Appalachia Heritage

The Magic Vest

Today’s guest post was written by J. Wayne Fears.

hunter in field

It hung on a nail on the back porch always ready. As far back as I can remember it was old looking, a little thread bare in places, faded from years of being used in all kinds of weather. I’m sure it started out a brown color, but since my dad used the old Montgomery Ward canvas hunting vest for all his hunts it now looks more a dirty tan than brown.

The old vest had a smell about it that, to me, had a smell of adventure. It was a blend of odors – a mixture of sweat, dried possum blood, squirrel hair, sassafras root, fresh cedar, shot shell powder  and Red Cap pipe tobacco as my dad smoked a crooked stem pipe loaded with the Brazilian tobacco most of every day. Many said that smoking that strong tobacco would kill him and I guess it did as he died one winter morning when he was 97, after knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

As a little kid, often, when no one was looking, I would get up on an old hickory strip chair so I could get the old vest down. Sitting on the porch steps, I took in the smell of the vest. I would look at the blood stained game bag in the back and remember squirrel hunts when I was just barely old enough to tag along. There was a little of my blood on the vest from when a squirrel suddenly came alive in the vest and before my dad could say anything. I stuck my hand in for reasons known only to a youngster. The squirrel bit through my thumb, lesson learned.

Perhaps some of the stain was from the gobbler my dad called up for me at Mud Spring one windy spring morning. As I would fondle the old vest there would be a whiff of sassafras from the roots we often dug while on hunting trips to bring home to my grandmother. She loved sassafras tea. The scent of cedar came from many Christmases that my dad would gather cedar and holly boughs and some mistletoe, tuck it into the game bag for my mom to decorate our old house.

There was a little burned place on one of the vest pockets and a scent of sulfur and burnt cloth. That was from the day that my dad was lighting his pipe when suddenly our dog Skipper treed up a steep rocky draw on the side of Stillhouse Hollow. As we started running to the sweet sound of Skipper, my dad dropped into one of the side pockets of the vest a handful of strike-anywhere kitchen matches. As we clawed up a steep slope, suddenly his vest had smoke coming from it. He was out of the vest in less than a second and stomping the smoldering cloth in wet leaves. We laughed about that event for years.

As I would fondle the vest, I was always amazed at what items my dad chose to keep in the pockets. There would be a well-worn Boker stockman pocket knife, a small whetstone, a match safe made from two empty shot shells, a 20 stuck into a 12, with kitchen matches in it, usually a half sack of Red Cap tobacco, some scraps of cotton cloth to use for smoking critters out of hollow trees and a small bottle of coal oil to use for cuts and scrapes and for getting an emergency fire going. These were the bare essentials for a man whose life had been lived in the mountains.

As a kid following the man I adored, who always wore the old vest, I thought there was some magic in the garment. First of all when my dad would step out onto the back porch and slip into the straps of the vest, our dog Skipper would bark with joy and turn flips as he knew another hunt was in the making. The combination of the man and the old vest brought out all the centuries of hunting instincts that had genetically come down to the little brown spotted dog.

The magic in the vest could produce food just at the right time. Many times, when on a bitter cold morning rabbit hunt, we would sit down out of the wind in the sun. My dad would reach into the vest and pull out cathead  biscuits with chunks of cured country ham in them. I never saw him put it in the vest!

On coon hunts, when we stopped at a spring to build a fire at midnight to rest, I have seen him reach into the game bag and pull out an old soot covered  half-gallon molasses can and in it would be a couple of raw eggs, a chunk of hoe cake and some cooked sausage. Soon we would be feasting on eggs boiled in the can, with trimmings. I wondered how that old vest produced that mana from heaven.

As I grew into a man and my outdoor career took me far from home, one of my first stops on visits would be on that back porch to listen to my aging hero, still smoking his pipe filled with Red Cap tobacco, tell of long ago hunting adventures. As he would talk I would look over to the nail on the porch and the now tattered vest that hung on it. What stories that old piece of soiled cloth could tell if it could just talk, I would think.

All too soon the man and the vest were gone. I have often wondered what ever happened to that magic vest.

I hope you enjoyed J. Wayne’s post as much as I did. I can almost smell that magic vest.


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  • Reply
    Terry Stites
    October 17, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Where is a tissue when you need one! My Daddy’s vest was the same way. Aromas, stains, and little holes all told stories that I loved to hear over and over again. Wish I still had that old vest. Thank you Mr. Fears and Tipper.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    October 13, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    Wonderful story, Mr Fears.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 13, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    We never had any hunting or fishing paraphernalia until we were old enough to buy our own. I never to this day ever thought of a hunting jacket or a creel as a necessity and have never owned either. We wore what we had and shared an old JC Higgins .22 single shot rifle. We devised our on fishing poles from rabbit cane. Daddy was not a hunter or a fisherman from the time I first knew him. He had too much to do, with working a “public job” and a farm.
    We would have starved if Daddy had hunted or fished to feed a family of 8. Too many people with their fancy high powered scoped rifles, pump shotguns and packs of dogs kept all the game killed out anyway. They killed deer for their antlers and backstraps. They killed rabbits and squirrels just so they could brag about how many they killed then fed them to their dogs. Meanwhile they went home and feasted on store bought chicken, turkey, ham and steak.
    I don’t have a problem with hunting and fishing to feed your family if game is available. I don’t have a problem with killing animals who are destroying your domestic livestock or your crops. But taking the life of an animal for the thrill of killing is a sin. I don’t see why anyone would mount an animal’s head on the wall. To show you are smarter than it. Like you killed it before it could kill you. Do you know anyone who has been attacked by a trout? Or a deer?
    Sorry I got carried away!

