“Remember that old story Daddy used to tell about taking the boys snipe hunting?”
Family stories are the glue that sometimes carries us through the most difficult of times. We all have them – your grandparents, uncles and aunts, your cousins and siblings— all know and contribute to them. Funny or sad, at holidays or get-together events, the stories are the first to arrive with guests.
Through the years, when you were small, you were probably nearby when your mother and her sister were preparing a meal. As you dressed your doll or pushed your truck, you learned about that funny time when grandma spilled the beans, literally, and then had to wash each bean over again – what a mess! The next time you hear the beginning of that same story you might be a few years older as other family members prepare a meal for a similar event and curiosity got the better of you.
You ask, “Was that the time grandma spilled the beans, literally?”
The room lights up with laughter – everyone remembers that story. As each person retells the story they add details others missed. When they retell the story it becomes their story. The poorest of families are rich with treasured, memory-provoking stories.
Our family has many such stories like the one alluded to earlier about my father taking his Boy Scout troop snipe hunting in Linville Gorge in North Carolina. I can close my eyes and hear my father weaving his tale and chuckling at exactly same point in the story, and listeners bursting with laughter.
Linville Gorge is a popular hiking and camping location drawing hikers from around the globe. The steep hills and rugged terrain is a challenge for even the most experienced hikers. My father began exploring the area from the time he was, as he used to say, ‘knee high to a grasshopper.’ Camping in the gorge was a favorite of the scout troop and the older boys enjoyed having novices along because there would be an initiation of sorts – the snipe hunt.
Daddy arrived at the mouth of the gorge with a truckload of scouts from about 10 to 18 years of age. Everyone unloaded and carried their sleeping bags, backpacks and most of the food. Daddy provided much of the equipment and tents. Once the truck was unloaded it was locked and the boys lined up. The older boys and Daddy gave safety instructions to the younger scouts. Daddy was proud that he ‘never lost a boy yet.’
Off they went down the long, twisting trail, one after the other single file. Along the way, the history was told and items were pointed out: flora, fauna, wildlife and signs to look for like nests and animal dens. Even though the gorge had thousands of visitors, it looks like it before settlers arrived; it was a sight to behold.
Arriving at the campsite, each scout busied themselves putting up tents, gathering wood and tying up food in case a bear showed up. There was talk of the night’s snipe hunt and how important it was. The new kids would have questions.
“What is a snipe?”
“What will I do while we hunt for the snipe?”
“Do we shoot it?”
“How will we know the snipe if we don’t know what it looks like?”
“How big is the snipe?”
“Does a snipe bite?”
“Do we eat the snipe?”
The experienced scouts appeared to look forward to the hunt with excitement and replied to every question with not enough information.
“Snipes are fast.”
“I was lucky, no snipe ever bit me.”
“You will know with the snipe – when the time comes”
“It’ll be too dark to see the snipe, you listen for it.”
“The snipe might not bite you this time.”
Suspense builds all afternoon and into the night. Preparations for the snipe hunt are underway and Daddy gives instructions to each scout as to their role.
“This is the plan: Buddy will climb the mountain, a hundred yards or so, to flush out and chase the snipe down the mountain. The rest of you boys – John, Ray, Joe, Billy, Harold, Keith and Steve – will fan out and face the mountain, you will be the backup. You new boys, Tommy and James, will need to move closer in order to be the frontline to catch the snipe as it comes tearing off down the mountain. This is an important job; you want to do your best to grab the snipe and hold on. As soon as you catch the snipe, the backup boys will rush to your aid to get the snipe under control. Does everyone know what to do now?”
The scouts fan out and wait to listen for Buddy’s yell to let them know he has flushed out a snipe. It is so dark that each boy can hardly see the ones next to them – and they are nervous. Tommy and James are about eight feet apart with hearts pounding and unsure what will happen.
Suddenly, Buddy let out a yell, “Snipe! We got a runner!”
All the scouts heard the snipe bounding down the side of the mountain, breaking limbs and bumping into trees. Tommy and James rocked from one foot to the other to steel themselves and catch the snipe. They did not want to disappoint my dad.
Boom! Crack! The snipe was close, running fast. It was getting louder so it wouldn’t be long now! The boys scrambled and Tommy and James with arms outstretched did not know where the sound was coming from.
Scouts shouted to Tommy and James, “The snipe is here; don’t let it get away!”
As quick as it had started, the hunt was over. Tommy and James looked at each other for a few seconds and then started laughing, realizing they were at the center of a prank. Buddy had picked up a large round rock and rolled the ‘snipe’ down the mountain. Tommy and James were spent and dropped to the ground, relieved that there was no snipe and no danger.
The other scouts gathered around Tommy and James lying on the ground looking up at the stars twinkling above Linville Gorge. One by one, the veteran scouts welcomed the newcomers to the group. They pulled out the marshmallows and trimmed a stick for roasting while others readied the fire. There would be stories around the fire that night of other campouts and snipe hunts. Dad listened to the boys’ stories, smiled, and let nature take its course. He was not disappointed.
Daddy used storytelling to bring those boys together. He knew the history of those boys was being written with each campfire and that those boys could count on each other to be there if needed. Parents can use their family stories to meld and strengthen ties between each member: parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.
How can you build memories? You already are. What you do every single day is building a memory – tomorrow’s story that will be told to others. How will your children remember your stories if you don’t tell them?
*Snipes are real; they are a type of bird distributed almost around the world. They are rather small with long slender beaks and are camouflaged with feathers that blend well with their environment.
*The names were changed to prevent any lingering embarrassment.