The Rabbit Hunt
By Bill Shepard
November is here and turkey is on the mind of a lot of folk. I got to wondering when I turned the calendar to November as to how the turkey came to be synonymous with Thanksgiving. The best answer I could find was that the Indians introduced the turkey to the Pilgrims. I suppose that is about as good an answer to my wondering as any. Of course when I was a boy turkeys were not as easy to get as they are today. Folk didn’t hunt for them in the wild and they didn’t sell them at the Company Store where mama bought our groceries, so that meant we didn’t have turkey at our house for Thanksgiving dinner. We had rabbit instead!
Rabbit season opened on Thanksgiving Day when I was a boy. It has been a lot of years since I knew of anyone going on a Rabbit Hunt! My older brother was the “hunter” in our family and just as sure as Thanksgiving carne around we would have rabbit for dinner.
The only turkey I had when I was a boy was the one I colored at school and brought home to show to mama. I would be so proud of the pretty colors of the feathers. Anyway we always had a big dinner at Thanksgiving time even if we never had a turkey. Mama usually sacrificed one of her big fat hens and we had a feast. Late in the afternoon my brother would return from the rabbit hunt and we would have fried rabbit and hot grits for supper. It would be a meal worth talking about and my brother would do that. He liked to tell how his dogs “jumped” the rabbit and chased it across the cotton field and how he waited for the cotton-tail to come into view and how he brought him down with the first shot! Listening to my brother tell the story was about as good as the rabbit and he would tell it over and over, especially if he had shot more than one rabbit and he usually did!
My uncle lived on a big farm near Timmonsville and the rabbit hunt would usually take place on his farm every Thanksgiving Day. My brother would invite several of his friends to take part in the hunt and they would talk about it over and over before it ever happened, and just as long after it happened.
There was a story I heard often during those days and it always brought laughter when it was told. This all happened a way back in the time of the Great Depression and Mr. Hoover was the President of the United States. Everybody knows that was a hard time in our country. Someone would ask the question, who was the greatest President that ever lived? Then the fellow doing the asking would answer, “Mr. Hoover!” The reason he was such a great President was that he made a rabbit taste just as good in August as it did in November! I’ve remembered that tale and told it a lot of times and now I have told it again.
There is another tale I like to tell at this time each year that happened on the square in Darlington when I was a boy. It’s about the turkey that got away. It happened a long time ago. Some of the town merchants decided to give away some live turkeys and spread the word around that it would happen on the day before Thanksgiving. Of course there was a large crowd gathered on the courthouse lawn for the occasion. After all, it wasn’t every day that a person had a chance to get a free turkey! At the time of which I write, the courthouse had a large dome on its top where folk could walk on. On the day of the event the merchants took their live turkeys to the top of the courthouse and after making some announcement, turned the large birds loose and let them fly downwards, over the heads of those gathered on the courthouse lawn. The big birds would start flopping its wings as it headed downwards. Yes! I was there! I got a huge one by the tail as it flew overhead but the bird kept going. Someone else got the turkey and I got a handful of feathers!
The late Mr. Thomas, Publisher of this newspaper at the time, in writing about the event titled his article — All he got was tail feathers! I reckon that was about a close as we ever came to having a turkey for Thanksgiving!
Turkeys are plentiful nowadays, and easier to get than when was a boy. As for rabbits, it has been a long, long time since I had fried rabbit and grits for supper!
Next time, Bill Shepard
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week. His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.