By Joshua R. Quong
Mr. Beauregarde: “What business are you in, Salt?”
Mr. Salt: “Nuts.”
-Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
When the leaves free themselves from their high wooded anchor to sail down and rest upon tera firma, the brisk breezes have us all out walking and stalking with fowling piece in hand. And along with the start of hunting season there is also a hustle and bustle about the schools with activities well underway that bind our families and communities together in a neat little knot of Americana.
So what could be more healthy or wholesome for a fella than a morning spent bird hunting with plans to see his children perform that evening in their school production of Willie Wonka?
Not one damn thing as far as I was concerned on the first cool Saturday the good Lord had granted in October.
Hunters had been hunting the place for a few days prior and had scattered birds all about. I could hear quail whistle in the evenings and knew that those birds would covey up along the fencerows and thickets. I texted Colonel the night before and asked him if he wanted to run his dogs the next morning.
“I’ll be there, Josh!” was his transmission back.
Before Colonel’s arrival the following morning, my family was up but still in the grog of the dress rehearsals and performances they had already done for the different schools in their district during that week. Yet the kids were still gleefully singing bars of “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” while my wife, in full-blown stage mom mode, was organizing costume materials and make-up to darn and doll the young thespians between scenes.
On the kitchen counter, a crockpot warmed next to bags of candy, chips, and hotdog buns. The cast and crew party would follow that night’s show and nothing says “a job well done” more to a bunch of budding drama kids like Ro-tel and weenies.
Before I headed to the field, the kids asked, “are you going to make it to the party after the play, Dad?”
“Yes,” my wife answered. “He’ll be there.”
And with that, I was out the door.
Colonel pulled up to the shop not too long after, and we sipped coffee for a few minutes discussing the state of the country, Ole Miss’s chances that night, and upcoming client hunts we had on the books.
Then it was off to the field. Rebel and Joe bounded and cut along the lanes of tall grass and scrub with noses up until at once Joe locked staunch next to a patch of briars in a strip of sedge behind the barn.
“There they are,” said Colonel. “Let’s kill ‘em.”
A covey of ten or twelve poured forth in a delayed flush of twos and threes. Colonel and I killed a brace each and after drawing down on a third bird with a click, I discovered the firing pin of my shotgun had broken. Not the start I had planned but no big setback. I walked back to the shop to swap guns while Colonel stayed to clean up the singles.
When I returned to the field, Rebel and Joe were pointed at birds under a young pine growing on a fencerow.
“I’ll get on the other side and flush those birds to you, Colonel,” I said.
The brush and trees of the overgrown fencerow were still clinging to their greenery and I couldn’t see through the veil of vines and leaves to the base of the pine where the dogs were pointing.
“I’m going to move on in on ‘em,” I hollered.
“I’m ready!” he replied.
There was a low hanging branch jutting from the pine about waist tall. I was able to lift my right foot up high enough to step down on the end of the branch in an effort to get a clearer view of where the dogs were locked in. As I stepped into the fencerow, left knee hiked and akimbo, the quick successive sounds of a crack, whip, and dull thud resonated through the suspense of pointing dogs and awaiting hunter.
The limb on which I had been standing snapped under my right foot and then swung up in 9-iron fashion to strike me flush in the Titleists. The newtons produced by the smack to my cods was enough to catapult me up into the air and back into the field.
When a fella gets hit in the nads, there is a hollow toll that resounds like a great gong pealing atop an ancient mountain followed by a sharp squeezing agony that tightens around his tenders like grapes in the clutches of an angry ape.
I immediately got to my hands and knees and vomited.
“Josh!” exclaimed Colonel from the other side of the fencerow. “You ok?”
“Hang on,” was all I could answer.
I writhed and sweated in a hot white chill. And along with the simultaneously dull and pointed ache, I felt betrayed and stupid. Colonel decided to fetch the ranger after hollering several questions at me but receiving no answers. By the time he rolled up, I had my pants to my knees and tears in my eyes.
“Josh! What happened?!”
I recounted the incident to which Colonel replied, “Shit… I heard a crack and thought you done broke your leg.”
When we got back to the shop, I grabbed a tall boy of PBR from the refrigerator, placed it on my prunes, and then took a seat on the couch. After half an hour or so, I was able to assess my condition. It was the right jewel that received the brunt of the blow and was now slightly larger than the left.
“Them things blowing up on you?” Colonel asked. He was watching college football highlights on the television and spitting Red Man into a Styrofoam coffee cup.
“I think I’m ok,” I replied.
I then decided that with my legume sufficiently numbed, Colonel and I could resume our hunt. We tore out with the dogs to the back part of the property across the steep banked creek to where I had seen birds a few days before.
But the jaunt didn’t last long as the jostling in my drawers aggravated my furious fig. To add to the hurt, old Rebel had gotten lost in a swath of kudzu on an opposing creek bank and I had to descend into the bottom to coax him out.
With both dogs back in the truck and Colonel headed home, I waddled into the house where Sally was still compiling fabrics and food for Wonka’s factory.
“What now?” she asked.
I told her and through a snicker she asked, “do you need to see a doctor?”
“Naw,” I grunted and then grabbed a frozen gel pack from the freezer with the likeness of Stuart the one-eyed minion from Despicable Me on it.
Stu did his best to sooth the swelling and smarting but it was too much for the cartoon cyclops to combat. As my family headed off to dazzle the patrons of Magnolia Theater with song and dance, my frosty minion and I gingerly drove to the urgent care clinic.
The parking lot of the clinic was empty when I arrived which was the most relief I had felt in hours. Once in the exam room, I could hear the high murmur and giggle of the nurses in the hallway. It wasn’t long before Dr. Dabbs entered.
“What seems to be the problem, brother?” Dabbs asked.
I recounted the event yet again.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You went back out the hunt after the initial trauma?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well…” he said as he snapped on a pair of blue nitrile exam gloves, “it would appear that along with your physical injury you’ve had a bit of testosterone poisoning. Now drop trou and let’s have a look at the damage.”
I was snug and drugged and prone in bed with Stuart back in position and red stag hunts on YouTube when my family got home later that night. They were all riding the sweet high of post play success with a twinge of melancholy that the production had run its course.
My son asked, “Hey Dad, how are your… you know… your?”
“My Oompa Loompas?”
He laughed, “Yessir!”
“All good. I’m sorry I missed everything.”
“It’s ok,” he said. “There will be other plays. Just watch out for your nuts next time.”