For those who love spending time in the great outdoors and would rather don a shell vest than a blazer, nothing compares to the relish of reading words penned by a gifted writer who shares this passion and manages to capture nature in all her glory. My Health Is Better In November, published in 1947, is a compilation of 35 hunting and fishing stories written by one of South Carolina’s favorite authors.
Havilah Babcock was actually a native of Virginia, but he spent 38 years as one of the University of South Carolina’s most popular English professors and chaired the department. Living across the street from the Horseshoe at 803 Sumter St., Babcock enjoyed an enviable life as a tenured professor during a time when wild quail abounded.
In those days, a man at the end of the work day — or close to it — could rush home, grab his shotgun and a handful of shells, whistle for his dog, and off he went for a couple hours of bird hunting before dark. He didn’t have to go far — just the outskirts of town, which back then might be around Wildewood or Spring Valley. Farmers were happy to let you hunt on their land, and birds were everywhere.
Babcock was a prolific writer. He gained a following and popularity through magazine articles written for Field & Stream as well as other publications. The stories in My Health Is Better In November originally appeared in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield during the heyday of the outdoor press when these publications were at their zenith. In this book, Babcock’s stories are humorous “how to” tales on subjects such as the best bait to use for bream, the importance of honeysuckle thickets for quail, places to fish for crappie, and ways to overcome a shooting slump … as well as how to stay in good standing with your spouse.
One of my favorites is a story on how to get rid of chiggers. In this tale, Babcock is suffering from the pesky parasite when he comes upon a squirrel hunter. He asks the hunter how to get rid of them and records his response. “‘What kind are they?’ He cocked his head critically, as if the matter called for connoisseurship.”
After the man explains that there is a different variety for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, he goes on to say, “…’thar’s a heap o’ things South Car’lina don’t rate so high in. But I’ll tell you right now, mister, thar ain’t no other state can hold a candle to us in the output of chiggers. Yes, sir,’ he snapped his suspenders with state pride, ‘the South Car’lina chigger is in a class by hisself.’”
In Babcock’s day, hunting and fishing were greater pastimes than they are today, but 17 million Americans still hunt and more than double that fish, still making My Health Is Better In November relevant, and if it’s dated, it affords a pleasant trip through time to a culture long gone.
In the final, titular story, Babcock relates his knowledge of a “man” (himself), and how nine months out of the year he doesn’t feel too well and some consider him irritable. However, when the first frost rolls around in November, “there is a noticeable improvement to his health. And when quail season arrives, he is a new man. His outlook is buoyant, his disposition amiable, and the household hears nothing of his woes — not a solitary complaint — for the next three months. For the master of the household is paying ardent court to Bob-White and his bashful bevy.”