Tony was a nice little Italian immigrant man who came up, from New Jersey, to hunt Black Bears at the Maine hunting lodge where I worked guiding bear hunters. He was there on a one week trip with a six-man party of Italian guys from New Jersey and New York. I learned a lot about him that week from his hunting buddies, from what he talked about and by the way that he handled himself.
If you have seen an average number of movies and TV shows in your lifetime, then you’ve seen Tony’s type of Italian man characterized in a few of them. He was small in physical stature but humongous in heart. He worked hard everyday and gave his customers at the junkyard that he owned, in New Jersey, a square deal most every time.
He was generous to low income folks who were looking for good used vehicle parts at his junkyard and gave them a break on the prices of parts if he figured that they were in a tight spot and needed their vehicle running to be able to go to work and take care of their family. Tony told a group of us guys sitting around the breakfast table in the Lodge with him one morning that if a professional mechanic came into his place, for used parts, who was a wise-ass and tried to steal from or cheat him in any way or if the individual bragged about ripping off the general public, who had trusted the mechanic to repair their vehicle in a timely and fair priced manner, then Tony would charge the rip-off mechanic a hefty price for parts, and the mechanic could either take it or leave it and do his business elsewhere.
Tony loved his family as much as any man who ever lived. When he married his wife it was strictly for love. They each found the other to be immensely attractive.
His wife was a sweet Italian girl who was born and raised in the USA, and she never let poor Tony forget that. Any argument between the two of them that she wanted to end, whether she was winning or not, ended with her saying to her immigrant husband, who was a naturalized American citizen, “There’s ships going back to the old country everyday.”
She grew up in a rough New York neighborhood. She had a keen sense of when a neighbor needed her help and when to look the other way.
Tony said that she was the best business partner a man could want. She knew how to run the business office of the junkyard and how to make a good, honest profit.
One of Tony’s hunting buddies told me that Tony’s wife couldn’t cook worth a crap, but Tony didn’t complain about it and was quite defensive of her, when his family mentioned her lack of kitchen skills. It appeared to me that Tony preferred salami sandwiches served with love to a full Italiano meal dished up without love by a wife who didn’t care about him or the business that he worked hard at everyday to put food on the table.
Tony’s kids couldn’t get enough of their Pop, when he was at home. To them he was gentle, understanding and world wise. He disciplined his kids fairly but firmly, because he knew what it takes to make it in this sometimes harsh world.
He treated all the kids in his neighborhood good, and he enjoyed watching them play. He was first off of the front porch to be a referee anytime that some kids’ argument got too mean and nasty or it progressed to a physical fight. In the late 1940s, the 1950s and early 1960s, when Tony was a maturing young man, sometimes adults let a fair fight roll on out to the end. They knew that sometimes it was better to let two evenly matched combatants get it out of their system right away by having it out with each other, when someone was there to see that it didn’t go too far, then to let their anger fester till they did something uncalled for with a deadly weapon or something. But if the fight weren’t near at all reasonable, he broke it up and tried to talk it all over with the individuals and have them declare a permanent peace treaty. Several times he made it possible for kids who woulda’ never gotten to have fun with each other again to become good friends for life. And he had provided that service for a few grownups too in his time.
Tony had lived through the brutal devastation of World War Two all around him as a young teenager living in Italy at the time, and he was grateful for all that God had given him.
On Tony’s first day out in the woods on the bear hunt, a hefty black bruin came walking into his bear bait.
We hunting guides had placed Tony behind a nice, big fallen down tree where he could see the bait clearly while hiding from being seen by any bear that might come by for a meal of the slaughterhouse leftovers that we used as bait. Wild Maine Black Bears are very skittish. They skiddadle at the first sight, sound or smell of a human in the woods, but they rarely ever attack any human, so we placed our hunters near baits but in a tree stand or on the ground in a concealed spot.
