Booty shakin’ in a food plot

I’m lame. I know.

It’s been almost three weeks since my last post, but things have been a bit hectic around here. My husband’s been on a 10-day elk hunt in the middle of nowhere. There was a death in his extended family. My family came in town. And there have been some significant changes at work in the last few weeks.

My only excuse is I’ve been distracted.

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Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 8

One unit made a road sign from a target (notice the holes) with directions to each of our hometowns. And check out the caps we’re wearing. These were personalized gifts from a Special Forces unit. Mine will go in my collection curio of treasures.

It is hard to say enough about the hospitality and the warm reception each of the Afghanistan camps offered.

While visiting one camp that had seen its fair share of action, a young guard noticed my turquoise cross necklace and said, “I see you are a Christian. Please take this gift.” It was a rosary made of beautiful black beads. I reasoned with him that considering his present situation he might need it more than me, but he would not hear of it. A special gift I shall always treasure.

Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal from Armed Forces Entertainment and Hope For The Warriors had the forethought to get a zillion of these photos printed before the trip. I can’t begin to estimate how many we signed, but often it was hurriedly done in unusual circumstances. This photo was taken inside a Blackhawk helicopter. I signed it using the top of my helmet for a desk. The pilot, co-pilot and gunners were hunters but couldn’t get off duty to attend the official meet and greet.

From generals to snipers, doctors to pilots, even septic truck drivers, we were given an opportunity to spend time with each department and learn about their specific part in Operation Enduring Freedom.

It also was nice to learn more of the humanitarian projects going on in Afghanistan. I must not have been watching the news when they explained about the schools we have started for Afghan children and how much of the focus is on helping young girls get an education. I didn’t know childbirth was the No. 1 killer of women there and that we have established birthing clinics staffed with female doctors to assist the women.

I also didn’t know that in some camps as many as 18 allied countries are working and fighting side by side to help the Afghan people gain their independence. It was also news to me that we are teaching them to govern and sustain themselves as they gradually gain control of their homeland.

— Brenda

 

The sound of silence

People ask me when my husband and I plan to take our son Cooper, 3, hunting.

I fight the urge to burst out laughing, because it’s neither polite nor constructive.

Instead, the recollection part of my brain takes over, and I think back to 5:30 the evening before, when I pick Cooper up from daycare, or “school” as we like to call it.

Cooper helps Daddy broadcast seed for a food plot. Of course, some kind of stuffed animal is always in tow.

Here’s typically how our 8-minute ride home goes…

Me: What did you do at school today?
Cooper:
I don’t remember. What’s that bird doing over there?
Me:
What bird?
Cooper:
That one flying. I bet it’s going home to his mommy and daddy. Or maybe McDonald’s. Do birds eat French fries?
Me:
Some will, but…
Cooper:
No they don’t. They eat seeds. We need to put seed in our feeders at home. Daddy and I need to. Hey, where’s Daddy? Is he home yet? I need to go potty.
Me:
Can you wait until we get home?
Cooper:
Can I have a treat when I get home? Daddy will give me a treat. I want a peppermint. Can I ride my bike when I get home? Will you ride with me? I need to put on my helmet. Hey, there’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P. That’s stop. You didn’t stop, Mommy. Why are stop signs red?
Me:
Well…
Cooper:
Caleb pushed me down at school today. I fell on my hiney.
Me:
Is your hiney OK?
Cooper:
Ooooooooh, you said hiney! You’re a potty mouth!

You get the drift.

But what you don’t understand is that’s ONLY THE FIRST MINUTE.

I snap out of my glazed-over look and back into the present conversation. I politely answer, “When we feel he can sit still and be quiet long enough to really enjoy it.”

In the meantime, we take him to check trail cameras and food plots. Cooper “hunts” for feathers and acorns along the way. I’ve learned to bring along a small paper bag with a handle to tote out the treasures he finds.

We talk about hunting. And we answer a TON of questions…

Where are all the deer?
Do deer sleep in the woods?
Do they get scared at night?
Why did a turkey lose that feather?
Do turkeys have mommies and daddies?
What’s that noise?
Will that bird pick me up and take me away?
Why do you have a garden in the woods?
Why is it dead?
What’s that smell?
Why do animals poop in the woods instead of the potty?

