TN50#141_A Black Friday Lesson from 1982_27 November 2023
Have you ever been surprised to realize someone snuck a life lesson in on you decades earlier that may have significantly changed your whole life and they did it without saying a word? Well, it’s happened to me a few times, once on Black Friday and I’d like to tell you about it.
The origin stories of Black Friday have nothing to do with bargain shopping the day after Thanksgiving and my Black Friday 1982 story doesn’t have anything to do with shopping either. It’s actually a hunting story, sort of. I was 11 years old.
Happy Monday and welcome to The Next 50 #141. I like to think of personal performance in 3 components: physical, mental and emotional. My frameworks focus on 4 Buckets: Eat, Sleep, Move and Think. This blog is my sandbox for sharing information that you might find useful for your personal performance.
November 26, 1982; the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. It was a chilly grey afternoon and my dad (Pops) and I were slowly walking around the “lot”. The “lot” was the empty building lots next to our house back on Poorhouse Road where we planted our garden and fruit trees, and played. My parents had purchased 4 adjoining building lots back in the late 1960’s and built our house in the middle. Ok, back to Black Friday, Dad and I were bored, and we were talking about it. At some point in the conversation Pops said, “We should go hunting”. I agreed and we were both a little surprised. We slowly walked back to the house to prep for the 10-minute drive to my grandma’s farm back on Mt. Falls, where we would hunt for white tail on an apple pile food plot in the middle of the woods between my grandma’s house and my great aunt Agnes’s house. By the time we got settled in against the trunk of a big hardwood tree we probably only had an hour or 90 minutes of light left for hunting and the only excitement was what I now know to be the sound of grey squirrels hopping across the dry leaves, thick on the ground this time of year in Virginia. We did not harvest a deer, or even a squirrel that day. In fact, this last-minute trip to the woods was not at all well thought out, we should have gotten in the woods hours earlier and settled in for any real hunting opportunities, but this was the most important trip to the woods hunting with my dad I ever had and I didn’t realize it for decades.
For this Black Friday Hunt to make sense we need to rewind the clock an additional 36 hours or so. November 25, 1982, Thanksgiving morning before dawn. Dad and I are up, it’s really cold and dark and we’re headed to the woods to bag a deer or two. As an 11-year-old runt my technique for staying warm was to put on as many layers of everything that I could and still walk a mile or so back in the woods to our hunting spot. I piled all my extra layers in the kitchen I would carry them to the truck and put them on in my grandma’s driveway before we walked to the back ridge where we were hunting that morning.
Before we left our house on these predawn adventures dad usually boiled water to make a jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee with milk and sugar (we’d sip on this as we drove). I remember he would mix it up in an old glass peanut butter jar, my mom had washed out as a storage container. I immediately time travel back to those early mornings every time I smell instant coffee being prepared; and anyone who’s enjoyed an MRE or 1,000 knows this is very common occurrence.
This morning we did it right. We were at our tree overwatching a very active game trail well before the little valley below began to light up in the pre-dawn frost – I was already cold.
We were hunting near our property line and as we looked around at dawn we could see another hunter, he wore blaze orange from head to toe and was facing down into the opposite valley of the adjoining farm. There was probably about 125 yards of ridge line between our two locations. At the time, this wasn’t a big deal as we knew the land owners and they didn’t allow just anyone to hunt their land, we also knew the property line was clearly posted with “no trespassing, no hunting” every few trees between our locations. If our field of view for hunting was 12 o’clock, his field of view for hunting was 6 o’clock, exactly opposite – no problem.
Later in the morning I told my dad I was really cold and needed to go back to the house; he said, ok, but first, Pops wanted to use his turkey caller to see if he could bring in a bird for us to shoot at before I scared all the game out of the area walking back to my grandma’s house. Dad used his turkey call and after what seemed like a long time, I said I needed to go, Pops helped me get situated to walk off the ridge.
The next little bit is a blur but it went something like this: I took one step into the dry leaves, there was a boom and I was on the ground. Dad pulled me over behind him and I remember looking over to see my dad was pivoting his rifle up onto a log and into a supported prone position facing back toward the hunter in orange. Pops yelled, “You dumb Son-Of-A-Bitch, you shot my son and me both!” (this was the first and one of the only times I heard my dad curse). The hunter in orange immediately started yelling “oh my God” unloaded his shotgun and moved towards us. Once dad felt we were not in danger he turned his attention to me, I was still flat on my back behind him, a massive oak tree and some dead fall we had arranged around our hunting position. The front of my left hip felt like it had been whacked with a big stick and dad was digging down through my layers to see what was going on. There was no hole in the front of my pants so in my 11-year-old frozen brain I was thinking, no way I got shot. Plus getting shot had to hurt way worse than my hip currently hurt. Of course, there was a very odd-looking elongated hole in my lower left abdominal wall, I wondered how on earth that got there with no hole in my pants… I could tell Pops was in pain but all he said was he got hit in the back and he wasn’t externally bleeding. The three of us started the walk back to my grandma’s house. The hunter in orange just kept saying, “oh my God” over and over. I remember wishing the hunter in orange would just be quiet but I didn’t want to be rude so I tried to ignore him, my dad was all business and didn’t say a word.