When that bruin came walking into Tony’s bait, Tony saw it and brought his 30-30 Cal. lever action Winchester up to firing position, aimed in the direction of the hungry bruin and pulled on the trigger. Nothing happened.
Tony had loaded his rifle when he went into the woods, then levered a round into its chamber and dropped the hammer from firing position down to safety position, as he should have done, in order to hunt safely. But he got so shook up, when he saw the bear, that he forgot to cock the rifle’s hammer back again so that it could be fired. Tony pulled and pulled and pulled on the rifle’s trigger, but it didn’t shoot. He kept glancing down at his quiet, unresponsive, non-firing gun and back at the bear. The bear kept coming and the gun’s trigger started to bend from the pressure of Tony’s strong, hard-working-blue-collar-guy grip. His hands and arms were quite powerful as the result of working hard for many years using hand tools to remove parts from junked vehicles for resale.
As the bear got closer to Tony, he became sure that it was intending to eat him and not the bait. When he glanced down and saw that the trigger was now bent sideways and sticking out the side of the trigger guard he gave up, stood up and threw the rifle at the bear. He screamed prayers and obscenities off into the woods and ran down towards the closest road as the bear ran back up into the woods with equal fervor. The bear may have mumbled a few growls about missing out on a good meal but Tony only heard his own various vocal emissions.
That was enough bear hunting to last Tony for his lifetime. He spent the rest of that week hanging around the Lodge being a pleasant guest to have. No one cared that he didn’t hunt anymore, because all knew that it isn’t for everyone. He never hid his newfound, overpowering fear of bears in the woods, and we all at the Lodge respected the way that he handled his personal limitations.
We all have our fears and limitations. You may be afraid of the woods at night, I see the nighttime woods as being calm and comfortable, but I’m seriously afraid of heights. Our personal fears and limitations are no big deal if we work it out together and you do well what you do best in life, I do the same, and we respect each other for doing our best.
Tony took little walks up into the woods behind the Lodge everyday. He never went far into the woods, about as far as a city park is wide, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself.
On one of his short walks he saw an interesting wild mushroom growing down on the forest floor. He thought that he recognized it from what he had learned about mushrooms as a child helping his grandfather gather edible mushrooms back in Italy. But he knew that so many types of poisonous mushrooms look similar to edible ones that complete knowledge of a mushroom’s edibility is necessary before eating it.
Tony bent down to take a good look at the underside of the mushroom’s cap just to see the details of it. He was careful not to touch it too much as he didn’t want any poisonous stuff on his hands. He placed his knuckles against the moist, cool ground and lifted the mushroom’s cap, with one finger tip, just enough to see the underside of it. All of a sudden, a tiny baby chipmunk ran from under the dead leaves on the forest floor and right into the palm of Tony’s hand.
Oh my, was he ever pleased to see that! He thought that it was a wonderful tiny critter who musta’ been lost from its moma and was in need of someone to take care of it. Right away he decided that it would make a good pet for his kids. He brought the baby chipmunk into the Lodge to show it to everyone there. He glowed with sincere gentleness as he held the tiny critter in the partially cupped palm of his hand.
Then Tony took the baby chipmunk with him out to his sleeping cabin, laid down on his bed and had a nap with it held warmly in his cupped hand. When Tony awoke a little while later the chipmunk was laying on the bed with Tony’s hand cupped over it like a small tent and the baby chipmunk had its chin resting on Tony’s thumb and it was looking straight into Tony’s eyes when they opened. Them two disparate creatures made a solid spiritual connection.
Tony saw that the tiny creature was indeed relying on him for its protection and a good start in life. The next thought that came into Tony’s mind was that the baby chipmunk would not live a good life if it was kept in a small cage, while being pestered by a bunch of caring, curious kids down in New Jersey. He knew the critter had to go back into the woods to live wild and free, so he took it back to where he found it and let it go.
And everyone at the Lodge enjoyed knowing that he did what was right.
David Robert Crews
2727 Liberty Pkwy.
Dundalk, MD 21222