At Christmas I received a text from Hawaii containing photos from a 1979 trappers’ camp in the Homochitto Forest.
That combined two halves of the world and two different eras.
In early 1979, my old buddy Dan Banks and I spent several days camping and fur trapping in the Homochitto National Forest. This past Christmas, Dan was going through some old photos when he ran across a few shots of our trip and texted them to me.
Texting photos halfway around the world is extremely high-tech. Trapping wild animals in the forest is quite the opposite. Funny how it all came together.
I grew up reading about fur trappers like Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, so when I found out in the 1970s that people were still trapping, I had to learn.
I subscribed to Fur-Fish-Game magazine, read a book on the topic, and queried local trappers, including the late Reece Nunnery (raccoons), the late Smith Brady (beavers), Walton Speed and Jerry Toler (fox and bobcat).
And I learned through trial and error — mostly error.
When Dan came to visit, I suggested we camp out in the national forest, trap coons and pretty much live off the land.
My wife Angelyn dropped us off, and we made a base camp by a creek with a tarpaulin pitched as a lean-to.
Fillet of armadillo
For the next few days, we set and ran coon traps along the creek, did a little squirrel hunting and rambled the forest.
We ate what we caught or killed, mainly barbecued coon seasoned with a bottle of Pick a Pepper sauce.
One day we walked up on an armadillo. At the time my philosophy was “meat’s meat” — I’d eat just about anything — so I ran it down and dispatched it with my machete.
I toted it back to camp and quickly found out armadillos don’t skin as easily as furbearers. I gave up on my skinning knife and used my machete to carve out the backstrap.
Cooked over the fire, it was actually pretty good, all things considered — white meat, lightly charred by the fire, sprinkled with salt.
Once was enough, however.
After a few days of wilderness living, Angelyn and our then-8-year-old son Andy came to pick us up. Andy was enthralled by the whole situation.
He went on to become an expert outdoorsman, and taught his son Andrew, 17, to be the same.
This past Christmas Eve morning, in fact, they went duck hunting in West Tennessee and brought home a batch (photo at right).
Call from newspaper
The day Dan and I returned from our campout, I got a call from Patsy Brumfield, who was then the managing editor of the Enterprise-Journal.
The paper had earlier published freelance articles I’d written on Nunnery, Brady and the late Thomas Duck, all Amite County outdoorsmen. Now a reporter position had come open, and Patsy was offering me the job.
At the time I was making my living painting houses and doing a little free-lance writing (like an account of our Homochitto trip I would publish in Fur-Fish-Game). Winter was the slack time for house painting, and I had nothing else going on, so I said yes.
I had never studied journalism but I did have an English degree, and that was apparently sufficient. We made arrangements for me to start work, and Patsy hung up.
She called back a minute later to say, “I forgot to ask: Do you know how to type?”
I did indeed, though it was hunt-and-peck. That was fine as far as she was concerned, and on Feb. 22, 1979, I started work at the Enterprise-Journal. I’ve been here ever since — 41 years next month.
That summer, seeing my interest in the outdoors, Patsy suggested I write a weekly outdoors column. I came up with the name “Leather Britches” from an old fiddle tune and have rarely missed a week since.
Those who went before
At the time the Enterprise-Journal was located in downtown McComb. Charles Dunagin was the editor, Betty Brumfield the family editor, Buster Wolfe the sports editor, Mike Williamson the news editor (his son Matt is the current managing editor), Jimmy Long circulation director — the list goes on.
Veteran newsman Charles Gordon was on the staff part-time and quickly became my mentor.
Those were the classic downtown newspaper days. Computers were new. We still wrote headlines and cutlines on typewriters. Reporters relied on shoe leather to gather news, lacking emails, texts, even faxes.
Eventually the building was too small for our needs, and we moved to the current one on Oliver Emmerich Drive.
Earlier this week longtime press foreman Joel Anderson retired after 46 years, and several old-timers gathered for his retirement lunch (photo below).
It brought back memories of the old days of small-town newspapering — and deep-woods camping.