DO YOU REMEMBER the story of Clark Griswold organizing the “hap-hap-happiest” Christmas ever for his dysfunctional family? Of course you do. Everyone knows the story of the Griswolds.

Well, like Clark, I had a dream this spring of putting together the hap-hap-happiest ever gathering at the North Dakota duck camp in history. The Maines boys may not match the goofy Griswolds, although looking at pictures of my Uncle Hank’s five children with fingers stuck up their noses in many family photos might tend to prove otherwise.

Nonetheless, my dream this spring is coming true, for better or worse. Seriously, I wanted very much to get this hunt together, mainly to hunt at least one more time with Uncle Hank in North Dakota.

Something like 15 years younger than my dad, he is the last surviving sibling of my dad’s and over the years, he has been an uncle, friend and mentor for me.

Uncle Hank has three sons, all of whom have hunted with me in North Dakota, but none of them in recent years. Uncle Hank is 83 and has mentioned more than once that his legs aren’t what they used to be. Understand that he still walks 2 miles or more through hills, swamps and old goat paths to reach a fishing or hunting honey hole and the same distance returning, but mention that and he’ll likely say, “Yeah, but I used to walk 10 miles doing it,” and he did.

With that, I know that it is getting tougher for him to slog through cattails, mud and muck to reach the best duck spots on the prairie. Hell, I’m two months shy of 71 and my legs aren’t what they used to be going through cattails, mud and muck. I remember my dad at 83 decided he had come to the end of that kind of prairie slogging. He last hunted with me there that year.

Anyway, the bottom line is that after calling everyone together, we now have four generations of Maines boys who will gather the first week of October at the little white house on the prairie.

One of the neat things I’m looking forward to, along with hunting with Uncle Hank, is hunting with the youngest generation of the family after having hunted with their dads for the first time more than two decades ago.

Greg, Uncle Hank’s grandson, was 13, I believe, on his first trip to the prairie country. I remember his wide open eyes when four of us surrounded a pond filled with perhaps three or four thousand mallards, maybe even more.

I remember sitting at the edge of the cattails, waiting for shooting hours to start, watching scores of ducks leave at a time while hundreds more swarmed the sky from nearby sloughs, all of them eagerly landing in a just-harvested nearby wheat field offering a bonanza of a smorgasbord for them.

Nothing in the world can match the excitement you see in a boy’s eyes when he beholds such a sight for the first time. Nothing, maybe, except for the moment he finds the first duck he ever shot where it lay in tall grass bordering the wheat field.

Actually, I played a bit of a dirty trick on Greg that morning. Having marked the exact place his drake mallard had fallen, I walked small circles around it for several minutes pretending to search while he searched 30 yards or so away where he thought it was.

Finally, I called him over and told him to look real close because I thought I had to be almost on top of it. One step over and I would have been.

Over the last 29 years in North Dakota, I have killed a lot of ducks and geese. I have eaten a lot of ducks and geese. I have enjoyed the company of family and best friends. I eagerly drink in all that the prairie is each year and the day I leave, I begin counting down the days until I will be there again.

Yes, I love to hunt ducks more than anything else in the world and yes, North Dakota is my magic elixir of youth. But of all the things I have seen, experienced and been a part of there, nothing has ever matched the joy I have seen in the eyes of my new, young hunters there for the first time.

Whether it was “The Gunslinger” at 12, “The Barefoot Boy” at 13 or “Young Jimmy” at 13, watching them experience the thrill of seeing pond after pond and field after field filled with ducks and geese has given me more joy than anything I have ever done there myself.

This year there will be three teenagers at duck camp; three young boys who are going to have wide eyes, trembling hands and many stories to tell when our Maines boys North Dakota prairie reunion hunt is done.

It will be better than Clark Griswold could ever have imagined.