Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

We will be taking a short Thanksgiving break for the next couple of days, but will resume posting on Monday, November 28. Hope you will visit again then, and thanks for reading Photography In Place.

A year ago, I wrote a short memoir called Thanksgiving Morning 1959 about spending Thanksgiving morning with my Dad. This year's Thanksgiving story is called The Last Turkey Hunt and it starts just below the break. Hope you enjoy the story and have a great Thanksgiving.

The Last Turkey Hunt

For my twelfth birthday, my parents gave me a brand new single shot 20 gauge shotgun. In the 1950s times were different and nobody though anything about a twelve year old with a gun. The neighbors didn't call the police or report mom and dad to child services. It was my first step into the adult world, and I knew better than to mess it up. From then until I graduated from high school, I spent nearly all of my spare time in the woods.

Over the years my interest in hunting declined. Other things took my time, and many of the places close to home where I used to hunt gave way to development. Shopping centers and housing tracts replaced the fields and woods where I had roamed freely as a boy.

In the early 1970s, my uncle invited me to travel with him and some friends to Pearisburg, Virginia and take part in a turkey hunt in the mountains of Giles County. I was born in Pearisburg, and loved going there so I jumped at the opportunity. I pictured myself coming home with the Thanksgiving turkey. The trip was arranged, and a date was set for us to ride together to Pearisburg. I borrowed my father's twelve gauge shotgun for the occasion.

One evening, I was discussing the upcoming turkey hunt with Billy, my neighbor. It was a cool evening and we sat on the concrete stoop outside his kitchen door. His dog snoozed in the dirt at our feet. Billy had some experience hunting turkeys and was anxious to share his turkey lore with me.

“Do you know how to use a turkey call?”

I told him no I didn't, but it made little difference because I didn't even own a turkey call.

“Let me show you how to make one. All you need is a pop top.”

He opened a can of beer. In those days the pop top came completely off the can and he began to carefully shape the little slip of aluminum. I was skeptical, but he seemed serious. Soon the pop top was bent and shaped. He eyed it critically, gave the shape one final tweak, cupped it in his hand and raised it to his mouth.

“Here turkey,” he screeched. “Heeeeeeere turkey turkey turkey.”

The dog woke up, looked at Billy mournfully and disappeared around the corner of the house.

“Very funny,” I said. “I'll remember that.”

And it was funny too. Billy had a way with things like that and I had been taken in. We had a good laugh and I went home to pack.

My uncle Wayne, his brother David, a guy named Eddie and I pulled into the Park Drive-In Theater in Pearisburg late on a cloudy fall afternoon. Wayne was married to my dad's younger sister and Wayne's father, Mr. Hurst, owned the theater and lived in the base of the screen. The ground floor was long and narrow, like a house trailer. Above were even narrower upstairs bedrooms where we would spend the night behind the screen. The theater was closed for the season.

Mr. Hurst was a locally acknowledged master of the turkey hunt who had a reputation of always coming home with a turkey. That evening we sat in the narrow living room and talked about the next day's hunt.  It was agreed that I would hunt with Mr. Hurst which was a bit of good luck for me, since he knew the woods and knew the turkeys.

After supper, we all went up to bed. Eddie had never been hunting in his life and was too nervous and excited to sleep. He sat on the edge of his cot and smoked one cigarette after another. When morning came around we all gathered in the kitchen, and Mrs. Hurst put biscuits and a big bowl of gravy on the table. I looked out the kitchen at the deserted drive-in  but except for a single bulb over the door to the snack bar and projection booth, it was pitch dark. After we ate Mrs. Hurst saw us off at the door under the theater marquee and went back into the warm house.

 This photo of Mr. Hurst and my cousin in front of the drive-in was taken in about 1962. The front door to the living quarters is visible under the marquee.

We drove into the mountains on a narrow dirt road and stopped just as it was getting light enough to make out the leaves on the trees. We parked the truck, shouldered our guns and set off into the cold morning.

I walked along in silence with Mr. Hurst for a while and then he stopped at the end of an old logging road.

“Follow this trail and work your way around that rise, and I will go down this holler. Meet me back here in a couple of hours.” 

The morning was overcast and cold, but it felt good to be out in the woods, and the sounds and smells once so familiar again settled over me. I walked for about a half mile up the overgrown road, and then turned into the woods and climbed a ridge, where I could just see the sun as it started to rise over the rim of the mountains. Wild turkeys are alert and elusive, and I decided to find a spot, keep still and wait for any turkeys that might come my way. I settled down between the trunks of two fallen trees and waited.

