Jupiter’s Legacy Part 2
“Home Sweet Home”
“You shouldn’t have said that, man,” Corey told his friend after Shelby walked away.
“Why not?” Jamie asked. “It’s the truth.”
“She’ll tell him what you said,” Corey stated. “That’s why. We don’t need any trouble from Skeeter Davis and his crowd. He hadn’t missed a beat since you’ve been gone… still up to his old tricks. I’ve had a hard enough time in the past two years trying to keep them off your grandmother’s place. He’s been caught at least twice this year night hunting.”
“On the farm?” Jamie asked.
“No, but not too far away. I really believe that sucker is more nocturnal than most of the bucks we hunt. He’d much rather be out with a spotlight at 2 a.m. than sit in a stand during the daytime. I’ll never understand that kind of mentality. Shelby has to know what he’s up to. She probably goes with him.”
Jamie disagreed. “I can’t believe she’d be party to something like that,” he said. “How could a girl like Shelby Green fall for someone like him though? She seems so nice. He’s way out of her league. Certainly she can’t be serious about him.”
“Believe it, pal,” Corey said. “She’s been going out with him and hunting with him for the last two years. I know that for a fact. I see them all the time up at the crossroads store during deer season. She drives a red Jeep. It’s pretty cool. And she’s always with him on his Harley riding around town. You know what they say… The prettier they are, the harder they fall for losers like Skeeter Davis.”
“She’s no dummy,” Jamie said. “Anything but.”
“How do you know?” Corey asked.
“Some things you just know,” Jamie said.
Jamie paused as he reflected for a moment.
“Remember that summer when we were at football practice and somebody kept sneaking into the locker room and stealing money out of everybody’s pants pockets while we were out on the field?”
Corey answered, “Compliments of our good friend Skeeter Davis. I’d forgotten all about that. I’m just glad he got caught. I remember I had $30 in my pocket the day Coach Hambrick caught him because Mr. Miller had paid us the day before for baling hay. That was a lot of money back then.”
Jamie seemed to have a distant look on his face. Corey could read him like a book. “Don’t tell me… You like her, don’t you? That’s it. You’ve got a crush on that girl! I can see it in your eyes.”
“I don’t even know her,” Jamie said. “I just met her a few minutes ago. She started telling me about Old Jupe. She didn’t know who I was. But she is kind of cute. In fact, she’s a very good-looking woman; you’ve got to admit that. And I haven’t exactly been around too many attractive females in the past two years. I wouldn’t mind getting reacquainted…”
“Take my advice old buddy, find somebody else to get reacquainted with. Stay away from her. She’s not worth it. It’ll just complicate things if you try to start something with her. You just got out of one war. The last thing we need is to start another one with old Skeeter. There’s nothing that man won’t do. He could make big trouble for us if he wanted to.”
“I guess it doesn’t really matter at this point anyway.”
“How’s that?” Corey asked.
“Well, telling her that her boyfriend is the biggest poacher in Dodge County isn’t exactly the way to make new friends.”
“She has to know what kind of slime ball he is,” Corey said. “Some women like to be abused by slime balls like him. Maybe she’s that type.”
“I don’t think so, not her,” Jamie said. “And there is one thing about her that’s kind of intriguing.”
“She likes to hunt. I’ve never known a girl who liked to deer hunt before.”
“You right about that,” Corey said. “She’s a deer huntin’ fool, that girl.”
Then, looking at his friend in exasperation, he added, “Why do I think I haven’t heard the end of this?”
Big Jim Hardin had inherited 1,250 acres of prime timberland. The farm had been in his family for three generations. One hundred years earlier, nearly the entire farm had been planted in a vast ocean of white for as far as the eye could see. But after cotton went away as a result of a very determined little insect, most of the acreage went back to nature. Tall pine trees soon dominated the once terraced fields that had known nothing but King Cotton for as long as anyone could remember.
The creek bottoms and low areas produced various species of oaks and other hardwoods. During the Depression years before Big Jim’s time, the farm lay idle, transforming itself from vast open spaces into prime woodland habitat, biding its time until those beautiful four-legged creatures known as white-tailed deer would once again return and reclaim their ancestral homeland. It was a marriage made in heaven. Only Mother Nature could transform the once bare and badly depleted soil into a natural woodland paradise, and when the whitetails arrived several decades later, they thrived in their new environment.
When it was his turn to take the helm, Big Jim instinctively directed most of his efforts into managing and growing pine trees. He grew a few crops as well, mostly corn and soybeans. He took good care of the farm over the years. In return, it took good care of him and his wife Isabel. Big Jim had been born and raised in a small clapboard house on the farm. Both of his parents died when he was young. He was raised by a loving aunt and uncle on the property. He was forced to grow up fast, and he was still in his teens when he took over the responsibilities of the farm he had inherited.
