Staff Photo: Nate McCullough
Members of the PBR Hunting Club pose together Saturday in Rutledge.
I've always been a big guy, so one thing I could count on every year was our high school football coach asking me this question: "McCullough, we could really use another lineman. How about trying out this year?"
The rest of the exchange would go like this:
Me: "You still playing football in the fall?"
Me: "Then nope."
The reason for that brushoff was simple. Deer hunting season was always in the fall. My dad and I spent every weekend of the fall at the deer camp.
We were members of the PBR Hunting Club. PBR stood for Pabst Blue Ribbon, the brand of beer the members drank, 30 years before it became trendy for college kids. Some of the founding members knew each other through the American Legion in Avondale or through work, and some had known each other since high school. They had been hunting together since the '60s.
I was a part of the second generation of the PBR club, the sons born to the older members. We started making trips to the club's camp in Farmington as soon as we were old enough to hunt. From the age of 12, nearly every weekend from the August workday to the end of the season on Jan. 1, if you wanted to find me you had to look in Farmington.
I did a lot of growing up at the deer camp. I learned a lot of things good Southern boys ought to know, like how to shoot a gun and a bow and arrow, how to track a deer, drive in deep mud or what to put on a steak to make it tastier than anything you'll ever find in any overpriced steakhouse.
I learned a lot of "man stuff" there, too, like how to split firewood, prime a wellhouse pump and drive a Bobcat. And I never draw to an inside straight. All lessons I learned at the hunting camp.
But the greatest lesson I learned was how to be a friend. In the PBR Club, we were a lot of things hunters, outdoorsmen, gamblers, eaters and drinkers. But first and foremost we were friends. We helped each other with advice, money, hard work and camaraderie whatever a member needed. And you were always greeted and bid farewell with a firm handshake and words of gratitude for the time together.
The men were all like fathers or brothers to me. Most have known me since the day I was born. When you're in a hunting club like that, killing a deer is a mere afterthought.
But like all good things, it ended. By the time I hit 30, the PBR Club had mostly split up. We lost the land, some lost interest, moved away you know how it goes.
I never did play a down of football, and over the years I've occasionally wondered if I would've been any good. Then this past weekend, the old club got together for a reunion.
Henry Lightfoot had us all over to his little cabin in Rutledge for a low-country boil. Nearly everybody was there. (A few have gone on to the Happy Hunting Ground.) Everyone's hair is at some stage of turning gray, turning white or turning loose. The kids have kids. The founders have grandkids. The baby of the group (me) is 39 years old. My adoptive grandpa, J.D. Harris, is 82.
But whatever time has done to our bodies it could never do to our friendship. As soon as I got there it was like I never left.
The food was great and the reminiscing greater. (Some of the old stories never stop being funny, no matter how many times they're told.) Eventually we parted again, vowing to have reunions more often.
My daddy has always told me something his daddy always told him: If a man can count his true friends on the fingers of one hand, then he is truly lucky.
Just one hand? Then I must be the luckiest man in the world.
The hell with football.
E-mail Nate McCullough at email@example.com. His column appears on Fridays.