The 18th Century Artisan Show was a favorite this past year. In all fairness the post at the first of the year have had a longer time in which to receive hits than post at the end of the year. I am always amazed at how much people go into the archive of the blog.
More photos by Bill Neal of the 18th Century Show can be seen here.
The 2017 Lake Cumberland Show with photos by Maryellen Pratt was a favorite. More photos can be seen here.
I walked in darkness through a
20-year-old pine plantation. On the other side was a 3-acre pond and beyond it,
my destination. The large steel building looming in the predawn light was where
my friend Gary Ganas and his wife, Sandy, called home. No lights were visible.
building, I noticed the door on the west end was open. Inside, a single light
was visible through a window in the door. Gary was sitting at the kitchen table
with a large cup of steaming coffee in his hand. In the chair next to him was
his Browning10-guage pump shotgun and a cloth carry bag. The gun was wrapped
with camo tape worn by years of use.
“Want a cup of
coffee?” Gary asked. “Looks like a good morning. Turkeys should gobble.”
A COMMON THREAD
I remember the
day we met Gary like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday in January 2011. My
wife, Tes, and I entered our small country church in rural Alabama, and on the
back pew sat Gary and his wife.
Sandy was dressed
in a long, white, lace dress and sported a wide-brimmed hat. Gary wore
cowboy-style starched Wrangler jeans and shirt, and square-toed alligator-hide
boots. My first impression: Wow! Who are these folks?
Sandy was quiet,
unassuming and almost shy. Gary was just the opposite. His deep baritone voice
echoed through the sanctuary of Bradford’s Chapel.
At first it
seemed we had very little in common. The Ganas’ were retired from Florida and
owned a small farm less than 3 miles from ours. We learned they were 18th
century re-enactors and collectors of memorabilia from that period.
As time passed,
our casual meetings at church led to conversations about children, politics,
careers and life in general. One Sunday morning in April we discovered a
common, unifying thread: wild turkeys.
observing several gobblers strutting daily in one of their pastures. Tes makes
her living photographing wild turkeys and their behaviors. Gary and Sandy
encouraged her to take a look at the flock frequenting their farm. They
described the dominant tom in this flock as old and battle scarred.
“He rules the
roost around our place,” Gary said. “They come to our pasture every day. That
gobbler is a gnarly old bastard, kinda like me!”
The next day, Tes
arrived at the Ganas’ Hard Struggle Farm to scout and choose a location for a
pop-up blind. Their home was a veritable museum of 18th century
antiques and artifacts interspersed with original wild turkey artwork and
collectible calls. Soon, “Old Gnarly” was captured on camera and eventually
memorialized in a pen and ink print for Gary and Sandy’s collection.
After that first
spring, there was little we did not share with Gary and Sandy. We worked,
played and worshipped together. We learned they were NWTF members. Gary loved
to cook, eat and occasionally imbibe in an adult beverage, but there was always
the issue of Gary’s health.
From the time we
met, it was apparent Gary had put in some hard miles. Years of riding rodeo
bulls and broncos had left his shoulders, knees and back a battered mess. Knee
replacement was the first in a series of medical procedures that left him in
serious pain. Then came open heart surgery. Again he was confined to inside
care and a long recuperation period. In late 2013, Gary was diagnosed with
Through it all,
Sandy’s love and devotion for Gary and their faith in God was unwavering. I
will always remember his answer to questions about how he was doing: “Livin’
life, friend; just livin’ life!”
I drove Gary to a
pop-up blind I’d set up in a hardwood drain the day before.
Inside were two
decoys I’d stashed. I staked the hen and jake 25 yards away on a winding road.
Gary sat in silence with his chin on his chest as I crawled into the blind and
took my seat. I could tell the pain was bad, but he never complained.
pink-hued horizon gave way to daylight, and the woods slowly came to life.
Cardinals and jays greeted the day, then an owl hooted nearby. Another owl
answered the first one. Then it came: a gobble! Not close, but a gobble for
sure. I looked at my friend, and he smiled. “This never gets old,” he said.
“Thank you for doing this for me.”
We were in the
game. Gary picked up his old Browning, slipped a shell into the chamber and
leaned it back against the wall of the blind.