As he grew older, Big Jim definitely became the patriarch of the family. He came to be known as a larger-than-life figure in the community. He joined the Marines when he was 18, and he fought in Korea for two years. When he made it home after a second brutal winter in that wasteland, Big Jim devoted his life to Isabel and the land. He always took part in community affairs. If someone had a tragedy in their family, he and Isabel were always the first ones there to help in any way. The stories about how he reached out to people were numerous and well known. He often loaned money to friends and neighbors in need with no thought of ever getting paid back.
Besides working on his beloved farm, Big Jim’s biggest passion in life became deer hunting. As a boy growing up, only a handful of deer existed in Dodge County. But after the successful restocking program begun in the 1950s, the first modern season in Dodge County was opened a decade later. Big Jim arrowed a beautiful 8-point buck on opening day of that premier season while leaning against a rock-hard limb of an apple tree, and he never looked back. In the years to come, the new two-story farmhouse he had built for Isabel began to fill with an impressive array of striking shoulder mounts.
By the time his own son, Jim Jr., was old enough to hunt, Big Jim was becoming somewhat of a local hunting celebrity in the community. He consistently killed trophy bucks with his primitive 54-lb. recurve bow using classic Fred Bear broadheads, something few other hunters in the area could match. Jim Jr. was never an avid hunter like his father. To Big Jim, the woods were his cathedral and his sanctuary, and sitting in a deer stand was his escape from the pressures of the world. But Jim Jr. never took to the woods like his father, never developed the deep sense of reverence and belonging to the land that was so much a part of Big Jim. Jim Jr. hunted off and on with his father until he grew up and married, but only reluctantly.
It could be said that Big Jim and Jim Jr. never had a fulfilling father-son relationship. The two men were as different as night and day. Jim Jr. never had the drive or zest for life that Big Jim possessed. But he accomplished one thing for which Big Jim and Isabel were always eternally grateful. He produced two fine sons two years apart in age. The two inseparable boys became the biggest blessing in their grandparents’ lives. The boys worshiped their grandparents, and Big Jim had small bows in their hands practically before they could walk.
The boys spent every weekend they could on the farm; helping Big Jim mark pulpwood trees to be cut with blue paint, planting crops and working in the fields. They hunted small game, fished in a 4-acre pond, shot .22s and learned how to shoot a bow from a master of the art. But just like their grandfather and his son before them, they never had much of a relationship with their own father. As the years flew by, Big Jim became much more of a surrogate father to them than Jim Jr. could ever be.
Rusty, the oldest boy, shot his first buck with a rifle when he was 7 years old, a beautiful 7-pointer. Jim Jr. thought he was too young to handle such an imposing responsibility at that tender age, but Big Jim insisted he was ready. Despite Jim Jr.’s protests, grandfather and grandson went to the woods on a rainy day in November and returned home with a fine buck in the back of the truck. For Rusty, it was one of the highlights of his short life.
Big Jim had nothing against hunting with a rifle. He loved guns, and he loved to shoot. He owned a number of shotguns and deer rifles, but he seldom hunted anything with them except birds, small game and maybe a doe for the freezer. He always carried a rifle in the truck for an occasional varmint. As soon as the boys were old enough, he frequently took them shooting. But when it came to hunting his beloved whitetails, Big Jim simply preferred the greater challenge that bowhunting presented.
James Hardin III, or Jamie as he became known, shot his first buck when he was eight, two years after his older brother. That, too, was a memorable experience. Both boys soon lived for deer season, and Big Jim lived to take them hunting. Hunting on the farm became a ritual. Even Jim Jr. joined in, although he never had the passion for hunting shared by the others. Soon Big Jim was growing food plots and reading everything he could get his hands on about deer management. He and the boys started shooting a number of does each year and feeding corn in the off-season. Life was good for everyone involved. That is, until a very cold day in November 1999 when everything started to unravel.
Jamie and Corey finished their lunch and decided to meet back at the farm to ride around and look at several of the food plots Corey had planted. Jamie had lived with his grandmother during his high school years, and he was back in his old room now. He had just arrived home the day before and had not had a chance to get out and look at the farm. He left a generous tip on the table, and as they were leaving the soda shop, he looked back at Shelby and waved. Even from that distance, he couldn’t fail to notice her penetrating blue eyes. She waved energetically from behind the counter and smiled broadly.
Corey also wanted to show Jamie some of his prime stand locations and change out the cards on several trail cameras. It was a humid, 95-degree day in mid August, and much too hot to do much outside the air-conditioned truck, but they covered a lot of territory in the comfort of Corey’s cab. In his present condition, Jamie wasn’t in any shape to do much walking around outside anyway.
After Big Jim and Jim Jr. died together in a tragic highway accident in 2000, Jamie’s mother had gone back to Mississippi where she had grown up to live with her family. Jamie was granted permission to stay with and “take care of” his grandmother. But times were tough, and Isabel was forced to sell off 850 acres of the original farm to pay off some of Big Jim’s debt. She sold one 500-acre tract and one 350-acre tract. Jamie, Corey and several of their close friends had hunted on and tried to manage the remaining 400 acres throughout their high school years.