Again, all in just the first few minutes. Now you understand why Cooper isn’t quite ready to hunt. But we’re holding out that the silence — necessary for hunting and our sanity — will come in the next few years, as will his desire to take part in the activity.

That’s the beauty of Families Afield. Ever heard of it? Basically, it’s an initiative began by the NWTF, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance that pushes for parents, not politics to decide an appropriate hunting age for their children.

The rate we’re going, Cooper will be about 47.

 

Reflections of Daddy

You really can’t call me a daddy’s girl. Dad did a good job of treating my sister and I the same. But I sort of ended up the daughter who is more like a son.

I can remember the two of us riding around in his old “booger green” (that’s what I called it) Chevrolet pickup, with a pack of snack crackers and a Coke. We cruised the country roads of northern Alabama, occasionally stopping by the co-op to pick up seed for his vegetable garden.

He chaperoned my youth group’s caving trip, where we spent the night in a damp cavern after hours of belly crawling through mud. We laughed to each other at the scaredy-cat boys who were afraid of the dark.

Just realized Dad has all the photos of us together from “back in the day.” Here’s one from my files of us during my college years.

A few years back, I tagged along with him, his brothers and their sons on a fly-fishing daytrip in the Tennessee mountains. It was great to share a boat with just him and our guide, laughing at our rookie mistakes.

Now I’m the subject of many of the stories he tells his friends (whether they care to hear them or not). Dad doesn’t hunt but loves to keep tabs on where I’m going next and what I got while I was there, so he can report all the stats at his morning coffee group at Burger King.

Growing up, I favored more of my dad’s side of the family, closer in looks to his sister than anyone else. Now, I’ve taken on more of my mom’s features. However, I still have a dimple in my chin, just like Dad.

As far as my career, I’m less like my dad as well. I make my living by keeping my fingers attached to a keyboard. I’m not sure Dad even knows how to turn on a computer — or that he even cares to learn. He probably won’t even know this ode to him exists until I call or text Mom to pull it up for him. She’ll have to print it out so he can read it.

Dad never needed to know how to boot up a laptop. He worked in a chemical plant for 32 years, making a living for our family. His free time was spent in the yard and garden, at church, and simply being a great dad.

I always knew Dad loved my sister and me. But until I became a working parent myself, albeit one with only three years of parenthood under her belt, I never fully realized what a commitment he made to our family.

Like father, like daughter. Here we are on one of the many mountain vacations Dad planned for the family. This had to be five or six years ago. We still go every year, but now my sister and I have taken the reigns on the planning.

So, Dad, let me say thank you…

Not just for pulling 32 years worth of shift work (many of them on swing) … but for always being there for me. I can’t remember you ever NOT being at a piano recital, softball game or school program, when I’m sure a nap sounded much sweeter than 20 variations of “Clair de Lune.”

Not just for staying up ‘til the wee hours of the night assembling bikes and Barbie dream houses on behalf of Santa … but for keeping the magic (and innocence) of Christmas alive for as long as you could.

Not just for planning station wagon-packed trips around the country when there were only AAA Triptiks and an atlas to guide you … but for instilling in me a sense of curiosity that extends beyond my front door.

You’ve taught me how to be a friend and a parent, and how to live in the present. More importantly, I’ve learned there’s no person I’d rather emulate than you.

Come to my “turkey work”

Tickled pink: Kara Grace Green, youngest daughter of Wheelin’ Sportsmen Coordinator Randy Green, caught her first fish at the NWTF Employee Appreciation Day.

Cooper, my 3-year-old, thinks I work at the best place ever.

He constantly asks, “Mommy, when can I come to your turkey work?” And every so often I’ll pick him up early from daycare and bring him back to the office.

In his sweet little mind, there are no deadlines or creative differences. The only inbox he’s ever had was during a Valentine’s Day party, a decorated shoebox filled with cartoon-themed cards with suckers attached.

To him, the NWTF headquarters is full of taxidermy turkeys he can (gently) touch. It’s where people call him “bud” and give him candy from their desk drawers. And a detour to the CEO’s office yielded a camo hat and turkey pin.

What is it with biologists and snake handling? Remind me to ask Scott Vance, assistant VP of conservation programs, once he puts that thing down.

