The Other National Holiday (part 1 of 5)October 29, 2014
Luke was 10 years, one month, one week and 2 days old. He saw his Dad last month, one week and 2 days ago on his birthday. Dad is a truck driver. Time moves slowly when you are 10 years, one month, one week and two days of age. It seemed like an eternity since Dad had been home. But what a great birthday it was! Luke would never forget the excitement of the weekend. Dad told him he wasn’t allowed to have a gun until he was ten.
For the past two years, while Dad was on the road, Luke practiced shooting with his Daisy Red Rider BB gun in the woods out back of the house. Mom didn’t like this, but gave up a couple years ago. Luke had been admonished to “Be Safe!” more times than he could remember. He found an area for target practice which had nothing behind it for miles. He made a target range made of an old sheet of plywood tied to a couple of metal fence posts. Over this, he stapled a Styrofoam insulation board. This was very functional as he could staple the targets he made onto the foam. He had carefully stepped off 10 feet, 20 feet and thirty feet and marked the distances with some old bricks he found.
His Dad taught him gun safety. Dad was an expert rifleman in the Marines before Luke was born. He listened carefully and remembered all the lessons. Luke always checked the area before practicing to make sure no one was around. Even though he only had a BB gun he treated it like a real one. Dad told him that a real bullet’s trajectory would go five miles. Luke was always careful to check the safety, and be aware of the direction of the barrel. He learned to shoot in the military positions; standing, sitting and prone. He knew how to hold the gun, left elbow directly under the stock and right elbow perpendicular to the ground to ensure a straight and smooth trigger pull. He had learned to slow his breathing, so his heart wouldn’t bump the bullet off target when pulling the trigger.
Last time Dad was home, he woke Luke early. They went to Hunter Safety course. After a full day of learning, Luke passed his test and earned his Hunter Safety certificate. It was good for life. Luke proudly showed off the card he kept in his wallet at school. He sewed the orange Hunter Safety patch they gave him on the front of his camouflage cap. That evening, after dinner and a birthday cake accompanied by the “Happy Birthday” song, Dad presented Luke with a long rectangular box disguised in wrapping paper and a big bow. Luke felt the solid weight in the box as Dad handed it to him. Mom captured the biggest smile she had ever seen on a child, and a father, on camera as Luke tore open the box to find a Marlin 30-30. The next day, Dad showed Luke how to take the gun apart, clean it, and put it back together. Luke practiced over and over. This was a real gun. There would be no target practice without Dad. Before Dad climbed in his truck the next day and left again, he found time to take Luke out to the shooting range to practice target shooting the new gun. Since then, it remained locked in the gun safe. How hard it is to obtain such a prize and not be able to touch it for one month, one week and two days while Dad was on the road. But rules about guns cannot be broken…ever!
Luke’s older brothers, Matt and Mark, didn’t care about hunting or guns. All they cared about were girls and cars. At 10 years, 1 month, 1 week and 2 days, Luke thought girls were gross. His sister Lilly liked dance and cheerleading. His younger brother, John, wanted to tag along, but he was too little to be around when Luke was shooting.
Luke liked the outdoors and the woods. He fished the pond out back after school and proudly brought his catch to Mom for dinner. He advanced to shooting hedge apples, birds and squirrels in the woods out back with his Daisy Red Rider.
“1 month, 1 week and 2 days,” Pat thought as he delivered his last load before he would head home. That’s a long time to be away from the family, but he had a good month. Miles were good and he averaged 8.5 miles per gallon. He earned enough to take a well-deserved week off with the family before heading out on the road again. He missed his wife and kids and the solitude of his home in the Tennessee hills. But time goes by fast when you are older and driving throughout the country. The weeks and miles seemed to accelerate faster with each year. His children were growing up fast. As he was backed to the loading dock waiting to be unloaded, he browsed the pictures on his Iphone. The one of Luke smiling as he opened his birthday present was special.
It took an unbelievable six hours for them to finally get his trailer unloaded. He climbed in the truck, started it up and pulled out on the highway towards home. On the way, though, there would be a delay. He slowed his truck and stopped behind a lady on the side of the road with a flat tire. He texted his wife, climbed down and rolled up his sleeves.
Luke was ready. He had washed his hunting clothes in scent free soap and hung them on the clothesline out back to dry. After school, he put on his rubber boots and walked three miles to the deer stand. He checked it carefully to make sure it was solid. He looked at the salt lick about 50 yards away. It was muddy around the salt block from activity. His heart beat faster as he noticed fresh tracks in the mud. On the way back to the stand, he noticed a pine tree trunk, about 5 inches in diameter, was shaved clean by antlers. About another 100 yards from the stand he found scat and fresh scrapes in the fallen leaves. This would be a good place to get his first deer. He was careful not to touch anything. He didn’t want to leave his scent in the area which might scare the deer. The leaves on the ground were dappled by the sunlight coming through the oak trees which still held on to their dying leaves. Birds were chirping and squirrels were playing noisily in the fallen leaves. He smiled as he thought of one of his Dad’s favorite sayings, “Sometimes… even a blind squirrel can find a nut.”
He was disappointed when he returned home. It was just turning from dusk to night. Dad was not home yet. “Where is Dad?” he asked softly. The old creeping fear of Dad not making it home was entering his thoughts. “Don’t worry,” Mom replied. “He was late getting unloaded at the docks. On the way home he stopped to help a lady with a flat tire. You need to get ready and go to bed. You guys are getting up early, 4 in the morning, as I remember. Dad will get home tonight when you’re asleep.” Luke was disappointed but he was also proud that Dad always stopped to help others. He didn’t care if the bullies at school teased him that his father was just a truck driver. Luke was called into the principal’s office for a meeting two weeks ago. The reason? He put his fist in the nose of one of the bullies. He got in a lot of trouble at school and more at home. He was grounded by Mom with extra homework for a week. It hurt when he had to sit down every night to work while his brothers and sisters when outside on the beautiful fall days to play, but the bully never said anything bad about his Dad again.
Yes, it would be an early morning. Mom was right. Luke went outside, took his hunting clothes off the line and put them in a Rubbermaid container so they would not catch the scents in the house. He had dinner, and then went upstairs and took a shower with scent free soap. Luke had read a lot about hunting in his Dad’s Field and Stream magazines, and was determined to give himself the best advantages he could tomorrow. He lay down in his bed at 9, trying to fight off the excited thoughts twirling in his mind. He knew he need to get some sleep. But it was impossible.
Follow this five part blog next week for part 2!
Copyright 2012, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.