Poet’s Corner: Feela for Father’s Day, “Pheasant Memories”

Poet’s Corner: Feela for Father’s Day, “Pheasant Memories”

The origin story of Father’s Day arguably begins in May of 1909, when a woman named Sonora Louise Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, heard a Mother’s Day sermon in her hometown church and thought a similar day should be set aside to honor fathers. Her own father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, raised six children as a single parent.

More than 50 years after Dodd’s initial efforts, Father’s Day was finally recognized as a holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June by President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order in 1966. But it was still not officially recognized as a federal holiday until six years later, in 1972 when, during his re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed an official proclamation setting Father’s Day permanently on the third Sunday in June nationwide.

In 1978, Mrs. Dodd died at the age of 96. Her grave at Greenwood Cemetery in Spokane reads:

Sonora Smart Dodd
Founder of Father’s Day

David Feela‘s truth about the holiday was, ahem, triggered by the discovery of an antic rifle in the corner of a closet. The memory about an outing with his dad was pleasant – or pheasant.

David Feela

Pheasant memories

For a decade my father’s .22 caliber pump action rifle, patented and manufactured by Febiger in 1909 New Orleans, leaned shrouded by shadows in the corner of my closet, unloaded.

Once I even posted a photo on an internet forum, hoping to find a little more information about the rifle’s history. A knowledgeable collector who lived on the east coast sent me some links, even offered to buy it, but like those pleasantly surprised participants on the Antiques Roadshow, I refused to part with it for any price. It had, after all, belonged to my father.

Born in 1908, he owned the rifle for most of his life, a boyhood trophy, a bottle plinker, a squirrel and rabbit rouser. Target shooting might have even inspired him during the Second War-To-End-All-Wars to enlist as a sharpshooter. The first time let me hold it, the pump action still worked and he took me to the woods for firearm instruction. Never a patient teacher, his lessons like my shooting never hit the mark but the pungent fragrance of powder mixed with oil still conjures a memory.

My only hunting trip was once with my father, an autumn expedition through Minnesota cornfields, he with his new Sears 12 gauge shotgun and me armed with that Febiger. At the time I felt like a genuine woodsman, stalking the illusive pheasant. After knocking a few tin cans off a stump, I was ready. My father, prior to heading down the narrow corn rows, even allowed me to fire his shotgun once, which knocked me on my butt when I pulled the trigger. He smiled, probably at the expression on my face.

As I grew older, I realized how ridiculous my expectations were for that trip, as if I’d ever been able to hit a bird—much less a flying one—with a .22 bullet. Clearly, I was along for the ride, and as I think about the experience now, I recall how my father wisely kept a wide berth through the dry corn stalks as we hiked to flush the game.

Occasionally along the way I heard him loose a few shots into the sky, though he never hit a pheasant, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure what one looked like, aside from the encyclopedia picture I’d glimpsed before we left the house, a mug shot for the day’s most wanted list.

After fruitless hours, we faced each other across an open field and shrugged our shoulders. I engaged the safety and lowered my rifle to an “at ease” position like I’d been shown. My boot carried a tiny stone and as I tried to shake it loose a pheasant totally camouflaged in the tall grass barely three feet from where I stood flushed from its hiding place. I swear, my heart exploded. My father laughed so hard he nearly cried.

That memory was tucked away with the gun and for over a decade it remained untouched. Then one day in a flurry of house cleaning, they both came to light again and I held them before me without embarrassment, regret, or any maudlin sense of nostalgia. Since that first and final hunting trip, keeping my father’s Febiger only reminded me that my father’s respect must have been what I was after as a boy in those Minnesota cornfields, not a pheasant.

I wrote to the collector and asked if he still wanted the rifle. He replied he did, offered me more cash than he’d first proposed. I disclosed to him that the firing pin, spring, and pump action needed repair, the inside of the barrel should be given a close inspection, and that my father had carved his initials—AF—rather crudely on the butt of the rifle. It didn’t matter to to the collector. It was just an acquisition, an object he sought, a trophy crafted of wood and steel over a century ago. He knew his guns. And my father would have also understood, because he knew me.

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