  • Reply
    Gina Smith
    October 13, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    What a wonderful story. Yes there is an old vest hanging by my back door too. It belonged to my husband who passed away 2 years ago. It still carries the scent of tractor, gun oil, hay, and sweat.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    October 13, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    October 13, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    As to your last question…The vest is still there. I have the vest , only now it’s a Carhartt. The smells are a little different, but the magic is the same.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Such a sweet story.

  • Reply
    Sherry Thacker
    October 13, 2020 at 11:17 am

    What wonderful memories! If we could only go back in time. It is too bad we don’t know at the time how precious they will become in our memory and be able to savor and appreciate them to the fullest at the time we are making them.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    October 13, 2020 at 11:03 am

    J. Wayne Fears made me think of my Kin gathering in at my Grandparents for Thanksgiving and my Dad and Uncles would go Hunting. When my Daddy would come back to the house, I would go through his hunting vest. I almost always pulled out rabbits and quail and sometimes a grouse. I can almost smell his vest even to this day.
    Anita G.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Wonderful story Mr. Fears! It brought back many memories of my Daddy and his old hunting jacket. I was a Daddy’s girl when I was very young and I loved to follow him when he went squirrel hunting. I never carried a gun but I loved being out in the forest and crossing little tiny streams. Daddy would be 105 this year. He taught his grandsons how to shoot and his oldest grandson has his old hunting jacket with the stains and smells still on it. Even now it is comforting to look at.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    October 13, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Daddy was a man of the sea. He always wore a soft cap with a long bill to keep the Sun away. Over years, he had many of those caps, and Mama saved them all. Now I’m their custodian. I can still smell his aroma, and the aroma of salt water when I open that bag of caps. He lives on in them….

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    October 13, 2020 at 9:11 am

    I loved that story about the old hunting vest! Dad had a lot of wonderful surprises and memories in that tattered rag his son grew to love and assimilate to the sweetest memories of his life. Sometimes I wonder where Bobby’s old fedora went. Sometimes a smell or whiff in the air takes my mind back to many years ago and the people who still are ALIVE there. I can almost hear them talking or laughing in my heart. The old dry eyes well up and the heart begins to long for good old days and the good people there- ALWAYS there just waiting on me to think of them. That’s when I long for days gone by. I sat here the other day contemplating my life. Youth fleeted and time has become BOTH a thief and a gift… a cruel irony like the mirror.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2020 at 9:10 am

    I like to read stories by Mr. Fears. I have some of his books. I agree with JIMK. When growing up one of the joys of my life was going squirrel hunting with my daddy and then on Thanksgiving Day of my uncles coming to my grandparents and the men going hunting, mainly for my uncles to just relive memories of the old home place. My son has both of his granddaddy’s hunting clothes and guns. Today it is hard for a daddy or some other family member or family friend to take a young boy small game hunting. Now it is all about deer or turkeys.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    October 13, 2020 at 8:53 am

    What eonderful memories of your fsther. You are truly blessed

  • Reply
    Carol Roy
    October 13, 2020 at 8:26 am

    This was a great ‘read’ …tks very much Wayne for sharing with us.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    October 13, 2020 at 7:38 am

    Thanks J Wayne for sharing another fine memory.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    October 13, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Thanks, Mr. Fears. Brought back some memories this morning. My father passed away 18 years ago this November. His hunting clothes still hang in a home made cedar wardrobe in his woodworking / deer skinning shop that he left me. I just don’t have the heart to dispose of them yet. I guess I’ll just let my children take care of that when it passes to them!

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    October 13, 2020 at 7:33 am

    What a beautiful story. We are never alone because of our memories and we never know who may be thinking of us someday. We should try to bring good memories and lessons learned for future generations. Your family has certainly accomplished that. Keep up the great work.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2020 at 7:13 am

    How odd to read this great memory. Last week l took a young man squirrel hunting for the 1st time. While preparing I searched and found my 40+ year old upland game vest, which I wore on our hunt. After going he inquired as to where he could get one,as he seen the utility of havi,g it. I drove him to national brand big box sporting store to find out they only stocked camo hunting attire, not the familiar brown garments that once all small game hunters had. Determined to find him one my search went online. To my surprise I did find one for a mere $150(about 10 times what I paid in the 70s). Like so many things the common bond of small game hunting with younger family members is rapidly becoming a memory from our past.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 13, 2020 at 6:51 am

    Beautiful story of times gone by. Thank you Tipper and J. Every child should have some magic in their lives and a a Dad that leads him and teaches him.

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