As we walked across the cemetery following the services for Walter Glass, Jr., I was struck by the remarkable June day. Although warrn like a summer day, the atmosphere was like fall. It was clean and clear- a blue sky was broken with crisp white clouds. It could have been October, the month that Junior, (as he was known by friends and family), was bom some 86 years earlier. Being such an outdoorsman, he would have appreciated the day and noted that it was a good opportunity to do something outdoors.
I was fortunate to have married into Junior's family back in the early 70's. One of his three daughters, Judy, became my bride when she and I were barely out of college. We eloped so I always felt that Junior was eyeing me with a degree of suspicion when I came around. Plus, I was from Barbour County on the other side of the state, so that made me a "foreigner" to Junior's solid Clarke County roots. More reason to watch me closely to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow.
None-the-less, I knew he liked me. It was his nature to like people and accept them for who they are without being judgmental. That was one of the traits that made him such a decent man. And once you heard his heavy southern accent as he made comments that often were colored with his wry humor, you had to like him as well. Even if you didn't always agree with some of his ideas, Junior's personality was irresistible.
A few weeks before he died, I talked with Junior by phone. We laughed one more time about a hunting excursion that occurred 25 years ago during one of my first trips to visit the family. During those days, deer hunting was the main activity in the fall mid winter months. And, Walter Glass was known for his expertise in hunting deer.
Having grown up in southeast Alabama, I knew there was such a thing as a deer (weren't they used to pull Santa Claus' sleigh at Christmas?) but, mainly we kicked around in the corn fields near Clio shooting dove on the wing or walking through sage fields flushing the occasional - covey of quail. A number seven field load was about the extent of my shotgun experience.
My arrival in Clarke County, however, heralded a new chapter in my hunting experience. One evening Junior outlined the plan for the next day's deer hunt that would include my brothers-inlaw- Danny, John, Jimmy- and me. They had been through this many times and knew what to expect. I, on the other hand, had no idea.
The plan seemed simple enough. I would be positioned at a certain spot just off a nearby unpaved road, armed with a shotgun loaded with buckshot. The others in the group would take the dogs to another area and drive them through the woods. To the uninitiated, it might have sounded a little bit like a snipe hunt. But, I quickly discounted the thought and trusted that Junior knew what he was doing.
The next morning, we were off in the pickups, dogs barking and caged in back, shotguns primed and ready in the gun racks. I rode with Junior and we came to a spot in the road where he began to give me instructions.
"You see that tree right up there?" Junior pointed up an embankment to a pine that was a little larger than others in the area. "I want you to stand behind that tree and be ready," he said. Then he pointed across to the other side of the road. "The deer will come right through there, cross the road, and come right at you. When he does, shoot him."
I said, "o.k.-no problem." I'm thinking, though, I know Junior knows his stuff when it comes to hunting deer, but there is no way that he knows where one of these animals is going to come through the woods and exactly what he is going to do. (The fact that he did know remains one of the great mysteries in my life.)
Of course, you know what happened next. After I clambered up the embankment and dutifully positioned myself behind the tree, Junior pulled off to join the others in the hunting party and start working the dogs. After the whine of the truck faded in the distance, I leaned my gun against the tree and started thinking about how I could get comfortable and maybe squeeze in an early morning nap.
Within a half hour or so, I was startled to hear something coming through the woods directly across the road from my position. Something big. I reached and put my hand on the gun, which was still leaning against the tree. I'm thinking, maybe it's a bear. By now, I'm standing in view beside the tree watching wide-eyed at the woods about 40 yards on the other side of the road.
At that moment, the largest most beautiful deer I have ever seen broke through the trees on the other side of the road. Since I was standing in full view, the animal saw me and turned broadside at a dead run. In the same instant, I yanked my gun to my shoulder and fired. The deerwhich carried a rack that would make any serious deer hunter swoon-never broke stride. He easily leapt from the opposite embankment, deftly touched down in the middle of the road and leapt back up the other side. He was gone in two seconds.
I stood transfixed for several minutes with my mouth agape. I could not believe what had just happened. Had I stayed behind the tree where Junior had told me to stand, the deer literally would have come over the top of me. To this day, I don't know how Junior knew this.
What is interesting is that Junior and I had some good-natured banter about this hunt for years. He knew two things: One, that he could put a trophy buck right in my lap, and two, that I was a good shot. My story (and I'm sticking to it) is that I missed. Junior, from the first time I saw him following the hunt on through the years whenever we recalled the day, would look at me with a grin and say, "yeahthat was a tough shot." Later, he would say, "I know you wish you'd had a camera instead of a shotgun."
Junior Glass was not only one of the finest human beings I've ever known- he was also one of the smartest. He will be missed by all of us.