The other week the NWTF held an employee appreciation event at the office, an evening of grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, games, archery, fishing, skeet shooting and (the toddler holy grail) an inflatable slide. Forget Disney World, the NWTF had to be the best place on Earth, according to Cooper.

A couple days later, I had to laugh when we drove by the office building and the little munchkin wondered out loud where the bouncy house was. If only every workday were that fun and carefree.

It’s easy to get jaded after a long week of meetings, projects and seemingly endless e-mails. We’ve all been there. Heck, even Disney loses a bit of its magic after standing in long lines and paying $20 for chicken fingers.

But when I sit back and look beyond an average day, the NWTF really is a good place to work.

May 31 served as the perfect example. That morning, a dozen or so wounded veterans from the VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., spent the day at the Wild Turkey Center. More than 60 NWTF employees emerged from their offices, cubicles, even the warehouse, lined the building entrance and gave those warriors a well-deserved standing ovation for their service.

Bryce Lawrence, the spawn of Public Relations Director Brent Lawrence, thwacked targets, while his dad manned the grill to feed roughly 240 NWTF employees and families.

My heart swelled with pride, not only for the men passing by, but for my co-workers who value freedom and understand sacrifice. I cried a bit.

Now, I don’t have a lot to compare the NWTF to. It was my first real job out of college. And I’ve stuck with it for nearly 13 years. But I’m pretty sure this is a fine place from which to draw a paycheck.

The one thing most everyone who leaves the NWTF says they miss the most is the people. I have to agree. You won’t find a group who cares more about others.

It’s like family, and I’m not saying that as a cheesy cliché. We don’t always agree, even get along at times, but at the end of the week we stick together to get our “turkey work” done.

Accounting’s Marlys Wooten snapped this pic of Cooper and me racing down the inflatable slide. Great shot of the fun we’re having, but heavens, please ignore my hobbit feet.

NWTF employees lined the entrance of the Wild Turkey Center to welcome a group of Wounded Warriors from the VA Medical Center of Augusta, Ga. What a moving way to begin a workday.

Check your guts here

We’re wrapping up editing/designing the May-June Turkey Country, and I have a headache.

I think it’s stress.

It’s our annual NWTF National Convention wrap-up issue, which I really enjoy piecing together, because we’re giving so many awesome volunteers their due credit. However, it’s this particular part of magazine production that puts me on edge. All these teeny-tiny loose ends just dangle above my head, waiting for me to do SOMETHING with them.

My mind splits into two voices. But instead of an angel telling me to do what’s right and a little devil telling me what I want to hear, I have a mini-Debbie Downer on one shoulder saying, You’ll never get it all done, and a pom-pom-toting cheerleader on the other chanting what’s inevitable: You can do it! You always do! Now make it happen!

Stupid cheerleader…

Just when I’m about to blow out the candles on the pity party cake I’ve made, a letter blips into my inbox. (Seems like this happens to me a lot.)

It’s from a mother in Jasper, Ga., wanting to tell someone at the NWTF what our national convention meant to her son, to her family.

The letter moved me so much that I edited down the others in the Fan Mail section to squeeze it in at the last minute. Here’s the full version:

If you ever wondered what a profound impact your national convention has on people, I think our story should clear up any questions.

Let me tell you about my child, Jeff. My husband and I adopted both our children from Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services when Jeff was 3 and his sister was 5. They had been severely abused by their birth parents; Jeff was taken from them at 8 months. We were their seventh home due to Jeff’s severe behavior due to being starved, neglected and abused. But we decided that we were meant to be their parents, that this is what God intended.

Jeff Buckingham traveled a long, emotional road to meet his hunting idol, Michael Waddell.

Jeff, now 14, has had a lot of obstacles to overcome, with the greatest being post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a mental issue that has resulted in him not liking loud noises (like guns). He’s also restless and can’t stand being pushed or touched in large crowds.

Jeff grew to love us, especially my 80-year-old father, who due to his age is unable to hunt but passed that intense love down to Jeff. We wondered how Jeff would handle the being still and quiet, which is required for hunting, but he has thrived. He has hunted turkey, deer and coyotes.

Hunting led him to join our local shotgun team. He’s also discovered bow hunting and mowed grass all last summer to save money for his first bow.

Now let me tell what your organization’s convention meant to Jeff.

