As children, my siblings and I were never bad kids. However, when I was just a young whippersnapper back in the 1950s, we did tend to be devilish at times. Mostly, the boys were the ones who were forever getting into shenanigans. Aren’t they always? Especially during the hot summer months.
This being elderbritch season, it reminds me of the one cool activity we had as kids back on the farm. It was hunting elderbritches. While it had nothing to do with picking elderberries, it did take place near fast moving, cool, meadow streams where so many elderberry bushes grew. And whenever company arrived, it seemed to happen more often. There are some places across the good ol’ US of A where they call it snipe hunting.
Regardless, we were taught it was called elderbritch hunting by my mischievous grandfather. He always taught us with a twinkle in his eye like a cat that finally caught the canary. His final instruction were never to forget to pass it down to the younger ones or our offspring.
Usually we’d include a younger, naïve boy; a brother, neighbor or an unsuspecting cousin. Straddling a very narrow creek and facing upstream, the young, unsuspecting, elderbritch catcher would stretch his legs from one bank across to the other side while holding an opened burlap bag.
"Now you’ve got to be very quiet and not scare them away," we’d tell our patsy. "Elderbritches are very nervous creatures and scatter at the slightest noise. They just don’t take a shining to being spooked."
"What do you do with them?" they’d ask. "Are they any good for eating?"
"Are they any good for eating!?!" I’d chime in, repeating the question with astonishment. "They’re the best you’ve ever had, especially if they’re grilled on a bar-b-que pit. Ya like chicken?" I’d ask.
Well, we all know just about everyone loves chicken so there was little chance of the answer being, 'No.'
"Taste just like chicken," I'd say, and then add, "better yet, they taste better'n chicken."
In those rare cases when they’d answer, ‘No,’ I’d come back with, "good, because it doesn’t taste anything like chicken. It has more of a bar-b-qued elderbritch taste, something like a finaboleese steak, and you know everyone loves them."
They had no idea what a finaboleese steak was, but rather than appear ignorant, they’d join the rest of us in nodding our heads in the affirmative.
"We’re going upstream to chase them down, now, so if you hear any noises, it’s just us scaring the elderbritches," I’d say. "Don’t forget, you must stay very quiet."
Never quite catching on, the rookie elderbritch catchers were always thrilled we trusted them for this most important assignment and would stand for hours with their legs stretched from one side of the stream to the other, just waiting to bask in glory after bagging their very first live elderbritch.
Once we had the elderbritch hunter convinced, we’d take off, leaving him behind and holding the bag. Usually after 20 or 30 minutes, especially when they didn’t hear any noises coming from our end, they’d catch on. Embarrassed for being duped they’d then try to find us. Other times it was hours before they’d "see the light."
Once a neighbor boy was there all night. He was discovered sleeping and curled up in a fetal position the next morning and just as mad as a hornet pecked hen for being the butt of our prank. While he vowed to get even with us, we laughed until it hurt. By the next evening he completely forgot about his threat of revenge.
For us, it was like an initiation into the neighborhood group. It was our country boy form of hazing and a lot safer than what others did. And anyone who couldn’t see its humor, didn’t belong.
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