Sleeping In Graveyards

 

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

 

Sleeping In Graveyards

(On A Visit to See George Stidworthy—American Rifleman)

 

A Footloose Forester who wanted to be… On the road….again! ...by choice, very often elected his own adventures.  So it was that he decided that he would head west to visit an acquaintance who had once lived in his home town of Netcong, New Jersey.  George Stidworthy was quite a bit older than the Footloose Forester, but the older man knew who he was because of a shared familiarity with our family names in Netcong.

Old man Stidworthy, George’s father, ran the large auto repair garage on Maple Avenue in Netcong. His son George Jr. was known in the area as being one of the best small-bore riflemen in the entire region. George Jr. shared his love of shooting and his skills with firearms by forming a small group of young marksmen in Netcong, under the auspices of the National Rifle Association. Small time it may have been for such a tiny town like Netcong, but its membership included brother Ronny Pellek and my cousin George Perry. George Stidworthy Jr. may have also remembered that the very young Footloose Forester also belonged.  We practiced in the basement of the Grace Baptist Chuch on Maple Avenue, with the blessings of Reverend Raymond Crawford. 

Ronny Pellek was an expert marksman; and the trophy paper target with 10 perfectly centered bulls-eyes on it that hung on the door of the closet in our shared bedroom was witness to his precision with a .22 rifle. Gazing on it was, for us brothers, as frequent as if we were looking at the painting of the Mona Lisa.  He also went on to earn the Distinguished Rifleman patch from the NRA.  Cousin George Perry did, also.

A few years later, George Stidworthy Jr. married his long-time girlfriend Grace and moved west to Prescott, Arizona.  But not before he had earned wide acclaim for his marksmanship skills in national small-bore competition. Many of his trophies were earned in yearly events at Camp Perry, Ohio.  Not long after, George Jr. was recognized as one of the best 10 marksmen in the United States. Stories about him and his expertise as a marksman appeared in national magazines in the 1960s. The Footloose Forester remembers seeing one such story in a copy of the American Rifleman as early as 1958 or 1959.  

When George Stidworthy and his new wife Grace moved to Arizona, they settled down at a place outside of Prescott that they called the Lazy S Ranchita.  It was George Sr. who told the Footloose Forester about their little ranch house on the high desert mesa, and may have telephoned his son to let him know that an acquaintance from Netcong might show up later that summer.  That is what played out…although the details of the trip are now so fuzzy after the passage of more than 50 years, that the Footloose Forester cannot remember his starting point or his route.  The only thing he now remembers is showing up one day in late summer and knocking on the door of the Stidworthy residence at the Lazy S Ranchita in Prescott, Arizona.

The trip probably originated in Kyburz, California, following the summer assignment of the Footloose Forester as a Recreation Patrolman on the El Dorado National Forest.  He does remember hitting the road with his duffle bag and hankering for some adventure along the way. One of those early stops as he hitched his wandering way was in Woodland, California. As nightfall approached, he decided that he would check out the local cemetery to see if their accommodations were up to par. In fact, they were perfect.  He spent the night in the back section of a beautiful, dry, well manicured and serene cemetery where the shade of the trees kept out the glare of streetlights.  And it was peaceful to a fault.  It was the first time he had ever slept in a graveyard, but he decided that he would do it again, if he got the chance.

That next opportunity came when the Footloose Forester was heading out of town from Prescott, Arizona and the Lazy S Ranchita of George Stidworthy.  Indeed, both Grace and George had invited him to stay with them, but the restless Footloose Forester wanted to be, literally, On the road…again!  Besides, he had spied an old and abandoned graveyard on his way in to their small ranch; and was determined to give it a try.

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The graveyard was surrounded by a rusty, broken down fence and had a rusty iron gate.  But the gate was not locked, so it readily swung open when he pushed on it with the stuffed end of his duffle bag.  Bingo…it creaked as it opened. You just can’t make up stuff like that…besides, nobody would believe it if you just told them such a story out of the blue. It was a defining moment in this current adventure and the kind of stuff that gets hard-wired into one's memory banks. This was going to be one story that he would relish telling, when the time was right.

As he made preparations to bed down for the night in the pale early moonrise, he checked around for a flat place on the ground to put his sleeping bag. There were no flat places and the ones that were marginally satisfactory had plenty of sharp stones and scraggly brush. Besides, he was not keen on sleeping on the ground in a place that was perfect habitat for rattlesnakes. So, he continued to check around for a place to bunk down. He found one.

When he arose in the morning light from atop the broken-off but horizontal tombstone of John Miller, he paid his respects to Mr. Miller for accommodating him on such short notice.  The bed of the Footloose Forester was short, but it was off the ground, solidly in place, and away from the danger of rattlesnakes. By the way, Mr. John Miller was buried there in 1865.

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