Man from the country

| March 07, 2006

James Hill says he has tried to pass on to his family the self-sufficiency values his parents taught him.

James Hill lost the photographs that record his life and the life of his family in a house fire. The one he misses most was an old one, black and white and worn. But it told you a lot about him.

“I was in first grade,” says Hill, 63. “It would have been about 1949. Dad was standing next to me, and Mom was there, too. I was in a little Roy Rogers outfit. It was one with a two-pistol set, one on each hip. But my pistols weren’t toys. They were two single-action Colts.”

These days Hill drives a 2006 Freightliner Columbia for Southern Refrigerated Transport. He grew up a country boy learning to take care of his own problems and make his own way in life. He learned about self sufficiency and hard work, and got an education that was “more practical” than town and city kids received.

Hill shot his first deer when he was just 8 years old. But he wasn’t supposed to.

“I went out with my dad. We were up early and up in a tree stand. Dad fell asleep. Well, a deer came along, and I tried to wake him without scaring off the deer. But whatever I did, I couldn’t wake him. So I grabbed the rifle. It was a 30-30 Winchester, and it was too big for me. I had to put it under my arm to reach the trigger.”

Hill fired, and at about 20 yards, had his first deer. The shot had, of course, woken his sleeping father.

“I wasn’t supposed to touch the rifle; safety was real important to him. He yanked off his belt, and I got a whipping. I was shouting out ‘Deer! Deer!” and trying to point at it. He stopped and looked up and saw I had shot the deer. We went down and over to it, and he reached into his pocket and hauled out his pocket knife and gave it to me. He said, ‘You killed it, you dress it’ and sat down.

“I just looked at the deer and the knife, and I didn’t know anything about what to do. I looked at my dad and just said ‘How?’ He said he’d tell me what to do, and I had to do it. He pointed and guided me, but I had to do all the work.”

The doe was eventually field dressed, and Hill went home a lot wiser than he’d started the day. But the lessons weren’t over.

“My mother cooked some of it, but I had to cook some of it, too.” So while young James cooked, his mother watched and told him what to do.

Those lessons never left Hill.

He was raised in Northeast Texas and still lives there today in Hooks, 10 miles west of Texarkana, Ark., on I- 30. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father taught agriculture.

“We’d do things kids in the town 25 miles away wouldn’t do,” says Hill. “At 13 I was driving a pickup truck out in the fields loading hay. Dad saw to it I worked for local farmers in the summer. On their properties I could drive, so I could work. In return I got permission from the farmers to hunt on their land.

“Those summers were really hard work. Mostly it was loading hay. We’d get 2 cents a bale and work out in the sun all day, and it wasn’t much money and it didn’t go very far. Mostly we’d haul them up on to the trucks with ropes, and at 90-110 pounds a bale, they got to be really heavy by the end of the day.”

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