By Tom Nauman
"The first thing Grandpa taught me about mushroom hunting was . . ." That's the beginning of a quote from and advertisement we use. Actually he wasn't my Grandpa, he was my children's Grandpa. His name was Roy. I used to call him "Dad" as did my eight siblings. But in recent years he answered to Grandpa more than anything else. "Grandpa fits any man with more than seventy descendants well. And, he didn't really teach me a lot about mushroom hunting.
Being born in 1920 meant that at the age of 12, at the end of eighth grade, he had to quit school and go to work along side his father repairing cars at the local dealership. His daily wages were one dollar. It was the Depression, he considered himself lucky to have a job. He was self-conscious about only having an eighth grade formal education. He shouldn't have been, he was a lot smarter than most people with college degrees. His degree was from the school of experience.
His experiences also included leaving his expectant wife and three sons in Illinois when Uncle Sam requested his presence in the Philippines and later to be with the first group of servicemen to occupy Japan. One of his favorite stories was of the time he and others found the Emperor's white stallion that had been hidden from the occupying US Army. Up to that time the stallion had never been ridden by anyone except the Emperor. Actually, a curse was placed on anyone else that rode it. An 8 x 10 glossy family heirloom of him upon the stallion tells us what he thought of curses from the Emperor.
Upon his return from the war his career in auto repair and nine children occupied most of his time. He became a master of his trade. Once, when one of my brothers was having car problems several states away, a verbal description of the symptoms from my brother wasn't good enough. He had my brother hold the phone over the motor while someone else revved the motor. Literally within seconds he told my brother to pull the spark plugs and set the gap properly. My brother called back after completing the assignment to say the car was running fine
He also became a master of the outdoors: gardening, squirrel hunting, rabbit hunting, raccoon hunting, and mushroom hunting. I stated before that he didn't really teach me a lot about mushroom hunting. The truth is he didn't teach me a lot about anything. But, he taught me the basics of everything. He taught me the basics of auto repair. He taught me the basics of squirrel and rabbit hunting. He taught me the basics of mushroom hunting. If I wanted to know more, he made sure I had the opportunity to learn. But, to learn well he knew I had to learn it on my own. The adage goes "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink" That's what he did best, he led me to the water. Drinking had to be accomplished on my own.
Another adage is "You can't teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig" I think that's why he taught us in the manner that he did, he didn't want to waste anyone's time or annoy anyone. When it came to auto repair, he wasted a lot of time on this pig. But mushroom hunting was a different story. I absorbed all he could teach until eventually we were learning new things together.
With nine children, a new crisis can arise every other week. During these times, he taught us where our bootstraps were if we didn't know already. Once he knew we were pulling on them ourselves, he would offer further assistance.
Upon commencement from college, I thought I knew it all. Later I realized that a degree doesn't mean that one knows everything. It only means that the recipient of the degree is able to learn. That's what Grandpa taught us, the most important lesson of all. He taught us how to learn.
Grandpa passed away on June 3, 2001. We'll miss him sorely. We're learning to deal with it.
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available http://www.morelmania.com/5Mushrooms/index.html. Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960, Tom@MorelMania.com.