History 101

Ok, this is going to be long– many posts, not necessarily consecutive. Tell me to stop this “series” if it is boring.

My old editor at Gray’s, Reed Austin, is stitched deeply into the sporting tradition of our times — his grandfather AND his commitment to making good prose (his grandfather Francis Reed “Frannie” Austin and his then landlord, Parker Perry, appear in van Campen Hielner’s Duck Shooting in America, but the fact that I am the newest neuvo that ever existed did not matter to him, or later to his late wife, Gordon– I was their pal and that was that. Actually, I last saw Reed at Betsy’s funeral in 1986 when he got out of his hospital bed, split the leg on his Brooks Brothers suit and attended on crutches, visibly wincing with pain. But since I published in Angler we have been in touch and I am plotting to get him out to New Mexico. Here’s some Reed stuff, the kind of thing of which he said to Bill, the publisher of Anglers, publish anything he writes and don’t believe a thing about anything he said we did in the Seventies.

He touched this off with a little remark he made in my comments:

“The truth is, on the many adventures that Steve and I embarked, I don’t recall we actually ever shot or caught anything, and we almost died several times. But that, as they say, is another story(ies), and best told by Steve.”

I replied: Truth, generally— the infamous time we cast onto dry land for about an hour on Duxbury marsh, until dawn’s light revealed what we were doing (I wonder what your grandfather & your landlord, both of whom shot there in van Campen Heilner’s duck book, would have thought of the incident); the time we got lost in the fog off your summer house at Mishaum * (spelling?); the tme we got “turned around”, to use the Yankee expression– I wont say lost— in the cold woods above Quabbin, remarkably devoid of landmarks, deer hunting with a hangover…

I can remember ONE productive hunt, although it must have been bittersweet to you— the farewell hunt at your famiily place on Martha’s Vineyard, after your family had decided to sell it. Wasn’t there a date in the 1880’s cut by the diamond of some female predecessor in one of the windows? I don’t remember much of the company other than ubiquitous obnoxious Ben A. , shooting well as always damn him, that time with a 32” Sauer I envied so much I am unable to remember which gun I shot with myself (unusual). I do remember that my shooting partner one day was amazed all over at your naturalists approach, even that you cooked your ducks. “He loves ALL this stuff?” Well, so did I, even if I was shy to admit it— I would have loved to hunt like that forever. My two most vivid memories are you, slogging through two feet of water covered with thin ice, dragging a boat beheind you… and breaking occasional ice with your Model 21 (It was before Dave Costa refinished it); and me, flattening myself out to crawl across thin ice to get- a female wigeon I think, nothing big, but I was determined to do EVERYTHING.

My entire bag for that somewhat bluebird weather weekend was the wigeon and a Bufflehead. You evened it out with a couple if Goldeneyes and a godawful seaduck of some kind. My cookery mission— even then I had those-was to cook them so perfectly that the Allston Hillbillies— my fellow bouncers and bartenders at the Inn Square- I almost wrote “Golden Spur” would see how splendid duck (& by association all game) cookery could be (I had a dubious rep as “The guy with GUNS”). I remembered a Monty Montgomery tip for the most rank sea ducks, “coot stew” (did you know I finally met him out here and continued to see him until he died last year?)–and decided to try it- you cube the meat small, soak it overnight in buttermilk, and MAKE CLAM CHOWDER WITH IT.

Amazingly it all worked. Old hippies ate seconds of coot stew.The Goldeneyes went into a Sam Fadala stew, and two vegetarian ducks, the wigeon and another , got the Russell Chatham run-through a hot oven. I gained a somewhat precarious status among old hippie gourmands..

To Be Continued

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