By: Randy Tucker
It was our first family Christmas with at least a hint of winter. When I was born in Louisiana, my dad was an airman, then a sergeant with the Strategic Air Command, working on B-47s. A few years later, at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, he had moved up to B-52s when my little sister arrived.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much snow at the air base in Lake Charles or on the Enchanted Isle. But just before I turned six, we moved to Blytheville, Arkansas.
Arkansas is still far removed from the winters we’ve grown accustomed to up here in the foothills of the Rockies in central Wyoming, but there was an occasional snowflake, and once in a while, a thin layer of iced formed on puddles.
My mom grew up in Wyoming and missed the crisp, snow-covered winter mornings of Christmas she’d experienced as a child.
One of her friends told her that mistletoe grew wild in Arkansas, and she asked my dad and grandpa about it.
My grandfather, Forrest Everett Tucker, was a woodsman from the word go. He brought in quail, rabbits, ducks, geese, and an occasional deer with his 20 gauge Harrington Richardson shotgun. He had the sharpest pocket knife I’ve ever seen to go along with his marksmanship skills. He could honestly shave with that tiny blade. The two bladed ax he carried in the bed of his narrow box Ford pickup was equally sharp.
Mom mentioned the mistletoe to grandpa, and he verified that it grew in the woods nearby his cotton and watermelon farm.
My grandpa was a classic southern gentleman, but I was his only grandson and our adventures together always began with a wink and grin with him nodding his head towards the truck.
I hoped into the passenger seat and we were off.
It was a wet, heavy day with light fog hugging the ground of the saturated woods. I still remember the water squeezing up from the fallen leaves as I walked stride for stride with my grandpa across the openness of those Arkansas woods.
We craned our necks as we looked up into the branches overhead, and it wasn’t hard to spot the green of the mistletoe high up in the leafless grayish brown trees.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that attaches itself to the vascular system of deciduous trees and bushes, but at seven years old, I had no idea what that meant.
We spotted some high in an oak, but grandpa said there were too many branches around it to get off a clear shot.
We walked a little further, and about 50 feet off the ground, in a black walnut tree, there it was. The mistletoe was nestled on a large branch off the main trunk, hanging down underneath the limb.
Grandpa walked around the tree a couple of times, then found his spot.
“You catch it when it falls, boy,” he said to me.
I’d seen him hit birds in flight and squirrels scampering across tree limbs, never missing a shot. A stationary plant would be no challenge at all.
The sound of a 20 gauge shell broke the silence of the forest, and the mistletoe shook a little bit, swung around on a little vine, then twisted and fell to earth.
It was heavier than I thought it would be. It knocked me down when I caught it, which had grandpa laughing so hard he began to cough.
The chunk of green Christmas cheer was about the size of a bushel basket. I carried it to the truck, and we drove home.
I beamed when I told mom that grandpa had shot some mistletoe. She was much less excited than I was and just sighed as she often did when grandpa and I went out or came home after our little adventures.
Grandpa passed away 39 years ago, but I can remember him like it was last night. As I write this, I realized I’m only six years younger than grandpa was the last time I saw him. My son has the 20 gauge now, and time passes.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.