Last night, during our annual Day-After-Thanksgiving-Dinner (where all the young adult relatives who live around here come to our home for a feast of leftovers) I shared a story from my youth. It was about my experience dealing with the rich people back in Southampton, NY in my early teens. The group was intent as they listened, and when I was finished, someone suggested that I should write about it. So... here goes!
In 1968 I was 12 years old. That was when I first experienced "The Hunts", set in the country side woods of my hometown. The hunts were designed to be a rich man's way of experiencing shooting pheasants for leisure, without the usual dirtiness of being a REAL hunter. Somewhere around 30 of these gentleman-hunters would show up on Saturday mornings at the crack of dawn in November and December. That is where we came in.
On the other side of town 30 or 40 kids, aged 12 to 16 (or 17), would meet in an empty grocery store parking lot, waiting for a big dirty dump truck to pick us up. When the truck arrived, we'd pile into the back, to set upon a 7 mile drive to the farm where the hunts would take place. We'd then pile out, and form a line to receive our equipment for the day. This consisted of a 3 1/2 foot long stick with a loop of rope attached to the back handle, a clapper that was fashioned from two pieces of wood attached with rope on one end, so when you swung it, it made a clapping noise, a bib with a number on it, which we wore over our coats, and a pair of plastic goggles, which we'd hang around our necks.
When we all had our equipment, we'd wait for a 60ish year old Hungarian man named Mr. Notashe ( pronounced Not-A-Shay) to look us over and give us a pep (threat) talk regarding his hopes for a successful day for the rich hunters. Seemed like we were always waiting for him for a ridiculously long time. Anyway, when he was satisfied with what he saw, we'd climb onto a flatbed trailer, which had no side walls, and was pulled by a tactor, driven by one of the older boys. We'd drive along on these dirt roads (paths), legs hanging over the sides at around 15-20 miles per hour, our destination, the first gathering spot of 6 or 7 for the day.
It took 5 or 10 minutes to get there, and kids would start wrestling and trying to push other kids off the flat bed as we drove to the spot. Each time a kid would get pushed off, the tractor would have to stop until he made his way back, with the driver yelling out commands like "Quit fucking around!" or "I'm not making any more stops! You fall off, you walk!" It was a cross between Lord Of The Flies and The Hunger Games.
When we'd finally make it to the right spot, we'd get off the flatbed and form a long line, according to number. Each 5 man team had an overlord kid (who made 1 dollar more each day) who was in charge of keeping the others in line. After lining up, we'd begin to march forward, usually heading into the woods, with the hunters waiting on directors chairs, along with beautiful women and obediant dogs, in clearings. We'd walk along clapping to scare the pheasants out of their hiding spots, beating the undergrowth with our sticks, in case any had gone into hiding.
We's walk through briars, mud, and slimy grass for 1/2 a mile or so, hearing the screams of the birds as we got closer to the hunter's clearing. Soon, the shotgun blasts would begin. The idea was to NOT shoot toward the beaters (exclusive job tile), but that wasn't always the case. Though I was never shot, I remember other kids pulling buckshot out of their skin. When we'd hear (or feel) the buckshot getting too close kids would yell out phrases like "Keep your fucking guns up!" toward the hunters.
Once we made it to a spot where we could see the hunters in front of us, we'd lay flat on our stomachs with heads down, or seek refuge behind a tree while they blasted away as the birds flew out. After a few minutes, Mr' Notashe would blow a horn, signifying that this particular shooting spree was completed. We'd then enter the clearing and pick up the dead birds, making a pile of their bodies. If they were still alive, we were expected to pick them up by the head and wring their necks until dead. Some kids got a real charge out of this and would wring the pheasant's necks until the head came off in their hands.
After thee or four of these mini-hunts, it was time for lunch. The tractor would drive us to an old barn where the smell of boiling hot dogs and cow excretement filled the air as we approached. One of the older kids was in charge of passing out hot dogs, another in charge of giving every kid one 12 ounce bottle of Coke, and a third would pass out a single jelly donut for desert. Such a lovely repast! Then the fun would begin. We'd play some kind of tackling game in the empty (of cows, not their shit) pasture. Some kids would quietly slip away to smoke a joint or 2. Others might imbibe some form of alcoholic beverage. For that one hour of time we answered to no one but our selves.
Then it was back to work. Gathering up our equipment, we'd get it all back together, and repeat the morning's events in new clearings with new pheasants. This would go on until daylight was gone. Inevitably some kid(s) would have a difficult afternoon after the lunch break (I include myself on a few of these occasions), and by dusk we'd be back to where we got our equipment in the morning. It was a 7 or 8 hour workday where we'd make $8, and each week the cries for "an extra dollar" were widespread and loud! After waiting for Mr. Notashe (again), we'd finally get our pay. Sometimes an extra dollar, and sometimes not.
I did "The Hunts" for another few years until I was one of the older kids. It was fun and it sucked at the same time. We were well aware of the fact that we were being taken advantage of by rich people who didn't care about us in the slightest. However the comradery I experienced with the other kids in my town, and the smile it brings to my face as I write this, made it well worth it!