she returned with a dark buckskin and a smile from ear to ear.
For two weeks Mom wore her fingers to the bones. She used a pair of my brother’s jeans and one of his shirts as a pattern and finally, just a few days before Christmas, sewed the last piece of fringe onto the jacket. It was complete. My father had sewed the coonskin cap, complete with a plaid lining taken from one of his old shirts. Jeremy’s gifts were ready, yet there was no rifle, a gift my dad had already tended to. I wondered how the old man was going to pay for such a thing, but he said, “Don’t worry about it”, so I tried not to. Unbeknownst to me my Dad's brother had taken a 1”x2” board and had carefully cut, sanded, and molded it into an official long rifle, just like the one Davy Crockett used.
On Christmas morning my brother was beside himself with joy and glee. I can still see his face, his eyes wide and mouth agape as he held up his buckskin shirt and pants. It was the greatest Christmas gift my brother had ever or would ever receive. For the next four years my brother gave Santa Ana the toughest fight he had ever had. On some days my brother died as one of the last men defending the Alamo and other days he and the Texans managed to whip Santa Ana. Some days, though, the battle just kept going for hours and hours and hours. The cries of “We've got ‘em on the run, boys” and Pew! Pew! Pew! echoed throughout our home and yard from sunup to sundown.
Today my mother’s cedar chest sits in the bedroom she and Dad have shared for over 40 years. No one opens the chest or would dare to do so without the presence of my mother. That chest holds items worth very little on the open market and most items hold no real-world value. However, if you were to crack it open and disperse the contents upon the floor, there, neatly folded with love and care, would be a buckskin outfit with patched elbows and knees and a coonskin cap with worn-out plain lining, the dreams of a young boy, Davey Crockett, and Christmas 1986.