The “home” tract included the large two-story house Big Jim had built for Isabel as well as the barn and all the out-buildings. Jamie had originally retained hunting rights on the 500 acres as well, but as luck would have it, that property had been sold to a relative of Skeeter Davis. It didn’t take long for Davis and a group of his misfits to lease the hunting rights out from under Jamie and his grandmother.
Seasons and bag limits meant little to Davis’s group. Their motto seemed to be “If it’s brown, it’s down!” Although Davis and his bunch had never killed any real trophy bucks on the 500 acres, it was a well-known fact that the back corner of the property had once harbored an extraordinary buck that would come to be known as Old Jupiter. It was here, on a piece of hallowed ground near the railroad tracks, that the legendary buck had met his fate with Big Jim two days after Christmas in 1999.
“There is one advantage to them having the 500 acres,” Corey pointed out to Jamie. “Because of all the hunting pressure they put on it, a lot of the deer move over to our land during hunting season. So we’re seeing a lot of bucks on the 400 that we probably wouldn’t ordinarily see.”
“That’s good,” Jamie commented. “Let’s just hope some of them are big!”
“I’m getting to be quite the farmer,” Corey told his friend as they sat in the truck peering at 15 acres of lush bottomland corn that hugged a large creek. “Big Jim would be proud of me. I could do this for a living. I could easily leave my job at the telephone company and become a full-time farmer. I enjoy being behind the wheel of a John Deere almost as much as I enjoy sitting in a deer stand.”
“I know the feeling,” Jamie said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been on a tractor. I can’t wait to help out with the oats and wheat. One thing I can do with my leg is drive a tractor. You’ve done a great job. Big Jim would be awfully proud of you.”
Corey added, “I can’t describe what a great feeling it is to see all of your hard work and sweat turn into something this beautiful. You plow and fertilize and plant, and all of a sudden those little green sprouts start coming up out of the ground like rows of little soldiers standing at attention. They’re almost like your children, and you want to nurture them and protect them. Then, with a little rain and a lot of luck, they turn into this…
“Notice the 60-foot strip of clover I planted along the tree line over there? That’s because corn won’t grow very well next to those big oaks and hardwoods. The roots from the trees suck all of the nutrients out of the soil, so the corn won’t ever make right there. The plants come up, but they never produce anything. I learned that the hard way two years ago. But clover does just fine, and it’ll still be here long after all the corn is gone in late winter.”
Jamie said, “And that’s when the deer really need it the most. Won’t be much browse left in the woods come February.”
“I’ve got a couple of bow stands put up just inside the woods on each end of this field,” Corey said. “You can’t see ’em from here, but they cover several major trails leading back to bedding areas in the thick stuff. I’m pretty sure the big 9-pointer I call Hefty beds back in there. I looked for his sheds this spring but couldn’t find ’em. I know they’re in there somewhere.”
“I can’t wait for opening day,” Jamie said. “You can’t imagine how long I’ve been looking forward to sitting in a tree on opening morning and watching a crisp Georgia sunrise.”
“Isabel really missed you,” Corey said. “I’ve been stopping by to see her just about every time I’ve been out to the farm this summer because I know it almost killed her when you turned up missing back in April. She was worried sick, and although she never gave up hope, I’m sure she expected the worst.”
“After losing just about everybody in her life who ever meant anything to her, I guess it’s normal for her to be a little gun shy,” Jamie said. “But she’s a great lady, and her faith has carried her through a lot more than worrying about little ol’ me.”
“I don’t know about that,” Corey said. “She couldn’t bear to lose you. She’s had a lot of support from her friends at church. Tom Murray, that new pastor at her church, has been great. He came by to see her almost every day, and he must have conducted a hundred prayer vigils for you all over town. He must have been doing something right, too, ’cause all those prayers worked! I even said a few for you myself if you can believe that!”
“You, the original heathen? That is hard to believe!” Jamie said with a big grin. “Like I said, my guardian angel took good care of me.”
“After we heard you’d been rescued, the whole town went crazy,” Corey said. “They had a big celebration at the courthouse, and your grandmother was right in the middle of it. First time I’d seen her smile in weeks. She really took it hard when everybody thought the worst, but she never gave up hope. You’re right. She’s a great lady, my friend.”
Corey stared out across the tall rows of corn. “We’ve heard all kinds of stories about what happened over there. You feel like talking about it?”
Jamie took a deep breath. Then he shook his head. “I’m not sure you want to hear what I’ve got to say. Afghanistan is Vietnam all over again. We never seem to learn our lesson—at least, the politicians don’t. I’ll tell you all about it one of these days. Right now, I don’t want to ruin this moment. I want to see what kind of pictures you have on those trail cameras.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Corey said.
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