He went with his father, but was nervous about the large amount of people who would be there. We told him that he’s a teenager now, and he needs to cope with his issues so they don’t keep him from doing what he loves.

My husband said they had to leave the building several times the first day for Jeff to get fresh air because of the crowds. But Jeff would then look to him and say, “Let’s try it again.”

Then came the moment Jeff had been waiting for — meeting Michael Waddell. He said, “If I don’t get to do anything but see him, I will be happy.”

As you can expect, the line to see Michael Waddell was long, and the crowd was heavy. Jeff told his dad several times he thought he was getting sick. But he was so excited that he was able to work through the lines, fighting his desire to flee, to meet his hunting hero. It was a huge moment for Jeff.

So if your group has ever wondered what impact it has on young people, know that Jeff is now a member of Xtreme JAKES and plans on returning to your convention next year. Thank you, Traci Buckingham

This letter serves way more than a gut check; it’s a testament to what hunting does for the human spirit and how NWTF members perpetuate it.

God works through us, and most of the time we don’t even realize it. I mean, who in the convention exhibit hall would have seen Jeff as any different than the next teenage boy seeking an autograph from Michael Waddell? None of us would have never known of Jeff’s amazing story had his mother not felt lead to share what was on her heart.

The next time you’re setting up tables for a Hunting Heritage banquet, staking down directional signs for a shooting event, or in my case, finishing up an issue of Turkey Country, pause for a moment and offer up a small prayer in the name of your efforts.

You never know who God’s going to bless that day. It just may be you.

Dead deer in church

I live in a small town. And I teach what can loosely be called choir for the 3- to 6-year olds at the Methodist church there.

I guess I got the gig because no one else wanted to do it. But I like kids, I’m a goofball and I like to sing, so it seemed like a good fit.

I have a crew of about six young’uns who are more like a box of squirmy kittens than an angelic chorus. And most of them have no interest in singing, so I have to be creative.

We routinely belt out a simple little ditty called “Rejoice In The Lord Always.” It goes like this:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

To add a bit of interest, I have the kids do the song acting like a variety of animals. We’ll do an alligator where we extend our arms and chomp, chomp them together. Then follow it with a hamster and pinch our thumbs and pointy fingers for the clapping part.

“Let’s do a deer!” said one camo-clad half-pint.

It could only happen in a small town church...

I had them put up their hands to their heads like midget 10-pointers and scrape around the choir room.

“Let’s do a dead deer!” he said after the first round.

So instead of clapping, we held up our arms as rifles and said, “Bang. Bang.” And the kids all fell to the ground.

I’m not kidding. This really happened.

Like I said, it’s a small town where most folks hunt or are at least OK with it. Even so, I may never be asked to do children’s choir at my church again.

Cooper’s tree stand

My son, Cooper, is almost 3 and at the age when he repeats what he hears. It’s amazing what his little noggin retains. He’ll pull some zingers from out of nowhere that make me believe he actually does have the ability to listen when it doesn’t pertain to bedtime.

His cranial regurgitations range from funny…

“Milkshakes make mommy’s bottom big.”

to sweet…

“Pop is in heaven now, not Alabama.”

And sometimes they just blow me away, like last weekend when we were visiting my sister. Cooper was drawing with crayons, held up the pad of paper and showed me this:

Remind me in several years to let Cooper hang my tree stands and not CJ, who would NEVER put his steps that close together.

“Look at my tree stand, Mommy,” he said.

Now here’s where we separate the parents from the nons. Those who never have had a child will ask, “Where’s the tree stand?” And those who’ve had a munchkin or two will simply nods their heads and blankly say, “That’s great!”

What really got me, however, was his follow-up statement:

“We’re going to need to move it sometime.”

Who knows how many times he’s heard his dad say he’s going to move a deer stand? Who knew Cooper was even paying attention?

I immediately forwarded the picture to CJ, who was on a work hunt in Ohio. Deer season is a busy time for him, meaning he’s gone from home quite a bit. Constant travel is hard on families, but you can’t complain when we both make a living doing what we love.

But moments like this one make what we do for a living, as well as who we are as people and parents, worth it. Our little Cooper may not choose to hunt when he gets older, but I feel pretty sure he’ll understand why we do.

I believe he already does.