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By Shane Dixon, Sr.
As I walked down the sporting goods aisle at Fleet Farm, I came across some fly fishing equipment. I grabbed a 7-foot rod and acted like I was casting, starting at 10 o’clock, going back to 2 o’clock, and back to 10. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but think of my late grandfather, “Venison” Vyron.
My dad and uncles told me he was the best at throwing a hook and feather, but all who knew him agreed he was the greatest storyteller the reservation had ever heard. I think he got his name “Venison” Vyron because, even though he shot his gun only one time according to his stories, he killed hundreds of the biggest bucks in the area.
He was a logger with an unbelievable work ethic. Every time I saw him, whether it was at the sawmill, in the woods, or at his home, he wore what looked like the same dingy work pants, a plain white t-shirt, and a colorful flannel overshirt. His work jeans were stained with bar oil, and the left back pocket had a worn-out circle pattern from his can of Copenhagen snuff. His work boots were well oiled, and he looked like he wouldn’t be comfortable in anything else. His silver gray hair was parted from left to right and slicked back with a comb and Brylcreem. He had the eyes of an eagle, catching every detail and movement, as if making a mental note to file away in the back of his mind for later.
The pinch of snuff between his lip and gum somehow never affected his big smile that lit up any room he entered. His hands were old and rugged with calluses that showed he had been a lumberjack for over fifty years. It was an unforgettable sight to watch a 65-year-old man fell a towering one-hundred-foot-tall pine tree.
He always had a great story to tell me. He said one time he was ice fishing and it was so cold that the fish he caught had fur. Or how about the time he was trapping beaver on the Red River. When he sat down to take a break, he noticed a toothless otter having trouble catching fish. He said the otter crawled onto the bank and started to cry. Just then a porcupine waddled up and asked, “What’s wrong, brother?”
The otter replied, “I’m missing my teeth, so it’s very hard to catch fish.”
“Sit here and wait,” the porcupine said as he crawled up a tree, walked out on a branch that was hanging over the water, and hung upside down. When he let go of the branch, he hit the water with a big splash and came out of the river with three trout stuck to his quills. He shook them off next to the otter and said, “There you go, my brother. Eat well.”
When he finished telling a story, he would say, “Now that’s gospel,” or “There are only two other witnesses, the man upstairs, and old Ronny Delabrue. God rest his soul.” I knew he was telling a whopper if he winked at me when he finished his story.
One time I asked my grandpa if he could come up with a real dandy of a tale so I could enter it into a Liar’s Contest. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face and said, “Son, I can’t enter into those kinds of contests because I only tell the God’s honest truth.” Then he winked and smiled and finished his dinner. All I could do was grin and shake my head. It was at that point that I realized how much I really enjoyed his company.
He was a man’s man and a lady’s man all rolled into one. When he came into a room, he commanded respect without saying a word. He had charm and charisma that just seemed to spill out onto the ladies. He called it having “finesse.” But I think his biggest attribute was his generosity – the size of his heart. If you needed something and he had it, there was no question asked, he just gave it to you.
One day he was helping a friend cut down a tree for firewood when it fell the wrong way and landed on him, breaking his back. He spent the last two years of his life in bed at a nursing home, never forgiving himself for the small mistake that eventually cost him his life. I find it ironic that what killed him was the one thing he loved to do most, cut trees.
Now his legend lives on through all of the tall tales he told over the years. I am grateful to have heard a lot of them.
As I put the fly rod back on the shelf and walked away, I considered myself lucky to have spent time with such a great man.
Shane Dixon, Sr., 33, attends the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, WI, where he majors in business administration. He graduated from high school in May 1992, and has worked in construction ever since. He has enrolled in business classes, hoping to start up his own business in the future.
Dixon plans to graduate from tribal college and pursue a bachelor’s degree in business at UW Green Bay. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and riding his four-wheeler with his wife and children.
Dixon says, “I never thought I would like college English so much; now I can’t wait for the next assignment just to see what kind of story I can put on paper.”