When I was
certain the turkeys were on the ground, I yelped with a mouth call. Progress
was slow, but eventually the gobbles got louder. Finally, the birds were
closing the distance.
With the gobblers
still 150 yards away, Gary tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Jolly, do
you mind if I call?”
“Heck no, any and
all help is appreciated,” I whispered back. “This is your hunt, your land. You
don’t have to ask me!”
He reached under
his chair and pulled out the carry bag; slowly sliding a hand inside, he pulled
out a box, then gently placed the bag back under his chair.
Gary peered out
the window and cautiously opened the box held in his hands. My jaw dropped when
he showed me the call. It was a box call inscribed with a description of the
call and a personal message, signed and dated by legendary call maker, Neil
leaned into the window of the blind and sent a series of yelps into the spring
morning. A chorus of gobbles echoed back into the blind. He carefully placed
the call back into the box and returned it to the bag.
In an instant
everything changed. Gary now moved with purpose as he adjusted his position for
a better view. The pain and uncertainty that had been on his face seconds
before was now replaced with a turkey hunter’s stare. For the first time in
weeks he was free, engaged and back in a familiar place where anticipation
ruled the moment. Everything centered around what was happening in that pop-up
later, he reached back into the bag and brought out another box. Inside that
box was a Neil Cost boat paddle call signed with identical markings as the
first. He leaned to the window and called again. The answering gobbles were
Gary returned the
call to the bag. He adjusted his position in the chair and shouldered his gun.
Movement caught my eye as the first strutter appeared 60 yards away. Close
behind, another strutter followed, then another and another. In all, there were
seven jakes headed to the decoys.
When the turkeys
reached 40 yards distance, they literally charged the jake decoy. I could hear
the excitement in Gary’s short, ragged breaths. I could feel my heart pounding
in my chest as Gary settled on the gun. I inched a finger into my left ear in
anticipation of the shot. Time ticked by. The shot never came.
after arriving at the decoys the young toms began to lose interest, fading
away. I turned to Gary and said, “You sure you don’t want to shoot one?”
“I got what
I came for,” Gary said.
For the next 10
minutes we talked about what had just occurred. We talked about life, friends
and what was important in both. We said a prayer giving thanks for all we had.
When I returned to get Gary, he handed me his gun and carry bag and stepped out
of the blind.
“Jolly, I want
you to have these,” he said. “I won’t be needing them again.”
dumbfounded. I struggled for words before telling my friend, “No Gary, I can’t
take them. You’ll need them on our next hunt.”
Gary pulled me
into a hug that lasted until the tears stopped. That was my first and last
turkey hunt with Gary Ganas. To this day it is a hunt that lives in my memory
as the epitome of what turkey hunting is all about.
On August 5,
2014, Gary Ganas was called home. Things are not the same since he left. There
are, however, indelible memories. Memories of laughter and good times. Memories
of pain and tears. Memories of treasures pulled from a cloth, hand-stitched
carry bag worn from use. Memories of young gobblers strutting in all their
splendor. Memories of life-and-death decisions made when a man faces both. Memories
of love, hope and faith.
On the night we
said goodbye, I leaned close to Gary’s ear and told him I loved him. He opened
his eyes and took my hand. The strength in those once-strong hands was gone and
the booming baritone voice was reduced to a whisper, but there was a twinkle in
his eye when he said, “I’m going home. I’ll get us a place close to the roost
and save you a spot. It’s all good.”
When Robert Weil started collecting images for the Contemporary Makers book in 1973 the challenge to record contemporary gun work was daunting. Gathering material was difficult and time consuming. Few makers thought that there was any value in published documentation of their work. Electronic publishing has changed all that. Having a website or having one's work available to view on the internet is becoming a necessity. In spite of all the potential to finally have a true overview of what's being produced by the artists of today, a great deal of work still remains covered up and basically unknown. Our role is to make an effort to document some portion of what’s going on today. To comment on the established makers and to uncover the unknown. We welcome your comments and suggestions and look to you our readers to make us aware of the talented makers out there. Art and Jan Riser Robert Weil and The Makers