“How are ya doin’ sonnybuck?”
That was the usual greeting I’d get every time my first father-in-law saw me..which was quite often in my years of marriage to his step-daughter from 1965 to 1972.
Byron was one of the best-natured people I ever knew. He had a huge smile that stretched from ear to ear, not unlike that of Jack Nicholson as “The Joker” in Batman.
Byron’s laugh was loud and contagious.
He met and married Verna, my wife’s mom, later in life.
Not only did he willingly accept her 9 children, but they soon added one more to the mix; all living in a modest two-story house in Brookings.
He was a wonderful father to those kids, whose real dad was an abusive jerk.
They had nothing but love and respect for Byron.
Crazy as it may sound, I used to really enjoy going over there. It was a mad house to be sure but it’s where I learned to play card games like rummy, hearts and whist.
It’s where Bryon taught me how to throw horseshoes..a decision he may have later regretted when I got good enough to beat him once in a while.
When my wife and I were broke and stuck in North Dakota waiting for my paycheck to show up, Byron wired us 50 dollars from their own emergency fund so we could get by.
When we couldn’t find a house to rent in Brookings, Byron and Verna found room in their already over-crowded home for us and our new baby for a few weeks.
Thanks to an abundance of wooden leaves, their old oak table could always be stretched out a few more inches to accommodate all of us for dinner.
And what dinners they were.
The food was some of the best I’ve ever tasted thanks to a huge garden that provided lots of work for the kids and more than enough vegetables to last all year. (It’s where I learned to love parsnips.)
Plus there never seemed to be a shortage of roast beef.
I often wondered how they managed on just his mechanic’s salary.
It wasn’t until I’d been part of the family for an acceptable length of time that I was let-in on the family secret.
Byron didn’t always pay the strictest attention to hunting laws.
When the freezer was near empty..it was harvest time.
Now, I know some of you are shocked..but wait, there’s more.
On one occasion, I was his accomplice!
One night, Byron and I were driving to his brother-in-law’s farm near Madison.
When we reached a certain spot on a gravel road, he stopped the car..opened the trunk and brought out a spotlight and a rifle.
He asked me to shine it out in the field and before long you could see dozens of deer eyes reflecting in the light.
"Crack" went his gun and before I knew what had happened we were out in the dirt dragging a months worth of meals back to the car.
“I don’t do this for the sport of it, Sonnybuck,” he said as we drove off.
“But there are an awful lot of deer and we have an awful lot of mouths to feed.”
So… that delicious roast beef wasn’t beef at all!
I loved venison before I knew what it was but haven’t cared for..or eaten much of it since.
I hope the statute of limitations on this night of crime has passed for me.
I know it has for Byron and I ask that you not to judge him too harshly.
He died a few years ago, shortly after his 80th birthday at their little house in the mountains of Montana. He was surrounded by his loving wife, Verna, and many of the well-fed children who adored him.
“How are ya doin’ sonnybuck?”