RALPH BARTHOLDT: From Honer’s dad to you: A good wish for a new year

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Most of my pal Honerís meals started with onions frying in a pan.

If it was the bass we caught, or the panfish, there was flour and a hot skillet and then the onions from a bin, sliced thick with a kitchen knife that was the biggest thing in the skinniest drawer under the counter with the linoleum print. The onion pieces were dropped into a skillet the size of a hubcap ó big enough to scramble a meal for the familyís four growing boys, along with mom and dad. Frying grease was kept in a bowl by the stove.

Honerís mom was usually at work at the state Health and Welfare office, and his dad ó a Korean war veteran who spent a lot of time in the garage ó was maybe working at the local boat building yard, or sitting at the corner tavern if the money held, or maybe, and quite possibly, he was off in the hills dragging deer from the farm fields marked with no hunting signs meant for people from the city who came out once each year to mistake horses and cows for big game animals.

The signs were not meant for neighbors looking to put food on the table, Honerís dad insisted.

The rules he recognized were mostly unwritten. His difficulty was with the ones printed in the game department handbook published each calendar year with the punctuality of a court clerk.

One of the rules that kept the binoculars on the game wardenís dash board was hunting spring ducks, because it was not legal. To Honerís dad, legal tender was a piece of finely cooked meat that turned gray at the edges when the temperature was right. It may have been perilously rare for others. But he had a family to feed and the skills ó and skillet ó to prove it.

Honer, the oldest boy (and my best pal) sometimes sat in the car as the old man slipped through a barbed wire fence in March and sloshed across a flooded field to the cattail edge of a pond he knew before his Army days. The crack of the 12 gauge spitting lead sometimes meant that greenheads, returned from the winter bayous to feed in that snow-melted, northern grain country, would flop in the back seat of the Impala as if ready-made for the pot.

And Honerís dad would say, ďSlide over,Ē as he slipped his wet coun-tenance onto the bench seat behind the wheel of the Impala, plugged a smoke into his perpetual grin, with still-wet fingers, and push the lighter in.

With a wet boot pressed against the gas pedal, the tawny-colored, four-door spit gravel to the next slough or flooded ag field out there in that logger-slash farm country where the old man was raised in a time when pictures, we believed, were black and white.

The world, however, was becoming more colorful and less amenable to subsistence hunting as consumers and marketing moguls hand-in-hand made a high dollar sport of cashing in on the cast and cache addictions of outdoor enthusiasts.

My pals and I remember Honerís dad mostly with an unfiltered Pall Mall dangling from a lip as he loosed the hide of a whitetail that hung from the rafters in the garage where a humming refrigerator held the Hamms ó or later, after he quit, the soda pop.

He embued us, the neighbor kids ó and it was a small town so we were all neighbors ó with lore that ranged from the best price of shot shells, to keeping maggots warm under a lip while fishing on the lake in winter.

Each year around this time, Honerís dad resolved to do better and eventually he did.

Itís his early days my pals and I remember most, and the quiet New Yearís resolutions Honerís old man huffed into a cold fist while ice fishing, or cleaning fish and game in his garage, and sipping from a can.

Do better, he said. Resolve to do better. And we did.

For the most part.

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