Old Man Forester
"Don't hunt in Pamo Valley. That’s Old Man Forester’s ranch, and he would just as soon shoot you on sight as not if he finds you hunting on his place without permission."
Pamo is a remote Southern California valley. Hunting there was a jealously guarded privilege reserved for family members and a few select friends. Trespassers weren’t welcome, but the temptation to hunt was just too much for one avid woodsman to resist.
Lean and fit, Jack was a fisherman by trade and a dedicated sportsman during deer hunting season. He heard the warnings to steer clear of the valley and was willing to take his chances. In the predawn hours of a Saturday morning, he and a couple of buddies parked their jeep at the valley's edge and trekked down onto the ranch.
Mrs. Ellingwood lived in a lovely adobe home mid-way through the valley but had no ownership interest in the ranch or its operations. Just as she sank into her favorite chair to enjoy the morning’s first cup of coffee, she was interrupted by a rap on her front door. Wondering who could be disturbing her at such an early hour, Mrs. Ellingwood put her coffee aside and struggled out of her chair. She strolled across the room, opened the door, and beheld three strangers.
"Pardon us, ma'am," Jack said. "We’re sorry to disturb you, but my buddies here and I have hiked down from the top of the hill. Would it be all right with you if we did a little hunting in the hills around here?"
"Yes, of course, you can," she said. She wished them good luck as they went on their way and returned to the peace of her morning coffee.
Armed with permission to hunt, they hiked off-road the rest of the way across the valley into the surrounding hills and bagged their deer. They loaded their trophy onto their backs and began retracing their steps back to their jeep. As daylight began to wane, they decided to hike over the ranch roads to save time and, by early evening, reached the barn area with five miles left to go. A farmworker pitching hay into a wagon by the barn greeted them.
"Nice buck you have there," he said and stopped his work to admire their hunting success. "You fellas have permission to hunt on the ranch?" In the short conversation that ensued, it became clear they did not.
"Well, be careful going past the ranch house," the worker said, pointing down the road on which they traveled. "That’s Old Man Forester’s truck in the driveway, and he’s gone home for the day.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Jack said.
The worker resumed his pitching, and the trio continued silently down the road, hoping to avoid notice.
Clad in faded blue bib overalls, Old Man Forester was sitting on his front porch enjoying a cigarette before going inside to wash up for dinner. He observed a group of strangers passing by in the dusk, stood up, clapped his battered hat on his head, went to his truck, and drove out to intercept them.
He pulled up beside the hunters. “Looks like you boys have quite a load there,” he drawled. “Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said. “A ride would be much appreciated,”
“Well then, I guess you better get in.”
They unloaded the deer into the bed of the truck, and all three crowded into the cab.
"Whew!” Jack said as the truck began to rattle down the road. “Thanks! We were afraid for a minute you might be Old Man Forester,"
A long pause followed before there was a reply.
"I am Old Man Forester."
A heavy silence hung over the truck’s cab as the hunters contemplated their predicament. Then, the hint of a smile crept across his face as Old Man Forester reached into the pocket of his bib overalls, withdrew a pack of cigarettes, and said, “You fellas care for a smoke?”
It was an awkward introduction and the start of a long friendship. Jack could hunt on the ranch, but not alone, always check in, and never leave trash behind. As thanks for his hunting privileges, Jack brought lobsters he trapped, oysters, and yellowtail tuna as a gesture of appreciation. He also left the deer’s liver at the ranch house on his way out of the valley.
If there was liver and onions for dinner, Old Man Forester knew Jack got his deer.