I heard a rustling just over the rise to my right, and though I could not see anything, the sound was moving toward me. I eased the safety off and gripped the shotgun, ready to bring the bead on a wild turkey. Instead,  a large buck appeared. I froze. He stopped and smelled the air. He looked in my direction for a long time without moving, and then he put his head down and stepped toward me. I didn't move a muscle. The deer was curious, and came nearer. He could not figure me out and he moved nearer still, until is nose was only a couple of feet from my face. I could have hit him over the head with the barrel of the shotgun. I looked into his brown eyes; the steam from his breath dissapated around me.

He shifted his feet nervously, raised his head and sniffed the air, and then turned and moved away. He stopped once or twice to look back at me, and then he was out of sight. I heard him moving through the trees, then he was gone, and the woods were silent once again. Cramped and cold, I stood up, shouldered my shotgun and started back towards the meeting place.

I saw no other game that day, except for a glimpse of a bobcat, and empty handed, I met Mr Hurst, who was carrying a big gobbler. I wondered if I would be the only member of the party without a turkey, but when we all gathered back at the van, Mr. Hurst had the only turkey of the day.

But everyone was elated with the day in the mountains and the hunt, and we laughed and bounced back down the mountain in the gathering dusk. Back at the theater, I joined the others under the light outside the snack bar to help pluck and clean Mr. Hurst's turkey.  Mr Hurst and Wayne were bent over the gobbler.

“Hey, have you ever seen a turkey call made out of a pop top?”

I held up a pop top and began carefully bending it to shape. Mr Hurst stopped plucking turkey feathers and looked up at me. I made a final adjustment to the tab, cupped it in my hands and brought it to my mouth.

“Here turkey." I screeched. "Heeeeere turkey turkey turkey.”

Nobody but Eddie laughed. Mr. Hurst looked up at me, an indulgent smile on his face and then resumed plucking feathers, which stirred around him in the cold air, and blew across the theater between the speaker posts into the darkness. 

This all took place nearly 40 years ago, but I still remember sitting in the cold, face to face with a buck, my shotgun resting on my lap. I did not know that morning that I would never go hunting again, but I did know that I had no desire to kill that deer. The antlers, the brown eyes, the steam from his breath hang in my memory as vividly as a trophy on the wall.

A few years later, Mr. Hurst died and the theater was sold. I never knew him very well, but I miss him when I think about those times. I think about Mr. Hurst's last turkey hunt, and picture him coming down the mountain one last time with a big gobbler over his shoulder. Mr. Hurst always brought home a turkey.


  1. Great piece of storytelling. Is the drive-in still around? That would be a photo project worthy of a roll or two. Have a Happy Thanksgiving Edd.

  2. Robert, unfortunately the theater was torn down a number of years ago. Nothing there now but an empty field.

  3. Wow! Eddie, I never knew you went turkey huntin with Dad and Granddaddy. Great story. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  4. Only went that one time, but it made an impression on me, I guess because I still remember that day quite vividly.

  5. Great story. Your storytelling ability is rivaled only by your photography expertise (and possibly plumbing and printing skills). Happy Thanksgiving, Edd.

  6. Thanks, David, and a happy Thanksgiving to you too.

  7. Wow. The coolest thing I've read in a long time. Linden Hurst was my grandaddy. Wayne was my uncle. They are very near and dear to my heart. I am so pleased that someone else thinks so much of them as well. My dad was David,or Butch, Uncle Waynes youngest brother. He was a hunter as well. Thank you for sharing your story and you view of your hunting experience. Thank you to Timmy for making sure I got to read this. I love you. Jeanette Hurst Sherman, granddaughter to Linden Herbert Hurst

  8. Jeanette, thanks. I spent many happy hours with your dad and Uncle Wayne, particularly during the time we all lived in Manassas. I am glad that you liked the story about them. Have a nice Thanksgiving.

  9. What a great story! Linden's oldest son, Blake, was my father, and I still miss him every single day. As I was reading this I felt like I was a kid again, back at the theatre with Grandmother and Grandaddy. We had such happy times there. I can't wait to share this story with the rest of my family! Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Katrina--nice to hear from you. I rode with Blake and Wayne to distribute theater posters one time. COMING ATTRACTIONS. Your dad drove really fast.

  11. Eddie,
    What a wonderful story. Brought tears to these old eyes. It was crazy to see that picture of me and Grandaddy in front of the theater. I have so MANY happy memories of that place and the people who made it so special. In sharing your memory, you brought back many others for me and my family. Hope you and your family are having a wonderful Thanksgiving full of many blessings.


    Gerald Linden (Lynn) Hurst

  12. Thanks, Lynn--and the best to you and your family on this Thanksgiving.

  13. Krista Mccormick BlankenshipNovember 29, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    What a great story! David was my uncle but I consider the rest of the Hurst my family too. This brings back many memories of time spent at the theater.

  14. Thanks Krista--I am glad that the story stirred pleasant memories for you as it did for me.


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