Avuncularesis and its Effect on Middle-Aged Hunters


Shared Idiocy…Shouldn’t We Know Better?

Ó2001 By Pat Wray


“Do you have any idea how weird you are?” Bill asked.

There being no easy answer to his question, I decided to ignore it.  Instead, I repeated my own question, which had begun our conversation in the first place, “Do you know what ‘avuncular’ means?”

“No.  And what’s more, I don’t care what ‘avuncular’ means.  Don’t you have anything better to do than talk about dumb words that nobody uses?”

At the time I was piloting my van across miles of sagebrush broken only by an occasional juniper and the answer was clearly ‘no’ but I resisted the urge to say so.  Bill seemed much more interested in watching the land slide by as I drove toward our high desert chukar hunting nirvana than in exploring the English language.  And he calls me weird.

I could understand his antipathy toward the word ‘avuncular.’  In fact, until some stray, untraceable thought had caused me to sit bolt upright in bed that morning at 3 a.m. with the thought “I wonder what the word ‘avuncular’ means,” I had been equally uncaring.  But now, with this porcupine quill of a word planted in my brain, I was being slowly driven insane or at least weird by the need to know what it meant.

From the back seat, Dave asked, “Are you sure it’s a word?”

“Yes,” I was pretty sure I’d seen it written somewhere.  But I didn’t know where and I had no idea what triggered my late night concern for a word I didn’t know.  Perhaps I was being punished for my lifelong failure to refer to a dictionary whenever I come across a new word, as my 11th grade English teacher had required.

“Mrs. Whitelock, are you doing this to me from the Hereafter?  It’s been 35 years.  How can you hold a grudge that long?”

We hit the slopes hard and fast but it wasn’t long before the slopes hit back.  Hearing a loud whooshing sound I looked across the canyon to see Randy lying on a steep slope of loose rock in obvious pain.

“Are you OK?”  Bill yelled across.  Then to me, he whispered, “If he’s hurt bad we can climb above this canyon and come down to him from above.  That way we may be able to pick up a couple more birds on the way and it won’t take more than an extra 30 minutes or so to get to him.”

“I hit my tailbone,” came the querulous response from Randy.

“Uh-oh,” I said.  “He’s bruised his avunculum.”

“You are not well,” Bill said to me disgustedly.

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’m not the one planning to leave my friend lying on the rocks for an extra 30 minutes while I hunt my way across to him.”

“We’re not that good of friends.  I don’t like him enough to interrupt my hunting…or you either.” Bill said without blinking.

I made a mental note to be particularly careful on the remainder of the hunt.           Our potential conflict of interest was solved when we saw Randy roll over to his hands and knees and slowly get to his feet.

“See, he’s good as new,” Bill offered as Randy reached slowly down to retrieve his shotgun, bending like his spine was made of beer cans strung together with dental floss.

“You,” Dave offered to Bill from his position slightly above us, “are unsympathetic and insensitive.  I’d have to describe you as an avunculist.”

I howled in laughter and even Randy chuckled a little, though he kept his hand on his rear end as though to steady it.  It was becoming obvious that ‘avuncular’ was a root word of many meanings.  Only Bill refused to embrace it.  “And you,” Bill said to Dave, “are as sick as he is.”  I didn’t need to look to know he was pointing at me.

Randy was able to continue the hunt, though he was tentative and avoided sitting for the rest of the day.

A few moments later, Dave called out, “I see one running up ahead.”

I responded, “You see what?”

“A vunc,” he shouted.  I could see his twisted little smile from 100 yards away.

“A vunc!” screamed Randy, with an assumed thick southern accent.  “You liar!”  The words came out ‘a-vunc-u-lar,’ causing Bill to close his eyes and pound his forehead in frustration.  This was unfortunate, as it kept him from getting a good shot off when a covey of 30 birds flushed in front of Dave’s Brittany spaniels and flew directly in front of us.  Dave shot two, I shot two and Randy got one.  Bill got mad.

I couldn’t help but rub it in a little bit.  “Are you sure you’re feeling OK, Bill?  Perhaps you’re coming down with a touch of avunculitis.”

My enjoyment didn’t last long, however, due to the untimely arrival of my one-year-old English setter, Toby.  Toby, whose motto is (or would be if dogs had mottos) “I’m here to help,” has never seen a situation that cannot be improved by the rapid insertion of his muzzle.  And so it was that the dog who had not been involved in point, flush or retrieve came down the hill at the speed of heat just in time to collide with me as I reached down to pick up one of my birds from a rocky incline.

After completing my full backward somersault and watching my shotgun slide even farther down the hill I was no longer in the mood for humor.  To make matters worse, Toby ended up with the chukar, so I had to wrestle him for it.  When I finally reached my shotgun, I knew what was coming, even before Bill said it.

“So Pat, we’re going to hunt on up the hill.  If you’re still here on the way back we’ll pick you up…or at least we’ll arrange to have someone come out and conduct necessary medical procedures…like maybe an avunculectomy.”

I pocketed my chukar and staggered to my feet, mentally if not physically prepared to continue up the hill, powered almost equally by the excitement of the hunt and the shared idiocy of my partners.

And of course, we did finally learn what ‘avuncular’ means.  I’ll be glad to share it with you.  ‘Avuncular’ is defined as…


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