By Chet Yarbrough
The Old Man and the Boy
By: Robert Ruark
Narrated by Norman Dietz
One is in at least two minds in listening to “The Old Man and the Boy”. On the one hand, a listener is fascinated and learns a great deal about hunting and fishing. On the other, one sees how a young intelligent boy is influenced in good and bad ways by people he knows and the environment in which he lives.
“The Old Man and the Boy” is serialized for “Field and Stream” in 1953.
The author, Robert Ruark, is a North Carolinian. “The Old Man and the Boy” is a memoir of his youth. As an adult, he is characterized on the internet as a hard drinking outdoorsman who travels the world, writes books, and publishes articles in magazines like “Field and Stream” and “Playboy”.
Scenes and experiences recall the author’s life in rural North Carolina before the depression. This is a time when the word Negro is used to describe Black Americans.
Ruark’s brief notes about Black families reflect a paternalism and assumed inferiority of the “colored race”.
The grandfather teaches the boy about the ethics of hunting.
Along the way, he introduces the boy to life by teaching him the fundamentals of hunting and education provided by books and experience. Some lessons are farsighted, some shortsighted.
Preservation of the ecosystem is explained to the boy in different ways.
The grandfather explains why it is important limit one’s catch of fish or animals killed. Hunting should be for no more than what can be eaten or needed for species maintenance.
Ruark tells a funny story of an untrainable goat that suggests some animals cannot be domestically trained. Dogs are eminently trainable; horses and some goats are not, in the grandfather’s opinion.
The grandfather characterizes women as homemakers with little understanding of what constitutes education and work versus idleness. The grandfather offers a dim view of women with poor justification for male idleness.
The boy is introduced to liquor by his mentor. His insightful grandfather takes a nip or two or three after, never before, a day’s hunting or fishing.
Coincidentally, Ruark dies from cirrhosis of the liver at age 49, mostly attributed to alcoholism.
This is an entertaining, period piece story. It offers insights to hunting and fishing to anyone who has done or wishes to truly experience the great outdoors. It is a book of its time that reflects a reality of what it was like to live in rural North Carolina in the 1920s.