Tomcats and Tomtits

When I was about eight or nine, my father gave me a BB gun. It was a Red Ryder and it immediately turned me into a Western hero and big game hunter. He warned me when the gift was presented that I was not to shoot anyone else and not to shoot in the direction of anyone. "It will put out a person's eye", he said. He also said not to shoot their legs or their backside because it was powerful enough to go through the clothes and stick in their flesh thereby causing a trip to the doctor to remove the BB. So, early on, I knew that this Red Ryder BB gun was dangerous as well as fun. I was deadly accurate with it. True marksman.

Well, my Grandmother and Granddaddy Golden lived just outside of Tifton in what was then "country." They lived a mile up Rainwater Road from Moore Highway. I remember taking my BB gun and riding my bicycle out to their house when Rainwater Road was a dirt road. It was sandy and, in some places, I had to get off my bike and push. It was sort of dark and scary in certain places along the road but I had my trusty Red Ryder with me loaded to the gills with BBs. No fear.

I loved to go to my Grandmother's house. She was very special to me. I remember that she and Granddaddy Golden had a number of cats around the house. Actually they bred regularly under the house and occasionally presented them with new litters of kittens. Cute little things but they grow up pretty fast. It was a job going out the back door at times. Every time one would open the screen door, there would be about a dozen cats crowding up to see if you were going to give them some dinner scraps. Grandmother didn't buy cat food. They ate what we ate. But, there was one thing I could do to help feed the hoard of cats. Right next to my grandparent's home was a pecan orchard with about forty trees in it and each fall it would be invaded by little wild canaries we called Tomtits. Grandmother would tell me to go and kill a bunch of Tomtits for the cats so I would take off on a safari with my Red Ryder BB gun with the order to bring the birds to the cats.

Now, when I would go Tomtit hunting, I would spend a couple of hours stalking them in those pecan trees and in the big Magnolia trees which were up near the entrance of the pecan grove. It was a real challenge to shoot the birds in those Magnolia trees. My Red Ryder was reliable but the BBs only moved at about 400 feet per second and it had a trajectory akin to a rainbow. It took skill to shoot it accurately. After about two hours I would return to the house with twenty or thirty of those Tomtits. The cats learned that when I went into the Pecan orchard with my BB gun, I would return with something to eat that was not table scraps. They would see me coming with a load of birds and they would run to the fence that separated the yard from the orchard crying loudly for a Tomtit treat. I would not disappoint them and soon they had consumed all of the "game" from my Red Ryder safari.

That BB gun almost got me in trouble with Grandmother one day. She had told me, "now, you can shoot any birds you want to around here but don't shoot my Mockingbirds and my Red Birds!" "The Red Birds are too pretty to shoot and I like to hear the Mockingbirds sing." So I was ordered to spare those two kinds of birds. But she told me I could shoot "those old French Mockingbirds".....they are mean! One day I was out in Grandmother's front yard. I looked and a Mockingbird was sitting on the telephone line about one hundred feet away. I knew it was "off limits" but the devilment embodied in all boys said...."don't aim at it, just flip your Red Ryder up and shoot quickly from the waist." Well, of course, I did it and I hit that Mockingbird right in the head. It wouldn't have happened again like that in a million tries but it did happen then. That bird fell stone dead immediately. Guilt flooded all over me! I looked around to see if anyone had seen the dastardly deed. I especially checked to see if Grandmother had seen it happen and to see where she was. Fortunately, for me, she had not seen the event and was in the back of the house cooking supper. So, what did I do? The bird had fallen in the ditch so I casually walked in that direction and picked it up. Then I walked up the road about a hundred yards and disposed of the Mockingbird in a large briar thicket. Whew! That was close! I felt terrible about killing that mockingbird. He sang so beautifully in the back yard each day. In my guilt I was thinking that Grandmother was going to miss his singing, deduct that he was dead and corner me about where he was. Guilt does strange things to the mind.

But the Tomtits. Now that was a different thing. I went on many safaris into that Pecan orchard. I must have shot my Red Ryder a million times up into those pecan trees. I remember that the ground was always sowed in clover. It was thick as could be. Sometimes one of my tomcat tidbits would fall to the ground and I could not find it in the clover. I was always worried about a rattlesnake being hidden in that clover but my fear never became a reality thank the good Lord! But, those were good days in an innocent time. My mind goes back to my Grandmother and Granddaddy Golden and the many times I spent the night with them. I always look forward to getting up early in the morning and, with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun going into the world of the pecan orchard searching for game so our Tomcats could dine on some Tomtits.

William F. Harrell

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