Mother’s Day – Every Day and Every Way

As women hunters and fishers continue to be the fastest growing segment of our outdoor sports, I know we are seeing a slow shift. Still, the majority of the credit we give for our love of wild things and wild places generally goes to our dads. I readily credit Ray Fontes (my dad) and Bob Huckabay (my father – the “Old Man”) for being my heroes and outdoor mentors until their deaths (and beyond). In truth, my life-long outdoor story circles around my mother.

She loved camping and being outdoors. She never hunted, although I know she fired off a round or two. I think she caught one fish in her life. Yet, she always spoke of fish and game as a gift – as some sort of blessing for our family’s sustenance. Among hundreds of such moments, she joyfully served the fish Cousin Ron and I caught when we were young boys, all the while commenting on the sweetness and healthfulness of those fresh trout.

My mother was a woman of grace and gratitude. When I was eleven, the Old Man and I were building a small house on a burned‑out basement that he and mom had scratched together money to buy in the early 1950s in East Wenatchee, Washington. We lived in the capped-over basement. They were broke, feeding three young sons from hundred-pound bags of potatoes and dried beans from the Columbia Basin. He and I were racing winter, roofing, as a rooster called from the neighboring orchard. Pheasant season was open, but he was roofing. He’d tack a shingle, the bird would cackle, and he’d hang his head. Finally, he slid over to the ladder and climbed down off the roof. I heard the door open, then close. I heard the closing of the bolt on that old J.C. Higgins 12 gauge, the rush of wings, the cackle, and one shot. My mother walked out into the back yard. She took the shotgun and the bird, and smiled. “Thank you, Bob,” she said. “This will be our best supper in weeks.”

Over the years, I got a similar response every time I brought home mallards, geese, pheasants, grouse, quail, doves or fish or big game. They were cleaned, of course, when I offered them.

As I grew, she made sure I knew how to properly clean and pick or skin any critter I might pursue. It was respectful, she would say; if we didn’t respect the birds, fish and animals which gave themselves, we would not be well sustained by them. Early on in that training, she smiled and added, “And, if you respect me, you will clean your fish and game before you offer it.”

As we learned to age, cut, process and wrap our own game meat, she was always in the kitchen.  All of us, down to the smallest of us, would be up to our elbows in one job or another. Whether it was making sure the carcass was totally clean, cutting or trimming steaks, roasts or stew, turning the grinder or wrapping for the freezer, she acknowledged the work, the worker, and the food we prepared. There was always a reminder on her lips about how good it was that we could be so properly fed by the wildlife that was part of our lives, and always a prayer of thanks for the gift of the deer or elk or antelope. Nothing was wasted.

The year we moved into that basement, the Old Man and three neighbors went bear hunting out of Leavenworth, Washington, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. That old berry-fattened bear was as fine as anything we’d ever eaten, and we treasured our quarter of it. Mom heard that neighbor Barney had convinced the other men that bear meat wasn’t fit to eat – the Huckabays were poor white trash that would eat about anything. After my mother talked to their wives, the rest of the bear was dug up, cleaned and eaten.

My Tacoma Grandma Minshall fawned over any fresh food that Grandpa or any of the rest of us provided from the sea or field. “Such great providers,” she would invariably say.

Throughout our kid lives, Cousin Judy and I would raid my Aunt Evy’s flower garden up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth, for worms to go catch trout. When we brought our willow stick stringers of fresh cleaned trout back to the house, she would snatch them away and tell us how valuable such food was to our family and how generous God was with us.

Aunt Teen, Cousin Ron’s mother, didn’t care for fish and game, but she prepared it with respect and love. She always made a point of telling us she was proud of our ability to keep the Yakima branch of the family nourished with fish from the Naches or birds from the Lower Valley.

Seems like our fathers – our dads – take the lead in helping us learn our lessons and develop our outdoor skills. We easily give them the credit they have earned. Yet, in literally countless ways, our mothers make all those lessons possible.

In one of my earliest little kid memories, I was telling my mom how I needed to be outside by the trees and the quail and the rabbits and the sun. Without a word, she smiled, stood up, walked to the door and held it open.

Who REALLY shapes the outdoor people we become? How important is Mothers’ Day to you?

Happy Mother’s Weekend, moms! Thank you.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized