Mom, the sharpshooter in the family

I awoke before daybreak, and for the first time in a very long time, I feel like the me I used to be. If you’ve never experienced a head injury of any type, you will have no idea what an enormous gift this really proves to be.

Ever since my head crashed to the icy sidewalk back in February, I have felt like a very different version of me, kind of watching myself going through the motions. I have had other brief moments of clarity, and I’ve come to realize it fades away when head pain comes rushing in along with a crushing fatigue and a wobbly-headed feeling which carries nausea just for the fun of it.

But for now…wow. I could tell old stories and play great jokes and write up a storm, just like the good old days.

So, while the world is right, I’m going to enjoy telling one really good story.

Farm dogs

Our solid old farm dog was a great English Shepherd stock dog. Bill brought a rabbit to my dad a couple of times, and dad sternly told him to leave rabbits alone. He praised him to high heaven when he killed a groundhog. Bill never killed another rabbit, but was always happy to show off his groundhog skill.

Groundhogs

Now it just so happened in one particular year, we’d grown a really big crop of enormous-sized groundhogs, almost like we had added steroid drugs to their drinking water by accident. Dad, in fact, pointed out to my mom where he was going to keep a .22 just in case if any of us saw a big groundhog that needed his attention. He taught us gun safety and worked at teaching my older sisters how to shoot at cans. But, if this happened, he stressed to us, we were to get one of our parents.

War breaks out

It was springtime and Dad was busy in the fields between milkings. One day we heard a terrible war break out, our dog Bill making sounds we’d never heard from him before. He had a monstrous-sized groundhog, or thought he did, when the groundhog started fighting back. That whistle pig was the size of a full-grown fox and just as cunning. This prompted our mom to grab the .22, and of course we nosy kids just had to see what in the heck she was going to do about it.

By the time we pulled up close to the hay field turned circus show extravaganza, Bill and that groundhog were going around and around in circles. Bill wasn’t backing off, and by the looks of it, neither was the massive woodchuck, trying to get back to its hole.

Spring planting

I kept waiting for Dad to notice all of this, as he stayed busy on the tractor nearby. If music had been set to this scene, it would have been heightened up to a big old scary crescendo. Bill was tiring out, it seemed, and that mean groundhog was not backing down one bit. The chase was now more like a rodeo wrestling match and it was frightening to take in, complete with yips of pain and aggression.

Mom and the gun

It registered that my mom had that gun. There was no time to get the gun to my dad. I saw her lift that shotgun and I thought oh holy cow and hopping groundhogs, PLEASE let this turn out all right. Just at that moment, my dad made a turn in the field and spotted my mom lift that gun to her shoulder. He came to a screeching halt, and I bet a million dollars he said a mighty big prayer.

Bill dog and that crazed hog were a blur, fighting hard. I covered my eyes and said, “Lord have mercy!” like I’d heard the old ladies at church do. Dad, shocked in to silence, was frozen atop his tractor.

She got him! BOOOOOOM! The world stopped on its axis. I swear not a breath of air nor a blade of grass stirred anywhere. My mother put the single-shot gun down and said, “I got him.” Oh, no,

I thought. We have a dead dog. I covered my teary eyes and didn’t know how we would ever farm without our good old Bill dog.

Dad began whoopin and hollerin. Bill, beaten up and bloodied from the shotgun splatter, stuck his head up to accept the applause. Bill took his bow, so incredibly proud of himself.

The applause — don’t tell Bill — was actually for my mother. She killed that fighting groundhog with one very well-placed single shot.

Mom the hero

Mom was the hero that day. If dad hadn’t been so worn out from the sheer adrenaline of it all, he might have hosted a ticker-tape parade through downtown Jeromesville, the whole world invited.

This was a story that my dad told with ambivalence, as though in the re-telling he worried it might not end so well this time. He said everything was a blur as he recalled his wife with a gun she’d never shot. I betcha he even might have hollered “Lord have mercy!” but he never admitted to any such dramatic outcry. My mom’s biggest memory of the day involves her only son, about age 3, leaning out the vehicle window as she took charge of the situation. Distracted by her concern for him it’s a wonder she was able to focus at all.

Bigger and bigger

And just like a good old fish story, that groundhog got bigger and meaner, but mercy, it was just as dead. It took one shot, and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen my mother shoot.
She picked a fine time to shine, that mother of mine.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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