DIARY NOTES: It was late November 1962. A cold windy snow had left frozen white patches across the West Texas desert landscape. I carried a bolt action .22 rifle, a box of ammo, and a hunting knife. My hand me down coat was two sizes too big for my skinny 15 year old frame, but it had warm, roomy pockets that held a box of matches, 3 small Tootsie rolls and a can of Sardines. I wasn't too worried about water since I knew there would be a windmill or stock tank to drink from while crossing the 60 - 70 miles of cactus and mesquite country where I was headed. An all day walk and jog to keep warm, brought out a few coyotes, and the soaring buzzards overhead was a constant reminder - don't stop, keep moving.
Into the early morning darkness of the second day, numbing cold and staggering fatigue was starting to set in. The base of an oak tree blocked enough of the wind to start a tiny fire using sardine oil dripped over a few small dry twigs dug out of a pack rats nest. Downed the sardines and dozed off, slumped over the fire. Startled awake by wind whipping the branches over my head - Wait! Too loud to be just the wind. Looking up, I saw the outline of several large buzzards roosting overhead, flapping their wings trying to stay balanced on the limb. Oh, Crap! Literally. If I didn't do something, I would wake up covered in buzzard poop. My tiny fire was still going, so I added a few small sticks, dripped on a little more oil, then fired a shot into the air to scare the birds off. Instantly, a huge, black flopping beast of a bird fell out of the tree, obliterated my fire, and rolled downhill where I heard it land in a small creek that was layered over with a thin sheet of ice. Agonizing minutes later, frozen fingers now slowly thawing, I slumped and dozed.
I woke at first light and I could see the bird laying with its back to me in the creek. My fire was smoking, and smoldering, and I knew that, soon, I was going to need food. Not a particularly appetizing thought, but on the other hand, not a particularly tough choice either, when it's the only one you have. I walked over, knife in hand, grabbed it by a leg and turned the stiff, frozen buzzard to face me. Only, it wasn't a buzzard, after all. It was a huge Wild Turkey! Bigger than any domestic turkey I'd ever seen! I cut off the drumsticks, smoked them on the fire and ate off of one of them for three whole days! Eventually, I came across a highway and took my rifle apart, hiding it under my coat. After a short wait, I caught a ride with a trucker going all the way to El Paso. He dropped me off at a diner and was kind enough to buy me a hamburger and fries, then shook my hand and wished me good luck. It was late November, and I don't remember if it was Thanksgiving day, but I knew I had plenty to be thankful for. I was a mess. My shoes were coming apart from hard walking, my clothes were smokey and torn, my face was sunburned and my lips were cracked from the wind and the cold. But I only had a few more miles to go before I reached the home of a relative I could stay with and a waiting job offer.
As I walked along, I was smiling as I ate my last tootsie roll thinking thoughts of a new life and a new beginning.