Grandma’s house was up and moving when we arrived. My Pops was one of 12 kids, there were always aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins running around during the holidays. Once we explained the situation to everyone my Uncle John, who was in from Florida, drove dad and I to the hospital in town, probably about a 20-to-25-minute drive.
I really liked being in the car once it started warming up. Somewhere along the route I remember looking down and seeing that the zipper of my corduroy pants was completely gone and there was some melted fabric around the fly. I started crying and said that I was shot, my dad may have smiled a little bit and he was probably thinking something like, “yes, you were shot and you’re a dork”. 11-year-old logic is a hoot.
Winchester, VA was a sleepy little town in 1982 and our Medical Center wasn’t regularly dealing with gunshot wounds back then, but they were able to handle my dad and I all the same.
A couple memories from the hospital, I was in a room all alone until my Aunt Ann, who was a nurse, came in to be with me. She had heard about her brother, my Pops, and I; and knew she could get to us with her credentials. Aunt Ann was the first familiar face I saw after my dad and I were separated; I remember crying when I saw her, she assured me my dad was fine. The other very memorable thing was when the doctor was using forceps to try and find the buckshot, I asked if I could watch so he let me prop up on my elbows to see what he was doing. When the tips of the forceps hit my hip bone my whole body violently tensed up and I levitated up off the table a few inches. Right after that, the Doc decided to leave the buckshot in place and reassess the wound later.
The Holes. (The hunter in orange had cracked off a round of 00-buckshot from a 12 gauge, there were 12 00-pellets in the 3” shell, each pellet is .330 inches in diameter. One pellet hit my dad in the back and lodged against a rib behind his heart, one hit me in the left hip and is still sitting next to my hip bone to this day, one went through the back of my coat, entering at the right shoulder and exiting out of the left side of my coat midback without touching my body. A few of the other pellets were found embedded in some of the No Trespassing/No Hunting signs along the property lines.)
We were released from the hospital and made it to my Nanny’s home up Route 11 before the Thanksgiving Feast began that afternoon; Thanksgiving meals were always great with lots of family around. As always, I chowed down on all the different meats, breads and desserts; and snooped around the house looking at all the “stuff” Nanny had sitting around on everything back in those days.
My wound healed without any issues and my dad never complained much about his either (initially they left the pellet in dad as well, we went in to a surgical suite about 2 weeks after getting shot and I watched a doctor make a small incision, insert forceps and “pop” the 00 out from under dad’s arm, the pellet had traveled down the rib slowly over a few days).
Looking back, I realize Pops had been hurt pretty bad and it took him a good while to find a new normal. I don’t recall my dad shotting or hunting with a bow after that and Pops stopped using his 7mm magnum, in fact he sold it a couple years after that Thanksgiving, when I asked about that he said, “too much kick”. Here’s some other things I now realize, we never hunted on the edges of the property again and anytime he caught anyone wondering through the woods of our family property they were immediately questioned, identified and turned around with a stern warning.
The Lesson: So back to the day after we got shot, Black Friday 1982. My dad and I were slowly walking around the lot, and we were bored. My dad said, “we should go hunting”, here are some facts that I never thought about until after my dad had passed away. In November of 1982, my Pops was 44 years old (I’m now 52 and have a lot experience with middle age injuries and many a tweaked back). This I know for a fact: walking in the woods, on a cold Virginia evening, carrying a gun and sitting against a tree with your 11-year-son using you for a backrest and squirming around for 90 minutes is absolutely the last thing you would want to do roughly 35 hours after being shot in the back. Dad never let on. He also never said anything like, “You have to get back on that horse that threw you off son” no complaints, no cliches. He simply looked at me with his usual calm demeanor and said, “we should go hunting” so we did.
I’d love to sit in the shop and grill him on this now that I’ve taken the time to think it through, he’d get that big pumpkin faced Cheshire cat grin and maybe even give a little nod then he’d most likely sit quiet for a few seconds before he changed the subject knowing there was nothing he needed to say.
Pops passed away in July of 2019, for me it was unexpected, he taught me so many things without using words and I’d love to talk them over with him. This story was one of those lessons. Writing about it was hard and cathartic, in a good way.
How about you, do you have someone in your life who taught you valuable lesson or two? With or without using words, a long or short time ago. If you do, and they’re still around please take some time this holiday season to have a conversation with them, maybe bring up the past or maybe just listen to them tell stories. I can’t imagine you’ll regret it if you do.
As always share the post with your team and anyone who might find it useful and let me know what you think!
Have a good one, Alex