T he old man and grandpa were sitting on the porch, watching the cows eat grass. I needed a little more entertainment.
“There’s nothing to do,.” I complained.
Those dangerous words were out before I could slap a hand over my mouth. The last time I uttered that sentence; I was up at the garden, pulling weeds. The time before that, The Old Man fired up the push mower and had me clean up around the house and fences.
This time he simply raised an eyebrow, probably because it was late Saturday evening and he didn’t want to put gas in the mower. “Why don’t you get out from under our feet and go catch me one of them bluebirds.”
About 15 or so bright blue birds were dusting at the far end of the drive, under the wide oak that shaded the mailbox. I’d been watching the bright blue birds throw up clouds of sand and flash their colors in the late sunlight.
“You can’t catch a bird,” I said.
“Sure you can.” Grandpa chuckled and rubbed his bald head. “Just get close enough to shake some salt on their tails, and you can pick ‘em right up.”
Not a novice to old men teasing, I shot them both a glance. They were nodding at one another like it was some great pronouncement. When the old men up at the store were teasing us kids, they usually had a glint in their eyes, or were winking at each other, waiting for us to take the bait.
This time they looked as serious as if it was a political debate, and I always hated hearing them talk politics because I didn’t understand a word of it, except “all politicians are crooked,” or “that one’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”—pronounced “crook-ed.”
I know, I shouldn’t have to explain such things to Texans, but with all those Californians moving here in the last couple of years, I’ve had to bring them up to speed.
Anyway, they were discussing the merits of using the Phantom Sneak to shake salt on a bird’s tail, as opposed to the Creepy Crawl on one’s belly.
Grandpa rubbed his mouth. “You know, my brother would just take a step and stop to wait for the birds to get used to him,” he said. “Then when they went back to what they were doing, he’d take another step. I saw him shake salt on enough tails one time, we fried a whole covey of quail for our supper.”
Now, they were talking about hunting, and that was serious stuff. There was no way they were teasing me, so I went inside and snitched the saltshaker off Grandma’s kitchen table.
The Old Man nodded when I came out. “Now move slow.”
It must have taken me half an hour to creep the thirty yards down to the drive. By the time I got close, the birds had finished with their dusting and had flown away.
I stopped and glanced over my shoulder, expecting to hear them laugh, but the Old Man pointed.
“There’s a covey of quail working that fencerow. They’re headed toward the church. Slip behind ‘em easy and shake salt on the last one, then work your way up.”
I gave him a big thumbs up, hit my knees, and crawled under the bobwire fence, immediately brushing a bull nettle with my arm. It set me on fire, but I didn’t run crying back to the house. Instead, I toughed it out like a man.
Catching a glimpse of the bobwhites, I crawled as slow as a cat after a mouse, keeping the shaker ready for a quick dash of sodium. They didn’t seem too concerned, and they maintained their walking speed. Unfortunately, they were just a little faster than I was, and I fell behind.
A field lark took that moment to intersect my path, so I veered after it. He wasn’t moving as fast as the quail, and I gained on him until we reached the barn. I lost him in the bitterweeds and raised up to see where he might have gone.
The covey I’d been chasing blew up around me, scaring the pee-waddlin’ out of me, and whirred off toward the woods lining the highway. I thought it was over, but when I looked toward the house, Grandpa was pointing at the gate. Sure enough, the bluebirds were back, this time picking gravel with a couple of doves at the pipe gate.
Having learned my lesson, proving that the Phantom Sneak wasn’t working, I dropped to my belly and Creepy Crawled downhill and under the gate. The weeds were thick, and before I knew it, I was only a few yards from the birds.
Remembering Grandpa’s story, I crawled a foot, then paused. The birds went back to dusting.
The birds stopped until they thought I’d passed out in the grass.
I was almost within reach of a bluebird. I waited before ooching forward one more foot. That’s when I came nose to nose with a snake that was apparently looking for supper, but without a salt shaker.
I levitated to the approximate height of the top strand of fence wire, along with the spooked birds.
I didn’t actually touch the ground until I was halfway to the house. When I looked back, the snake was hot on my heels. Then my retreat went into overdrive, requiring only two more steps.
The Old Man and Grandpa were shading their eyes in the direction of the gate when I shot past and through the door, letting the screen slam behind me.
Grandpa grunted. “I wondered where that old blue racer had gone. I haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks.”
I couldn’t form words and simply shrugged at my grandmother’s question. “Where’s the salt shaker?”
She didn’t need to know it was still down there by the gate. I’d have to get it later.
Email Reavis Wortham at
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]